banana cream pie with halva and cardamom

banana cream pie with halva and cardamom

When my husband and I got married about eight years ago, we hired Hoosier Mama Pies to cater the desserts at our wedding. This was back when they just had a tiny little storefront in Ukrainian Village with a couple bistro tables, and they delivered about thirty perfect pies to our big backyard wedding. The next day, there were two or three left over, which we packed up and took to the cute little A-frame we rented on the Gold Coast of Minnesota. Little did we know that we were honeymooning in pie country, so once we ran out of lemon meringue and sour cherry, we started finding excuses to drive by the local place, Bettys’. Their pies were the stuff of imaginary tea parties, and we spent the rest of the week accumulating empty bakery boxes in the kitchen.

While nothing can beat that summer, I have a feeling we’re about to have another summer of pies, and this one is the perfect way to kick things off. It’s not really berry or stone-fruit season yet, but I think it’s finally starting to feel like pie season (or maybe that’s just because I’m currently visiting Texas). This one in particular is inspired by my favorite toast, topped with honey-sweetened tahini, banana slices, and a little pinch of cardamom. Sesame halva has a very sharp and earthy flavor, which works perfectly with mellow creamy flavors like banana and cardamom. It’s the banana cream pie you know and love, with just a little extra something.

One of my favorite things about this pie is that it has halva in two different places: crumbled into the pie filling and sprinkled on top with a few extra banana slices. This gives it a really nice combination of textures. The halva sandwiched between the banana slices and cardamom custard gets a bit gooey, with just the slightest bit of grit, and the halva on top has that familiar honeycomb crunch. If not for the topping, it wouldn’t have the texture you expect of something with halva in it, and without the halva in the filling, the topping would feel like an afterthought. But together, it’s my perfect banana cream pie.

banana cream pie with halva and cardamom
banana cream pie with halva and cardamom
banana cream pie with halva and cardamom
banana cream pie with halva and cardamom

a note on blind baking

Since the filling doesn’t get baked, banana cream pie requires blind-baking the crust, which usually means using pie weights, but I absolutely can’t stand pie weights. Blind baking with weights is annoying… but to be honest, blind baking without them is also kind of annoying, so you just need to pick your poison and decide which sounds like the best option to you. I’ve made peace with blind baking without weights, and I don’t mind it anymore, but either case will take some getting used to if you’ve never done it before.

If you do bake with weights, you’ll need to make sure the bottom browns nicely, but that the edges don’t over-brown. You can bake it with parchment and weights for the first half, then remove the weights once it’s pretty set, make a foil crown to shield the edge of the crust, and let the bottom bake the rest of the way without the weights (see? Such a pain). In my experience, it’s really hard to get it to bake perfectly evenly this way, and the edges usually get a little too toasty even with the foil shield. Plus the bottom doesn’t turn out quite as flaky and tender as I like.

If you choose to bake without weights (yes, join the dark side!), just make sure that the edges of the crust extend over the side very slightly, be sure to let the dough rest and chill long enough, and dock the heck out of it (including once again a few minutes into baking, because it will probably start puffing up a little bit). There’s kind of an art to letting the edges protrude slightly to make sure they don’t melt down the sides, and an art to making sure the bottom doesn’t puff up too much, but once you get it right, it results in a perfectly evenly baked and flaky crust.

I describe this method in the recipe below (and you can look at the photos above to get an idea of how to shape it), but here’s the gist: trim just a little of the excess so it still hangs over the side. Fold the edges under so that they still slightly extend beyond the edge of the pie pan (you shouldn’t be able to see the pan from above). Crimp as usual.

And if you just can’t be bothered, remember that there’s absolutely no shame in using a commercially frozen pie crust.

banana cream pie with halva and cardamom
banana cream pie with halva and cardamom
banana cream pie with halva and cardamom
banana cream pie with halva and cardamom

banana cream pie with halva and cardamom

yield: 8 servings
active time: 35 minutes
total time: 4 1/2 hours
very loosely adapted from a
King Arthur Flour recipe
download a
PDF to print

crust

  • 200g all purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 3.5g salt (1/2 teaspoon)

  • 130g cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks (9 tablespoons)

  • 60g cold yogurt (1/4 cup)

  • 15g cold water (1 tablespoon)

  1. Place the flour, salt, and butter in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse several times, until the butter blends into the flour, and there aren’t any lumps bigger than a tic tac. Add the yogurt, and pulse 2 or 3 times to distribute. Drizzle in the water.* Pulse a few times until it can be squeezed together into a pliable and smooth dough (don’t over-process).

  2. Shape the dough into a ball, flatten the ball into a disc, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out to between 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick; it should be wider than the pie pan (about 13-13.5 inches). Rotate occasionally as you work, but try not to handle the dough too much.

  4. Once it’s rolled out, gently wrap it around your rolling pin to transfer it to the pie pan. Unroll it onto a 9-inch pie pan and gently press the dough into place so it’s in contact with the entire pan. Use scissors to trim some of the excess off, but leave about 3/4-inch of dough hanging past the edge of the pan. Go back and fold the edge under itself so it still overhangs by just about 1/8-inch (you shouldn’t be able to see the pan from above). Crimp, let it sit at cool room temperature for 10 minutes, then refrigerate for 90 minutes.

  5. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C) convection once the dough is almost done chilling.

  6. Once the pie shell is ready to bake, dock it all over with a fork, and bake for about 20 minutes total, until golden brown. About 5 minutes into baking, check on it to see if it’s sliding or puffing too much on the bottom. Take it out and dock it again with a fork to make it collapse, and nudge it back into place if it’s shrinking/sliding. Put it back in the oven, and check on it again after another 5 to 10 minutes, repeating if it’s puffing up again. Or feel free to use pie weights instead if this all sounds like a hassle (see note). **

pastry cream filling

  • 270g milk (1 cup + 2 tablespoons)

  • 50g sugar (1/4 cup)

  • 8g all purpose flour (about 1 tablespoon)

  • 10g cornstarch (about 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)

  • 2g salt (1/4 teaspoon)

  • 1 large egg (60g)

  • 40g butter (3 tablespoons)

  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom (0.5g)***

  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract (0.5g)

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the bottom isn’t scorching.

  2. Combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt, and egg in a medium stainless steel mixing bowl. Whisk together until it’s totally lump-free. Once the milk comes to a simmer, slowly drizzle it into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Return it to the medium saucepan, and set it over medium heat. Don’t stop whisking as it heats—remove from heat once it thickens and big bubbles start to break to the surface.

  3. Immediately add the butter, cardamom, and vanilla, and whisk constantly until the butter melts from the residual heat and and fully mixes in. Move onto the next part while the custard is still warm (or let it rest off the heat for 1-2 hours, and then reheat over very low heat while whisking constantly, just until it is pourable again).

banana halva filling and toppings

  • 2 ripe bananas, sliced between 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick (190g out of their peels)

  • baked pie shell (above)

  • 75g sesame halva****, crumbled (3/4 cup)

  • warm pastry cream (above)

  • 20g sugar (1 1/2 tablespoons)

  • 175g cold whipping cream (3/4 cup)

  • pinch of salt

  • more halva and bananas for topping (I used 1/3 cup more halva and 1 banana)

  1. Arrange the banana slices on the bottom of the baked pie shell. Top with the 3/4 cup/75g halva crumbles. Pour on the warm pastry cream, and halfway through give the pan a few bangs to make sure there aren’t any trapped air pockets. Smooth it out, and refrigerate for at least 90 minutes, until it’s completely chilled.

  2. While you’re waiting on the pie to chill, place the sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer (or a stainless steel bowl), and place it along with the whisk attachment (or a regular whisk) in the refrigerator to chill.

  3. When the pie is ready to come out of the refrigerator, whip the cream: add the whipping cream and a pinch of salt to the sugar, and beat at medium-high speed, until it reaches medium peaks (don’t beat it all the way to stiff peaks unless you plan to pipe it).

  4. Top the pie with the whipped cream, not quite spreading it all the way out to the edges, and making little swooshes on the surface with a small offset spatula or knife. Top with a few banana slices, some halva crumbles, and a tiny pinch of cardamom. You can also serve it at the table with extra toppings (especially extra halva for anyone who can’t get enough sesame). Store in the refrigerator.

* If you measured precisely in grams, you can add the water all at once. If you’re using volume, you should add the water in 2 installments, and you might even need to add a bit more to get it to hold together (volume is less precise).

** To prevent shrinking and puffing in the first place, you can use pie weights. If you go the pie weight route, you don’t need to do the whole thing with the folded-under crust, and you don’t need to let it rest in the refrigerator for so long. I hate pie weights, and always use this method to avoid them, but some might find this technique more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s totally a matter of preference. If you use pie weights, your pastry won’t be as flaky and puffy, and you’ll need to bake it for a few minutes without the weights to make sure the bottom browns. If you’re new to baking, you might want to try using weights, because it’s a little easier and failproof.

*** The cardamom should be a background flavor, so make sure you don’t add too much. If you add too much it will taste like soapy perfume, so remember that less is more.

**** You can find halva in most Middle Eastern markets, as well as some supermarkets with good international aisles.

banana cream pie with halva and cardamom

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orange blossom banana hot cross buns

orange blossom banana hot cross buns

Rolls on Easter are such a universal. While I didn’t grow up with hot cross buns, we usually had samoon on the table, and my grandmother always told us about the gubta mtumarta-stuffed samoon her mother would make every Easter. One roll was always filled with a little cheese, and the lucky kid who found the cheesy one got a special gift, like a new dress or new shoes. It just occurred to me while writing this post that I should really develop a savory cheese-stuffed hot cross bun recipe next year, but this year I’m sharing this classically sweet (but not too sweet) recipe: orange blossom banana hot cross buns!

The combination of orange blossom and banana is one of my favorites. If you’ve never tried it before, you’ll definitely notice that orange blossom lives up to its name—it’s floral and distinctively orangey. But at the same time, it’s not at all citrusy, and lacks the big brassy notes of orange juice and zest. So even though the fruit and the flower come from the same tree, I think the closest flavor to orange blossom is actually, surprisingly, banana. The two flavors complement each other perfectly—orange blossom brings out the fragrant floral notes in ripe banana, and banana brings the orange blossom down to earth a little, giving it substance.

orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns

The orange blossom water flavor here mostly comes from the glaze, while the banana flavor is concentrated in the dough. But working enough banana flavor into a yeasted bread dough is not an easy task. My first draft of this recipe contained a half cup of milk, but this limited how many bananas I could add and effectively watered down their flavor a lot. I eventually realized that the moisture needs to come almost entirely from the bananas themselves, and made some changes to the recipe to accommodate. I left the milk out entirely, and I added only egg yolks instead of whole eggs, which contribute richness without adding too much moisture. This gave the bread just the right balance—a strong banana and orange blossom flavor and a soft, buttery texture.

The one thing I’ve got to emphasize about this recipe is that the bananas absolutely must be old bananas. For this bread to have the right flavor, they really must be overripe, totally past their prime. Don’t settle for bananas with brown spots—really wait for them to start to develop brown splotches, and almost entirely change color. That’s when they’re ready to use. But the good news is that if you’re reading this on its post date, you totally have time to grab a bunch and wait for them to ripen, and then overripen. If you want to speed things along, you can place the bananas in a brown paper bag to make them ripen a day or two sooner.

orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns
orange blossom banana hot cross buns

orange blossom banana hot cross buns

yield: 9 rolls
active time: 35 minutes
total time: 3 hours
download a
PDF to print

  • 70g raisins (1/2 cup)

  • 70g chopped pitted dates (1/2 cup)

  • 60g orange juice or water (1/4 cup)

  • 45g orange blossom water (3 tablespoons)*, divided into 1T and 2T

  • 2 large egg yolks (35-40g) (save the whites)

  • 230g mashed overripe bananas (from 2 to 3 bananas)

  • 85g softened butter (6 tablespoons)

  • 7g instant yeast (2 teaspoons)**

  • 50g light brown sugar (1/4 cup)

  • 2.5g cinnamon (1 teaspoon)

  • 0.5g cardamom (1/4 teaspoon)

  • 8g baking powder (2 teaspoons)

  • 12g salt (2 teaspoons)

  • 490g all purpose flour (3 3/4 cups)

  • egg whites beaten with a little water (for the egg wash)

  • glaze (below)

  • icing (below)

  1. Combine the raisins, dates, orange juice, and 1 tablespoon of the orange blossom water. Microwave for 1 minute, then let them soak and cool while you work on the dough (at least 10 minutes).

  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the egg yolks, mashed bananas, butter, yeast, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, baking powder, salt, flour***, and the other 2 tablespoons of orange blossom water. Stir together with the hook attachment at low speed until there’s only a little dry flour remaining at the bottom of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and knead for about 5 to 10 minutes, until it becomes elastic and smooths out quite a bit. The dough should be a little on the wet side—it should pool a tiny bit in the bottom of the bowl, but should also pull away from the sides of the bowl.

  3. Once the dough is done kneading, strain the dried fruit and wring it out a little with your hands (discarding the liquid). Add the strained dried fruit to the dough and mix everything together until evenly distributed (you may need to switch to using your hands, folding the dough over itself a few times).

  4. Preheat the oven to 180°F (80°C), then turn the heat off and leave the door open for 30 seconds.

  5. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, smooth out into a ball by tucking the bottom under itself, cover with a plate, and move to the warm (but off!) oven for 50-60 minutes. While it’s proofing, butter a 8x8” pan (and optionally line the bottom with parchment).

  6. Once the dough is done rising, move to a lightly floured counter, and divide into 9 even pieces (about 120g each). Shape each piece into a smooth, round ball. Space them evenly in the pan.

  7. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and move back to the still warm oven for about 40 minutes (again, make sure it’s still off), just until the gaps around them almost close up.

  8. Once the buns have finished their rise, remove from the oven, and preheat it to 350°F (177°C) convection.****

  9. Brush the buns with a light layer of egg wash, and then bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until the internal temperature reads about 195°F (about 90°C). Remove from the pan to a cooling rack, and immediately brush the top and sides with the runny glaze.

  10. Wait for the glaze to set completely before piping the icing. Pipe the icing across the buns in 1 direction, and again in the other direction (see photos). Let the icing harden for a few minutes before covering.

Storage: Like most bread, it can be kept at room temperature for less than 1 day before starting to get stale, and it will stale fastest in the refrigerator. Bread keeps much better tightly wrapped in the freezer for longer term storage. If you want to make it ahead for company: Bake it (be extra careful not to over bake!), let it cool completely, wrap and freeze it as soon as it’s cool. The day you plan to serve it, thaw it in a 325°F (165°C) convection oven for about 10 minutes (until it’s thawed on the outside, and only frozen at its core) then let it coast the rest of the way and cool at room temperature, and then glaze and ice it before serving.

glaze

  • 45g icing sugar (1/3 cup)

  • 15g orange blossom water (1 tablespoon)

  • a tiny pinch salt

  1. Stir together into a runny and translucent glaze.

icing

  • 85g icing sugar (2/3 cup)

  • 12.5g orange blossom water (2 1/2 teaspoons)

  1. Stir together into a thick icing for piping.

  2. Place in a small pastry bag or ziplock bag.

* Most easy-to-find orange blossom water brands aren’t super strong, especially if they’ve been sitting on the shelf for a while. But proceed with a little bit of caution, taste some on a piece of fruit to see how strong it is, and make sure you don’t overdo it—you might only need 1 tablespoon for the dough. Likewise for the glaze, which may only need 1/2 tablespoon + some water to dilute it. Its flavor will come through more distinctly in the glaze than in the dough.
** If you’re using active dry instead of instant yeast, mix it in with the mashed banana first so it can dissolve.
*** Using weight instead of volume gives you more consistent results when following a baking recipe. But if you don’t have a scale and need to measure with volume, no worries—just make sure you don’t add all the flour at once. Add the first 75% of it, and then slowly add the last 25%. You may not need it all, or you may need a little bit more. With this recipe, most of the moisture and flavor comes from the bananas—if you add too much flour, you can add a little bit of milk to compensate, but it will be hard to recover the flavor and it might end up tasting bland.
**** If you don’t have convection, they should take a little longer to bake, or you can slightly increase the temperature.

orange blossom banana hot cross buns

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