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.

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 too and you can also prepare it in a pot straight over the burner, although it will take much longer. You will also need to take extreme care that it doesn't scorch and/or burn easily on the way to the thickening you are trying to achieve, so you will have to be extra careful and stand over 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 a homemade 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. 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 a minor variation of the old original Nilla brand vanilla wafer recipe that most every Southerner used to use, 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.

That's not to say it's the only way, or the right way. Some may question my amount of milk - and no, it's not an error. I use 3 cups of whole milk - not low fat, not reduced fat, whole milk. Three cups, not two. If you search the internet, you'll find something different, and you'll probably 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. It's all good so do what you like!

That said, let's start, shall we? You'll need a double boiler, or just set a Pyrex bowl atop a saucepan as pictured here because when I wanted to take these pictures, I couldn't find my stainless double boiler.

Whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar, the flour, salt, milk and the egg yolks in the top bowl. (Now here imagine I have a picture of the ingredients being placed into the bowl LOL... um, anyway...) Place on the pot with water and bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon once the custard begins to get hot, and stir regularly (don't whisk) until custard thickens (at about 170 degrees F), remove from heat, and whisk in the vanilla, whisking until smooth. 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 break down too soon and turn mushy. It will continue to thicken as it sits.

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
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 3 cups whole milk (not reduced or low fat)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 box vanilla wafer cookies (Nilla brand recommended)
  • 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 (I use a stainless one), whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar with the flour, salt, and milk. Whisk in the yolks until blended. Cook, using a wooden spoon to stir regularly (do not whisk), until custard thickens (at about 170 degrees F). Remove top bowl, whisk in the vanilla until mixture is smooth and set aside. Mixture will continue to thicken as it sits.

In a 1-1/2 quart sized bowl or baking dish, begin layering two or three layers of wafers, bananas and custard. Smear 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.

Cook's Notes: When taking this to a holiday or other event, I double the custard portion of the recipe. Depending on your size bowl (mine is 10" across and 3" deep), you might want to do the same!

Please note that I use large eggs and 3 cups whole milk, not reduced or low fat. If you have never made a homemade egg custard before, understand that it must be cooked slowly and it simply takes time to thicken, but stick with it and eventually it will get thick.

I always recommend preparing it with a double-boiler method which is slow, but faster than stovetop and you are less likely to curdle or burn 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. I use a stainless double boiler, and once the water begins to boil, the custard takes from 6 to 8 minutes to thicken. Once the top bowl is removed from the double boiler, the custard will continue to thicken.

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©Deep South Dish

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.

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Posted by on January 24, 2009

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