Your guess is as good as mine why Esme started asking me for banana pudding about two months ago. I don't believe she's ever had it unless she's making covert trips to the South without me knowing. I know I've never had it and was surprised to find that there's no banana in the pudding at all. It's more like an English trifle that you assemble into layers. I learned it's a classic Southern dessert with all the variations you expect in home cooking classics. Some sounded like creamy, delicious heaven and some sounded down right gross, made with all sorts of pre-fab mixes. And as you know, that's not how we roll. As I often do when I want to know about a kind of dessert I've never made before, I turned to The Joy of Baking and as usual Stephanie Jaworski's recipe and explanation were perfect. I can't say I'd take the time to make home made pudding on the regular as it is a bit of effort and you've got to really watch it but if you're going to go for it why not do it up right?
The brilliance of this dessert is the contrast in textures — the silky vanilla pudding against the crunch of the vanilla cookies and the luscious, sweet banana. It was really good. Esme was on set with me and so she helped put these together. The one she made for herself does not appear in the photo was not made by Esme. Hers was a kind of crazy tower of excess which overflowed the bowl and was consumed before its more attractive counterparts made it to set.
photo by Maya Visnyei
3 1/2 cups milk
1/3 plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
5 or 6 just ripe bananas
About 3/4 cup of vanilla wafer cookies broken into bite sized pieces (I used Nabisco's Nilla cookies and they were perfect)
Garnish with whipped cream, banana slices and vanilla wafer cookies
In a big, steel bowl, whisk together cornstarch, eggs and the egg yolk, salt and 1/3 cup of sugar. Then add 1/2 cup of milk and keep whisking until everything is well combined. Set this mixture aside for now.
Get a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed sauce pan out. Now for my favourite pudding making trick. Rinse cold water from the tap into the sauce pan and then empty it out. That sheer film of water is going to help keep your pudding from sticking or scorching. Place the saucepan on the stove top and add 3 cups of milk and 1/4 cup of sugar. Bring it just to the boil then take it off the heat. Using a ladle, pour scoops of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking as you go. Keep adding spoonfuls of the hot milk into the egg and whisking until the egg mixture is warmed up, then you can just gradually pour the hot milk in without curdling the eggs.
Transfer the mixture to a clean sauce pan — either the same one you used for the milk, just give it a quick wash or a new one — and place over medium/low heat. Stirring constantly, cook for about 3 to 5 minutes until you've got a mayonaise texture. I think the best tool for the job is a flexible spatula as it allows you to into the corners or your pot. (I don't even know why I'm telling you I found the twitter fight between Michael Ruhlman, Ted Allen and Eric Ripert on whether a wooden spoon or spatula is the appropriate tool for the job strangely sexy stuff. TMI?)
Now get it right off the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Pour the pudding through a fine mesh sieve and into a bowl to remove any lumps that may have formed. I know, I know, one more thing to wash but you've come this far and it's worth it, I promise. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for at least an hour or over night.
Okay, now for the fun part! Assemble your banana pudding by getting all of your ingredients ready. Of course you could use any kind of dessert bowls to serve these in but it's nice to see the layers, so glass parfait bowls or even wine glasses if you can trust your kids to not shatter them. You're just going to make layers — crumbled vanilla wafers, a couple spoonfuls of pudding, slices of bananas and repeat. Finish with a layer of pudding and top with a dollop of whipped cream, a banana slice and a vanilla cookie. If you think you're not going to serve all of the pudding then don't assemble them all as the cookies will lose their crunch if you assemble the trifles and then put them in the fridge. Enjoy!