I was crushed and promised a redo but for the life of me, couldn’t get enthusiastic enough about it to make them again. I chalked it up to lingering morning sickness, to the fact that maybe banana pudding wasn’t my thing, but it wasn’t until last week, when curiosity about what everyone else likes in banana pudding took me on a field trip to my old neighborhood where the bakery downstairs from my old apartment is rather beloved for theirs when I realize that the problem was me: I had attempted to upend a classic that wasn’t necessarily improved by it. Or more succinctly: It wasn’t broken so I didn’t need to fix it. Rookie mistake!
Caramelized bananas might be one of the most delicious things in the world but layered against a cold pudding and chilled, their texture fell a bit to gloop. Meringue, those ethereal piles of white plume, is wonderful on many pies, less enjoyable from the fridge a couple days later. And the best custard for the assembly — my takeaway from my crosstown excursion — is a bit on the loose side, so when those cookies begin to absorb it, the remaining pudding isn’t halfway to paste. Finally, while I’ve gotten closer to my homemade “nilla” wafer ideal this winter (in part by all but giving up on exactly replicating the bland factory-fabricated originals) I’ve found that a tiny buttery sugar cookie with two types of vanilla and a good pinch of sea salt is absolutely glorious in the pudding, standing out rather than being stuffed under.
One year ago: Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Biscuits
Two years ago: Cheese Blintz
Three years ago: Pasta and White Beans with Garlic-Rosemary Oil
Four years ago: Potato Chip Cookies
Five years ago: Mushroom and Farro Soup
Six years ago: Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions and Ricotta Muffins
Seven years ago: Smashed Chickpea Salad and Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
Eight years ago: Key Lime Cheesecake
Nine years ago: Sweet and Spicy Candied Pecans
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles with Cucumber
1.5 Years Ago: Three-Ingredient Summertime Salsa
2.5 Years Ago: Banana Nutella and Salted Pistachio Popsicles
3.5 Years Ago: Zucchini Bread Pancakes
4.5 Years Ago: Corn Buttermilk and Chives Popovers
I feel like I should duck some flying banana peels to say this, but this is really for the best if you start a day (or more) early. I know, I’m the worst. But the custard really needs an overnight in the fridge to set and you might as well get the cookies out of the way then too. Once assembled, you can eat it right away but I like it after settling in the fridge for a few more hours so the cookies get some give to them. Now, of course you don’t have to make your own vanilla wafers, but you will not regret these. What they lack in factory-pressed appearance, they make up for in deep vanilla flavor with a hint of saltiness that contrasts wonderfully against the sweet custard and fruit. Should you wish to use storebought cookies, the yields are similar, I got a little over 80 small cookies here and there are about 80 in the 11-ounce ‘Nilla wafer boxes. In pudding cups, I didn’t use them all.
You could also make this in one big dish, an 8×8-inch or other 2-quart dish. You’d likely use all of the cookies for this, and should make double the whipped cream for a topping.
Yield: 8 approximately 1-cup puddings
3⁄4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup (35 grams) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
6 large egg yolks
3 1⁄2 cups (830 ml) milk, preferably whole
2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter, cut into a few bits
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla
1 tablespoon (15 ml) dark rum (optional, but think it has an amazing impact here)
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
Seeds from 1/2 of a fresh vanilla bean
1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/3 cups (176 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
4 large firm-ripe bananas, thinly slices
Make the custard: Whisk sugar, cornstarch, salt and yolks together in the bottom of a large saucepan, ideally 4-quarts to protect against splattering as it simmers. Drizzle in milk, whisking the whole time so that no lumps form. Place over medium heat on the stove and bring up to a simmer, stirring. Once simmering, stirring, until custard thickens, 4 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in butter, vanilla, and rum. Let chill in fridge for several hours or overnight to finish thickening. You’ll have 4 cups custard.
Make the wafers: Heat oven to 350°F. In the bottom of a large bowl, combine sugar and vanilla been seeds, rubbing them together so that the abrasion from the sugar granules helps release the maximum vanilla flavor. Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, beat to combine. Sprinkle baking powder and salt over batter, beat to combine. Add flour and once again, beat just to combine.
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats. Using your tiniest scoop (yes, I actually have one that holds about 1 teaspoon), spoon or even a 1-teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop the dough (you can then roll it in your palms for a more perfect final round shape) and space at least 2 inches apart on prepared sheets. Bake 10 to 11 minutes, keeping a close eye on them. You’ll want them to be nicely golden at the edges before you take them out. Let cool on racks. Yield: About 80 1 3/4-inch cookies.
Assembly: Beat heavy cream with 2 teaspoons sugar until soft peaks form. Line the bottom of 8 1-cup dishes with a wafer cookie. Add custard (you’re looking to use about 1/3 of it total right now). Top with a layer of bananas. Repeat twice with more cookies (you can break them up to get them to fit better in small cups), custard and bananas. Dollop each pudding with whipped cream; chill (I prefer to do so with lids on so the whipped cream doesn’t dry out) for a few hours and up to a few days.
Jars Are Weck Tulip Jelly Jars (which I’d bought to keep baby food organized then, predictably, co-opted). I urge everyone to buy “keep fresh covers” for Weck jars. Clamps are adorable and photogenic but definitely annoying in the long run. I order them from Weck directly and save the gaskets and clamps for future canning projects.