Back in the day before I thought about food 24/7 and I was relatively new to the kitchen, I made this dessert to take somewhere. Only I made it with boxed pudding and Cool Whip. Which isn’t terrible, but I love making as much from scratch as possible, so quite a many years later, this is a completely homemade version.
I have always been curious about what makes this a southern tradition (after all, it’s really just vanilla pudding, Nilla wafers, sliced bananas and whipped cream), so I did some reading. It seems that bananas first began being marketed in the United States around the turn of the century, in the early 1900’s. Cooks began using the fruit in all sorts of dishes, especially in recipes for puddings and custards with meringue toppings. The addition of the vanilla wafers in the banana pudding came later. I couldn’t find exactly why this picked up more in the southern states than in any other areas, but a great many thanks to the southerners who dreamed up this amazing dessert!
This pudding is made using the same exact process that is used for making pastry cream. You may remember that last summer I did a step-by-step tutorial (with photos) of how to make pastry cream. If you are making homemade pudding or pastry cream for the first time, it may help to refer to that post. The key is to just keep whisking once everything is on the stovetop, and once you get a few bubbles on the surface the mixture should get thick and shiny. Running it through the fine-mesh sieve will catch any bits of egg in case it was overcooked just a tad. The strainer seems to always catch at least a few little pieces whenever I make pastry cream or ice cream custard.
This is actually a really quick recipe to put together (minus the chill time) and is a perfect end to any summer meal!
1. Heat the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, whisk the egg and yolk in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 20 seconds.
2. When the milk mixture reaches a full simmer, gradually whisk the simmering mixture into the egg mixture to temper. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula; return to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla.
3. Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to keep a skin from forming.
4. Line the bottom of a 1½-quart serving dish with vanilla wafers. On top of the wafers, place a layer of the sliced bananas. Pour ½ of the pudding over the bananas, and spread to the edges of the dish. Repeat the vanilla wafers, bananas, and pudding again. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the pudding and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
5. When ready to serve, whip the heavy cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Spread on top of the pudding and top with crushed vanilla wafers. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.