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 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 prizewinning 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 turducken 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 because of 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 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.