Saturday, January 24, 2009

Step by Step Tutorial for Homemade Southern Banana Pudding

A true southern classic, no event would be complete without somebody bringing a big bowl of banana pudding with homemade custard.

Homemade Southern Banana Pudding

Banana pudding is a mainstay here in the south. It shows up at just about every single event there is. Now I'll be the first to say that there isn't anything unique to me about this recipe - meaning I can't rightfully take credit for it, because it's basically the original Nilla brand vanilla wafer recipe that every southerner uses and the one that has been around for a bazillion years. Okay, maybe not quite that long, but it's been around for a loooong time for sure, it's the way my Mama made banana pudding and it's the way that I make banana pudding.

Homemade custard is not absolutely necessary but it really is a huge difference from the shortcut version, so I highly suggest that you give the custard a try. If you use a double boiler it makes easy work of it and it really doesn't take any longer than whipping up some instant pudding to be honest. If you don't have a double boiler, a Pyrex glass bowl fitted over the top of a pot of boiling water works just fine. You can also do it in a pot straight over the burner, but it will scorch and burn easily on the way to the thickening you are trying to achieve, so you will have to be extra careful with it. That's why I prefer the double boiler type of method.  Be sure to let the hot custard cool a bit before layering the dessert, otherwise the cookie wafers turn to mush. 

And the taste? Well, the taste of the custard over the instant pudding is just over the top in comparison. BUT, that said ... there ain't a thing wrong with using the instant pudding either. Hey, it's a busy world we women live in! And I guarantee you that there are many southern cooks who do the shortcut version too. Do try the custard sometime though, you will not be sorry!

"OH~MY~STARS!!!! This weekend I made the best banana puddin' bar none!" sez Tammy. Why, thank ya Tammy!
Now, the meringue. While you can certainly make this pudding and top it with a layer of whipped cream or Cool Whip and that's perfectly acceptable, but oh, please do try the meringue. It's really not as difficult as people think once you give it a shot, and not only does it add to the flavor of the pudding, it makes for such a beautiful presentation too. In my little ole humble opinion, that is what makes banana pudding authentically southern - a topping of meringue. And besides, you'll treasure those ooohs and aaahhs you'll get, trust me! Visit my step by step meringue post to see just how easy it really is.

One disclaimer before we get rollin'. This is only my way of making banana pudding, based on how my Mama used to make it and what I grew up with. That's not to say it's the only way, or the right way. If you search the internet, you'll see there's lots of different ways people make their own banana pudding - even among cooks in the South. Some you see will mix the pudding and wafers together and not use meringue at all. Some top it with whipped cream or non-dairy topping. Some don't make a homemade custard. All of them are good. Do what you like!

That said, let's start, shall we?  You'll need a double boiler, or just do like me and set a Pyrex bowl atop a saucepan.

Bring the water in the pot to a boil, top it with the bowl, and to the bowl you'll add 1/2 cup of the sugar, the flour, salt, and milk and the egg yolks. (Now here imagine I have a picture of the ingredients being placed into the bowl LOL... um, anyway...) Stir the mixture constantly until it thickens, remove from heat, and whisk in the vanilla. You want a thickened custard that looks like pudding with no lumps. Set it aside and let it cool a bit before layering the dessert. Otherwise the cookie wafers turn to mush. 

Now you'll build your pudding layers, but before you start, take your mixer bowl, stick the beater in the bowl, and put both of them in the freezer to chill, if you have room. If you don't it's not a necessary step, so don't sweat it. The cold bowl and beater helps to get nice stiff peaks quick on the egg whites for your meringue.

Now, choose a bowl to layer your pudding in - I like to use a clear one so you can show off the layers of your pudding. Spoon just a bit of the custard into the bottom. I couldn't find my Mama's old bowl that I wanted to use, and though this one kind of flares out so it's hard to show the layers, and it's a bit too large, but it'll work for now. Sigh.

Put a layer of the wafers on top of the custard.

Add some sliced bananas - as little or as much as you want.

Put a layer of wafers around the outside edges of the bowl, with the rounded part facing out.

Layer with more of the custard.

Top with more wafers.

And more sliced bananas.

Top with custard.

Continue with the wafers, banana and custard so that you have three layers, ending with the custard. Set aside.

Now we'll be making the meringue. You'll want to retrieve your mixer bowl and beater from the freezer. Put the egg whites in the bowl and beat them on medium low until it starts to get frothy. Add a pinch of cream of tartar and increase speed to medium.

Almost ready to start adding in the sugar.

Getting there.

Now we're getting soft peaks and it's time to start adding the sugar, just a little at a time. Increase speed to medium high.

Until you have more stiffened peaks. Aren't they pretty?

At this point you could pretty much turn the bowl upside down and the egg whites would not fall out. They're ready!

Spread the egg whites all across the top of the last layer of custard of your pudding bowl and swirl it around a bit.

And there you have it! Now we'll be putting it in the oven under the broiler just to brown the peaks. It only takes just a few seconds, so you'll have to keep a peek on your peaks! Don't wanna burn 'em for sure!

And isn't that such a pretty presentation? You will be the belle of the ball - just sayin'...

And now you can let it rest for a bit, so the custard and the wafers and everything can sort of just meld together and be happily married in flavordom, then spoon out, dig in and enjoy!

Recipe: Homemade Southern Banana Pudding

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 20 min | Yield: About 12 servings

  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided to 1/2 and 1/4 cups
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • Dash kosher salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon, overflowing of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 box of Nilla Vanilla Wafers (you won't use every one them)
  • 4 to 6 ripe bananas, sliced
  • Pinch cream of tartar

Separate the egg whites and yolks into separate bowls; set aside the whites at room temperature to make meringue. In the top of a double boiler, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar with the flour, salt, and milk. Whisk in the yolks and cook, stirring mixture constantly, until it thickens. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla and set aside. In a 1-1/2 quart sized bowl or baking dish, begin layering two or three layers of wafers, bananas and custard. Spoon a small amount of the custard on the bottom of your dish; add a layer of the wafers on top of the custard and also around the outside of bowl with the rounded tops facing out, if desired. Top the layer of wafers with banana slices, top that with custard and repeat layers, ending with custard on top. Set aside.

Make the meringue by beating the egg whites on low speed until they begin to look frothy. Add in the cream of tartar, increase speed to medium and beat until soft peaks begin to form, gradually adding in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Beat until stiff peaks begin to form. Spread the meringue all over the top of the last layer of custard, spreading it completely out to the edges. Using a spatula, create some swirls on top and place pudding under the broiler, with the door ajar, for a few seconds, only long enough to brown the peaks and edges of the meringue. Alternatively, you can bake it at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes or until browned. Let pudding rest for 1 hour, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours before serving. Garnish with a sprinkling of crushed wafers, if desired. Makes about 12, 2/3 cup servings - double custard recipe for a larger bowl.

NOTE: If you have never made a homemade egg custard before, I recommend reviewing the step by step tutorial recipe (above) and then also, understand that egg custard must be cooked slowly and it simply takes time to thicken, but stick with it and eventually it will get thick. Just keep cooking it! I always recommend preparing it with a double boiler method which is slow, but prevents curdling the eggs and burning the custard, which happens easily with a direct stovetop method. As long as you follow the recipe and continue to cook it, it will thicken, but you must practice patience.

Shortcut Cheater "Custard"

3 cups of milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 (3.4 ounce) packages of vanilla instant pudding mix
1 (8 ounce) container of sour cream

To a mixer bowl combine the milk and vanilla extract. Add the vanilla instant pudding mix and beat at medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until thickened. Let stand for 5 minutes and then stir in the sour cream. Use this mixture in place of the homemade custard, eliminating the 1/2 cup sugar, flour, salt, milk and egg yolks. Layer the shortcut custard with the wafers and bananas, and prepare the meringue as directed above to top it off. Can also substitute whipped cream or Cool Whip for the meringue, if desired.

~Cook's Notes~

I have taken to liking extra custard in my banana pudding, so I have been doubling the custard portion of this recipe. Depending on your size bowl (mine is 10" across and 3" deep), you might want to do the same!


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©Deep South Dish
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Posted by on January 24, 2009

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  1. Mary that looks so delicious. True southern pudding the only way to go. I grabbed your button for my site.

  2. Oh you're so sweet!! Thanks! {{HUGS}}

  3. oh yum. My MIL makes this and we LOVE it!! I had forgotten about it, but now I'm going to make it. :)

  4. ps-I gave you an award, cause I love your blog so much! go check out my blog. :)

  5. Oh Krystal ... I'm blushing! That's so sweet what you wrote. I tried to reply on your blog but it wouldn't let me respond?? I'll try again later. Anyway, thanks, and I guess I'd better get busy figuring out what I'm supposed to do now LOL!

  6. I remember my Mama standing at the stove stirring up this custard, only I think she did not double boil, which is why it took so long and was a discouragement to me, so I started doing the 'instant' shortcut method you mentioned. I will definitely try this ASAP!

    I love your blog and recipes!♥

  7. Hey Tammy - thanks for the sweet note and the great compliment!!

    If you do the homemade custard with a double boiler or just a bowl over a pot with a little bit of boiling water (don't let the water touch the bottom of the bowl though) you'll find that it is MUCH quicker than doing it right on the eye in a pot. The homemade custard is so good, I swear I could just eat it by itself!! I layer my pudding because that's how my Mama did it, but some folks just mix it all together. I think the layers are really pretty and while you don't have to whip the whites, it really makes it look so special! Let me know if you try it this way!!

  8. I agree with you! Homemade custard is the best!! One of my husband's favorite desserts if homemade bananna pudding.

  9. Goodness me that looks good!! That's the way my Aunt used to make banana pudding and I remember us fighting to get to scrape the bottom of the bowl at family get-togethers. I've been looking for a similar way to make it for a long time, so thank you.

    I'm living in Australia now, so will have to source out the Nilla Wafers, but I'm sure it'll get done hehe :)

  10. Homemade custard is the best tasting, so true, but I like the shortcut method too.

    Jessica, I'm sure you will figure out an appropriate substitute!

  11. There's no doubt that this is the Southern way to make Banana Pudding. The baked meringue says so! :) I make my custard by a similar recipe, but skip the double boiler and prepare it in the microwave. Works every time.

  12. @heartofacountryhome - I looked at your blog and didn't see your recipe or a way to email you. While I don't mind the process of using a double boiler (or in my case, a bowl over a pot!) for my homemade custard and it goes pretty fast, I am always looking for shortcuts in any method of cooking. Please let us know the details on your microwave version of custard! I would be interested in seeing that.

  13. Love your site. I also make homemade custard banana pudding but for a treat I use oatmeal cookies (storebought or homemade with cinnamon) instead of nilla wafers. And I use the custard recipe my grandma scratched on a piece of paper back in about 1965. Yummo

  14. Aw Kimmie, that's so sweet you still have that!! Bet those oatmeal cookies are wonderful with banana and custard - it's good with shortbread cookies too.

  15. help me out can I make the banana pudding with splinda and no sugar?
    if so anyone know how much I should use? please help me out I miss this pudding so much have not had it for yrs.

  16. Hi James! I'm not an expert in diabetic or sugar free desserts by any means, but I would suggest maybe using the shortcut custard recipe at the bottom, instead of homemade custard, and substitute an appropriate milk and sugar free vanilla pudding. For the meringue, sweeten that with the granular Splenda, maybe a little bit under the 1/4 cup, and substitute a sugar free vanilla wafer cookie. Hope that helps!

  17. I am making this delicious dessert right now. I noticed that you did not mention how long it takes to cook the custard. I have been stirring mine for 40 min. It is getting thicker but is this normal?

  18. Hi Jenise! No time is mentioned because custard will vary, though I can get mine a bit faster, it certainly can take awhile. Just depends on how you're doing it. You have to take it slow at first to avoid scrambled eggs. Enjoy!!

  19. I made my Nanas recipe for banana pudding last week- Ive not compared it side by side w yours but it seems about the same. I opted out of the double boiler method because my bowl doesnt sit steady enough to really whisk anything vigorously. The recipe seems basically the same as a pastry cream- which I never double boil- so I went at it that way. Its looser than a pastry cream but essentially the same. My Nana rarely added "assembly" steps to her recipes they are lists of ingredients with vague steps to follow. Its good to see the "rest" of the recipe here. :o)

  20. Hi Kristen & welcome! You're right. Most southerner's recipes for banana pudding are basically pretty similar when using a homemade custard, and it's true that someone who is experienced with cooked custard doesn't need to bother with a double boiler/bowl over a pot method. I prefer this method, and I try to write most of my recipes for the less experienced cook though, so for this recipe, in hopes that they don't burn their custard!

    As far as assembly, some folks like to stir everything together rather than layer, but my mama always layered so that's how I like mine!

    Thanks so much for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. Hope you come back to visit sometime!!

  21. mmmmmmm.....looks so delish! I think I will have to make one asap. Thanks for sharing.

  22. This seriously makes my mouth water. There is nothing better, is there? Good job!

  23. Ah, my dad loves banana pudding so I spose I'll have to make some for him soon. (:

    I'm pretty glad I stumbled upon this blog here. I was raised in Mississippi but got dragged up to Maryland one year into high school and haven't been back since. Some good Southern cooking will probably bring a lot of nostalgia and a very satisfied belly.

  24. I am looking for a recipe on how to make boudin kolache. please post your recipes. Deep south dish recipes are awesome!

  25. Thanks so much! Glad you're enjoying the site but I don't have a kolache up yet. Do check back though - I'll get to it at some point!

  26. My grandma is from the south and we make this every year! It works a little better in a flat pyrex pan though.

  27. Yes, a 9 x 13 inch dish is a bit easier and a good idea for a large gathering or potluck, that's true. Some people even prefer to mix the cookies and pudding all up rather than layer it when putting it into an oblong dish. I make it the way my mama made it though, layered in a bowl, with cookies stacked along the sides - actually in her bowl that she made it in... now that I've found it that is! :)

  28. The "cookie-wafer MUSH" is my favorite part! :) So I put it together while it's still hot on purpose. Also, 1/2 of my family prefer the pudding hot and the other 1/2 cold...:)

  29. Not a thing wrong with that Laraine! I don't know how you manage the other hot/cold thing though LOL!!

  30. I make the custard in the microwave and cooking in 2 minute increments, and 5-6 minutes is usually just right - after cooking is finished add the vanilla and 2T butter. I can make the pudding from start to finish in 10 minutes. I always use the custard while hot - we like the soften cookies. No mirangue on my banana puddings!! I usually make with Splenda and use same measure of Splenda as sugar.

  31. I haven't tried the microwave method yet, but plan to!

  32. Banana Pudding is the first homework assignment in first grade for all Southern kids. My son likes it so much, he asks for it rather than a cake on his birthday! We also color the 3 ingredients appropriately for the various holidays. Red, white & blue for July 4th; orange and black for Halloween, etc.

  33. I don't blame him either! He must be a lover of custards too like me. Have to say though I've never seen one tinted - interesting idea!

  34. This is real food for your soul!! It really doesn't get any better. Thanks.

  35. Mary B I am a sucker for the homemade custard but you're right. Homemade banana pudding is surely soul food at it's best!

  36. I love banana pudding and I always make my own.(You can check out my recipe on my blog.) My mother used a mix, but it tastes sooo much better to make it from scratch and it only takes eight minutes to cook. We never put meringue on top, just ended with a layer of cookies.

    1. The homemade custard is so good though I sure wouldn't turn away a bowl of banana pudding made with packaged pudding either! Meringue is most traditional and that's the way my mama made it so that's what I do too, though some areas of the south don't use a meringue. I don't even mind a layer of whipped cream to be honest!! Like most southern dishes, it just really think that it depends on what you grew up with mostly. Mama's way is the right way!

  37. I'm very excited to try this recipe! I'll bring it for Easter Sunday, but I want to do a test run first. I'll be be bringing it to my future in-laws for Easter so I want to do it right! Can I make this the night before and refrigerate it or will it be mushy? Any suggestions? I'm looking forward to enjoying this!

    1. If you make it a day ahead the cookies definitely will soften as they sit in the custard and will be more sort of cake-like, but really some people say that's the way it should be! Hope you enjoy the banana pudding. I have a feeling you will! :)

  38. That looks amazing! I have a quick question. if I were to take out the banana pudding from the oven after my meringue is nice and brown, can I put it in the frige? (I don't like to eat mine warm.) Will this cause my meringue to shrink or will it still look nice and fluffy?

  39. This looks amazing, can't wait to try it!!
    I had a quick question though. If I were to take out the banana pudding out of the oven once my meringue was nice and brown and put it in the frige ( I don't like to eat mine warm) will my meringue stay nice and fluffy or will it shrink?

    1. Actually that's exactly what I do Nessa! Be sure to let it cool before transferring it though. The primary reason that meringue shrinks is gaps in the dish when it's applied. Make sure that you put the meringue on the custard when it's hot, and that when you spread the meringue over the top that it covers completely from edge to edge, with no gaps or spaces between the container and the meringue.

  40. I am so glad you posted this, sounds like my grandma's version of it! She also had a cheater recipe for it. Using the instant stuff but adding a can of sweetened condensed milk instead of sour cream. I really couldnt tell the difference, neither did the whole church. But I have really wanted to make it the old fashioned way, cant wait to try it!

  41. I can't take too much credit really - it's basically the old Nilla wafer recipe from way back when!! I have a different "custard" on the Moon Pie Banana Pudding here on the site that has cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk in it along with instant pudding. It's not a real custard with eggs of course, but mercy is that stuff good!!!

  42. Your website is my new favorite find!!!! I grew up in the midwest in a home with Sourthern cooking. I was a first generation midwesterner, with the absolute best Southern cooks ever! I was in high school before I realized that cornbread was not a staple in the average home. This is EXACTLY my grandma's banana pudding recipe, and not many people make it like this anymore...though we still do. Thanks for putting all of the best of the best Southern recipes on your site. I love it!

    1. Thank you SO much for such a sweet note - you made my night!! Welcome!!

  43. Excellent recipe! The custard was perfectly sweetened and flavored. I had a bit of trouble with it thickening, but I eventually got it there. The meringue didn't peak quite as high as I think it should have, but most likely I did something wrong. This is only the second time I've ever attempted meringue. The end result, and my dear honey's ohhs and ahhs as he ate it, were enough to classify this one as a winner. My grandma would be proud of this recipe!! :D

    1. I'm so glad that y'all enjoyed it! I can tell you that with experience the custard will come faster but until you've gotten the hang of it, better to go the low & slow route just to avoid burning it! I have a separate section on meringue with a few tips that might be helpful too. It's linked above in the post text. Thanks for stopping by to let me know it was a hit!!

  44. Excellent recipe! The custard was perfectly sweetened and flavored. I had a bit of trouble with it thickening, but I eventually got it there. The meringue didn't peak quite as high as I think it should have, but most likely I did something wrong. This is only the second time I've ever attempted meringue. The end result, and my dear honey's ooohs and ahhhs as he ate it, were enough to classify this one as a winner. My grandma would be proud of this recipe!! :D

  45. Is there something else I can use if I don't have a double boiler?

    1. Hi Andre! If you're experienced with preparing an egg custard, you don't need the double boiler or bowl over a pot method. I prefer this method because if you cook it directly on the burner you really have to be cautious, cook it very slow, stirring constantly and it takes awhile to thicken. I try to write most of my recipes for both the experienced and the less experienced cook though, so for this recipe I do recommend the double boiler since it's faster and more insurance against burning the custard! If you don't have an actual double boiler, you can use a glass or metal bowl over a pot of boiling water with just enough water to keep at a simmer, but not enough that it touches the bottom of the bowl, or you may also cook it on very low directly on the burner - just understand it takes much longer and make sure you stir, stir, stir so you don't burn it!


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