I never liked the flavor of raw banana. The one exception? Banana splits, with their tall scoops of ice cream and drizzles of sauce and pert cherries, made frequent appearances in my childhood. Even today, they have an unmistakable draw, one that’s often served with a side of nostalgia. What could possibly make a banana split more fun? For one thing, bigger would be better. But I’ll never forget the time in college when I tried to build an ice cream sundae for 12 hungry souls, only to see it melt into a chunky soup before everyone had a taste. What if, I thought one day this summer, you could fit the elements of the split into a make-ahead pie?
After sketching out ideas for several versions, with cookie crumbles and nut crusts, different flavors of ice cream and sorbet, and various sauces, I realized I needed to talk this concept out with my friend Gregg Schigiel. The short description on his website says he’s a cartoonist, author, illustrator and prize-winning cookie baker. Schigiel does a lot of things well, but one he’s particularly apt at is dreaming up new foods. He’s a fount of fantastical ideas, like a Ben Franklin of the culinary arts. Except he doesn’t do it for work – just for kicks. He has made a turdurken meatloaf, with cornbread chips as a binder and a Peking duck-like glaze; peanut butter and jelly cookies with toast crumbs and pockets of dehydrated grape jam; a rainbow cake that wasn’t just all color: Each separate cake and frosting layer had a distinct flavor, from cherry and Key lime to blueberry and ube.
So I shot him a message: “Brainstorming: Banana Split Pie. Thoughts?” I listed out my initial ideas. Within a few minutes he sent back at least a dozen more. One curiosity that I tried thanks to him, but ultimately decided against, was the use of (banana-flavored!) circus peanuts as a topping (flavorful but too sticky). Another that we discussed was making a crust out of ice cream cones (too sweet and heavy). He was really gunning for a hot fudge topping, but unless you make one to serve on the side, it melts the pie before there’s time to serve it.
Inspired by Wayne Thiebaud’s 1991 “Neapolitan Pie” painting, I knew I wanted to layer different flavors (and colors) of ice cream in a cookie-style pie crust. Finally, though my feelings for bananas run hot and cold, this pie needed to immediately evoke a banana split – and that meant it needed lots of bananas.
In the recipe I settled on, the banana split gets blown up. Salty pretzels are molded into a crust. which is filled with fresh banana slices and then layers of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream. Just before serving, the pie gets another layer of banana slices, thick swoops of whipped cream, and drizzles of strawberry and caramel sauce. Easy-to-make chocolate shavings, crunchy peanuts and bright red cherries provide the finishing flourish.
The best part? Not having to turn on the oven, and if you buy the caramel sauce, no need to turn on the stove, either. Feel free to use other ice cream flavors instead of the Neapolitan trio. Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey would work well, with Chocolate Therapy or Chocolate Peanut Buttery Swirl – or consider swapping the strawberry ice cream for bright red strawberry sorbet, which adds a nice brightness to the pie. And if you, like Schigiel, feel strongly about the hot fudge sauce: Break up and melt the remainder of the chocolate bar you used to make the chocolate curls with a few tablespoons of heavy cream in a bowl in the microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring until the mixture is melted and smooth, and serve the quick fudge on the side.
Banana Split Sundae Pie
Active: 35 minutes | Total: 1 hour 20 minutes, plus optional overnight chilling
8 to 10 servings
Boasting a salty pretzel crust and three ice cream flavors, this no-bake dessert is a throwback to the beloved classic, the banana split, but refashioned into a pie finished off with a flourish of whipped cream, caramel, nuts, chocolate shavings and bananas, of course. If your kitchen is so hot you can’t even consider turning on the stove, buy the caramel sauce instead of making it.
The pie needs to be made 1 day ahead to set, and can be stored, wrapped and frozen, for up to 4 days.
For the caramel
- 1/3 cup (75 grams) sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) heavy cream or half-and-half
For the crust
- 4 cups (160 grams) dried mini pretzels
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick/113 grams) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
For assembling the pie
- 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) chocolate ice cream
- 2 large ripe but firm bananas
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) strawberry ice cream
- 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) vanilla ice cream
- 1 cup (240 milliliters) heavy cream
- 1/2 cup (130 grams) strawberry jam
- 1 bar (100 grams) dark chocolate, preferably 70 percent
- 1/3 cup (42 grams) shelled toasted walnuts or salted peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)
- 5 to 8 maraschino cherries
- 5 to 8 fresh cherries, pitted (optional)
Make the caramel sauce: Heat a small stainless steel skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Sprinkle in some of the sugar and watch for it to melt, then sprinkle in more. When all of the sugar is added, decrease the heat to medium, add the salt and stir until the caramel turns the color of a penny. This could happen in less than 1 minute, or it could take a few minutes. Turn off the heat. If any sugar clumps together, break it up with a spoon.
Carefully whisk in the cream; the mixture will sizzle and spatter; take care not to let it splatter onto your skin. If the sugar seizes, turn the heat to low and cook, whisking, until the sugar melts again and the caramel is smooth, 5 to 8 minutes.
Pour the caramel into a heat-safe container, cover and set aside until ready to serve.
Make the crust: Butter a 9-inch regular or deep-dish pie plate.
In a food processor, grind the pretzels until almost fine, leaving a few small bits for texture. (Alternatively, place the pretzels in a zip-top plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin.) Stir in the sugar, then the butter and combine thoroughly. The mixture should look like wet sand.
Transfer the crust mixture into the pie plate and, using your fingers, press it into the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Transfer the plate to the freezer and let chill while you prepare the pie, for at least 10 minutes or, covered, for as long as 1 week.
Assemble the pie: Let the chocolate ice cream soften on the counter for about 10 minutes.
Remove the crust from the freezer. Peel 1 banana and slice it into 1/3-inch rounds. Lay the banana slices evenly over the crust and sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice.
Working quickly, use a spoon and/or a small spatula to spread the chocolate ice cream evenly over the crust, smoothing it out as you go. Return the pie to the freezer for about 10 minutes, or until the chocolate layer is almost solid. Remove the strawberry ice cream from the freezer and let it soften on the counter while the pie chills.
Remove the pie from the freezer and, working quickly, scoop the strawberry ice cream over the chocolate layer, smoothing it out as you go. Return the pie to the freezer for about 10 minutes, or until the strawberry layer is almost solid. Remove the vanilla ice cream from the freezer and let it soften on the counter while the pie chills.
Remove the pie from the freezer and, working quickly, scoop the vanilla ice cream over the strawberry layer, smoothing it out as you go. Return the pie to the freezer for about 10 minutes, or until the vanilla layer is almost solid; if making in advance, tightly cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight until ready to serve.
Use a well chilled medium bowl and whisk, or a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, to whip the cream just until fluffy and stiff peaks hold. (Whipping by hand will take longer than with a mixer.) If making the whipped cream in advance, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (you may need to rewhip).
In a small bowl, stir the strawberry jam with 1 tablespoon warm water until thin enough to drizzle; strain. If making in advance, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Peel the remaining banana and slice it as the first. Pull the pie out of the freezer and top with the banana slices. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice. Top with the whipped cream and drizzle the strawberry and caramel sauces over.
Using a vegetable peeler, shave curls of dark chocolate on top and sprinkle with the nuts, if using, and maraschino cherries and fresh cherries, if using.
Dip the pie plate into a shallow pool of warm water to help loosen the crust. Slice and serve right away, with extra sauce on the side. (To get cleaner slices, dip the knife in hot or warm water and wipe dry with a towel between slices.)
Nutrition (based on 10 servings) | Calories: 600; Total Fat: 37 g; Saturated Fat: 24 g; Cholesterol: 155 mg; Sodium: 390 mg; Carbohydrates: 58 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugars: 39 g; Protein: 6 g.