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A lifetime baker's banana cream pie

Scripps Howard News Service

Must credit Tampa Bay Times

With photo/graphic: SH12C113BANANACREAMPIE

By EMILY YOUNG

Tampa Bay Times

WHO: Norman Shockley of Palm Harbor, Fla., retired baker, firefighter and dock worker for Shell Oil; married with three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

WHAT: Banana Cream Pie.

ABOUT THE RECIPE: It was a summer day in 1948 when 12-year-old Norman Shockley walked past the new bakery two blocks from his house.

"Hey, sonny," the baker sweeping in front of the shop called out, "you want a job?"

Shockley said he had never had a job before, but the baker assured him it was OK.

"I'll pay you good. I'll pay you 14 cents an hour."

Shockley said he can still remember the smell of the bakery that day, with its brick ovens turning out everything from pastries to cupcakes. He never wanted to leave. In fact, he said he "wanted to try everything."

He didn't know it then, but that job would be his introduction to a lifelong passion for baking.

He started washing pots and sweeping floors after school. Soon, he moved up to icing cupcakes and baking bread. By the time he was 18, his reputation for icing cakes landed him a job that paid more than his father's.

From the day Shockley started that first bakery job, he wrote down tips. He said he carried a small black notebook in his pocket so he'd never forget anything.

Today, he still has that notebook -- along with two more -- filled with recipes and tips he's accumulated over the past 60 years. "The book is so old, I have to be careful when I turn the pages," he said.

Shockley eventually got the chance to start his own bakery in New Jersey. It just happened to be across the street from a church that emptied out right into his shop every Sunday afternoon. People flocked to buy desserts, like his banana cream pie.

According to Shockley, the pie is so much fun to make that you, too, might want to start your own bakery. If not, your friends will love you for making it.

TIPS: To get a "beautiful professional cut," fill a glass with warm water and dip your knife in it each time before you cut a slice of the pie.

ON THE SIDE: A cup of coffee.

CAN'T BAKE WITHOUT? Imagination. In the bakery, imagination is "how anything ever came about," Shockley said. For him, baking is about craftsmanship -- creating a beautiful design on a birthday cake, or choosing the exact pastel shade of the iced flower on a cupcake.

BANANA CREAM PIE

2 frozen pie shells

For custard:

1 quart milk

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons butter

3 eggs

3-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons vanilla

Pinch of salt

1 bag Angel Flake coconut (optional)

4 to 6 medium bananas

For whipping cream:

1 quart heavy whipping cream

2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Poke holes all around the pie shells with a fork. Remove the shells from their aluminum pie tins, and turn them upside down on top of the tins. Place in oven and bake until lightly browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. If pie crusts blister, poke with a fork to flatten down.

Let them cool and then flip the pie shells right side up and place back inside the pie tins.

Meanwhile, mix a quart of milk with 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons of butter and whisk until butter and sugar are dissolved.

Take out 1-1/2 cups of the warm mixture and put it into another bowl. Keep the remaining milk mixture on a slow boil.

Slowly stir three beaten eggs into the 1-1/2 cups you took out. Add 3-1/2 rounded teaspoons of cornstarch, 2 tablespoons of vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Once the milk in the pan is rising, pour in the egg mixture slowly, about a half cup at a time, stirring constantly. When it starts to thicken and bubble around the edges, take it off the stove and pour into pie shells. Fill the shells about 90 percent full.

Let cool 30 minutes, then place in fridge until cold.

Slice the bananas. Once pie is cold, take out of fridge and completely cover the custard with the sliced bananas.

Combine a quart of heavy whipping cream with 2-3 tablespoons of powdered sugar to taste. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Whip until thick.

With a knife, spread a thin layer of the whipped topping over the tops of the bananas to keep them from turning brown. Then divide the rest of the whipped cream over the tops of the two pies. You can either use a knife or an icing bag.

If desired, sprinkle shredded Angel Flake coconut over the top.

Serves 8 to 10.

-- Norman Shockley

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service www.scrippsnews.com)