I was raised in a family that values banana pudding above all other dessert options. I’m not sure how my dad’s side of the family came to elevate the banana pudding above all other desserts. So, I made up a story wherein some great-great-great relative had horrible leg cramps from undiagnosed potassium deficiency and after enjoying a delicious banana pudding they found relief from their pain and declared banana pudding not only medicinal but the official “family dessert.” This story is in no way factual or even necessary…I just thought you should know that bananas are high in potassium so you can totally make yourself a banana pudding and eat the whole thing under the guise of “preventing leg cramps.” Just note that you’ll have to find your own method to “prevent obesity” but since your legs will be so un-crampy I might suggest jogging.
Anyway, I digress.
Banana pudding in our family was always made by my grandmother until she became too ill and my father then took up the whisk and became the family “Pudding Man,” a title he takes very seriously. So seriously in fact that when he had to make a banana pudding in my kitchen one holiday weekend he was completely incensed that I had no double boiler. I suggested the metal bowl over a pot of boiling water trick and he looked at me like I had suggested he also squat in the middle of the kitchen floor and lay an egg…which actually would have been convenient because I was totally out of eggs.
Instead of using my suggestion of metal bowl over boiling pot, he shuffled me out to the car, drove to the local home goods store and purchased a double boiler. The lesson: invite
snobby family over to cook and you get free kitchen implements. (Related: I may or may not have obtained my gas grill in similar fashion)
But since Dad was not at my house when my latest bout of homesickness and
sugar craving leg cramping hit, I realized it was time I take up the family whisk and learn the delicate art of the banana pudding.
The first thing you’ll need is Nabisco Nilla Wafers. These are very important. You see, the top-secret family recipe is…uh…on the side of the box. We like to hide things in plain sight. Now you could use a bargain store brand but I’ve found that there really is a difference and several of the discount brands I’ve tried have a heavier texture than the Nabisco ones…but you use the ones you like. (Nabisco has in no way contributed anything to me to endorse their product, but I’d totally be open to endorsing stuff …and I have like 4 readers so …yeah).
You’re going to need 2 boxes of cookies. This is because by the time the custard is done, you’ll realize you’ve snacked your way through 3/4 of the first box already. It’s pretty much inevitable, don’t try to fight it, just buy two boxes of the cookies and save yourself the second trip to the market.
While we’re on the topic of the market, I’d like to take a moment to point out that you want ripe bananas here. Maybe even bananas with a few brown dots on the peels. No green. If you have to buy bananas that are still green, you’ll need to wait a few days before you make the pudding to let them ripen.
Just follow the directions on the box. It’s super easy. One tip though, if you are like our family and like your cookies to get nice and mushy, stop cooking your custard while it’s still pretty runny. My family likes the soupy version where the cookies get super saturated. Yes, you read that right, we like our cookies soggy and we’re not apologetic about it.
Construction of the pudding is just a layering process. Cookies, then bananas, then custard – usually a total of three layers of each. I will warn you to try not to let your bananas overlap. This is because we’ve found that where banana touches banana is where you tend to find your bananas turn black. So, if just the very edges touch, you’re good. But if there’s full overlap going on, you’re liable to find some yucky looking black bananas in there after a night in the fridge. It’s still totally edible and delicious, it’s just not pretty.
Then comes the meringue. I always misspell “meringue” as “merengue” so if I miss any of them in this blog post, know that I mean whipped egg whites with sugar and vanilla and not a latin dance. A meringue that won’t cooperate is super frustrating so you need to know a few simple rules. First, the egg whites have to be at room temperature. If yours are still cold, just wait. Second, only use a glass or metal bowl and MAKE SURE IT’S CLEAN! I always re-wash my clean bowl right before making a meringue and dry it really well because any dust or particulates in the bowl will prevent the egg whites from getting all big and bouffant-like. Third, if you don’t have an electric mixer, your arm will probably fall off before you ever get a decent meringue. Fourth, wait to add the sugar to the meringue after it’s all fluffy-like but before you get to the hard peak stage. If you add the sugar too soon, your meringue will never get to the hard peak stage. And Finally, even if you follow all the rules, it’s still possible your meringue won’t cooperate for reasons science cannot explain so be sure you have extra eggs on hand to start over and just keep trying. Don’t let the rules scare you, making meringue is really easy – it’s just that sometimes it takes patience.
Once you have a perfect meringue, you want to be sure to “seal” it to the edges of your baking dish and then I like to tap the top of it with my rubber spatula until it looks like it’s been to see Anne Burrell’s stylist. Then into the oven until it’s a sandy blonde with brunette tips.
I should warn you that when I googled banana pudding to find the recipe, I read a post somewhere (I can’t give it credit because I can’t find it now) that called it an “unsophisticated” dessert because it used store-bought cookies. Well, whoever-wrote-that-sentence, you better hope that the “Pudding Man” never reads it or he’s liable to ACTUALLY lay an egg this time.
Another thing that might make him lay an egg: CHEATING ON THE CUSTARD! Yes, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Using instant pudding mix instead of actually making the custard. It’s like trying to pass off Ke$ha as Madonna. It’s not nearly as good and it’s just as easy to make the custard as it is to make a box of instant pudding. The hardest thing you have to do is separate the egg and I feel confident that if you’re physically adept enough to open a box of instant pudding, you’re physically adept enough to separate an egg. They even make these ridiculous egg separators for those of you NOT adept enough to separate an egg. I have one. I always get frustrated that it takes too long for the thick egg white to slither through the small openings and end up just using my fingers to separate the egg. But then I’m impatient…and unsophisticated in my food choices, so there’s that.
I hope you try this family favorite…your legs and your sweet tooth will thank you.