Cake savant, cookie master, and overall Dessert Expert extraordinaire! Self-awarded titles, of course.
Southern Desserts Made With Love
There's nothing quite like banana pudding. I'm sure almost everyone has tried it before, but this recipe is different from the rest. I don't believe in shortcuts when it comes to dessert. I think the more "from scratch" a dessert is, the better it is. I'm not talking about raising chickens specifically to use their eggs or planting wheat to harvest for flour—though you could totally do that and it would make this dessert a thousand times more special. I'm talking about making everything from scratch and avoiding store-bought shortcut ingredients.
I can tell the difference between a store-bought box of instant pudding and the perfect, silky delicious pudding someone made on their stovetop. The difference is astounding! I'm one of those weird people who can taste the chemicals in all the instant foods. It's a total turn off, and it completely ruins the best desserts.
Trust me on this—taking the time to make your vanilla wafers, pudding, and topping from scratch is worth it! You'll be working a lot, but you'll thank me later.
Basics of a Banana Pudding
There are four main elements to a good southern banana pudding. Vanilla wafers, which are small, round cookies that are vanilla flavored (duh), ripe bananas, vanilla flavored pudding, and either meringue topping or whipped cream. Personally, I hate meringue. Don't freak out—I'm not the only dessert enthusiast who doesn't like it. But because there are so many people who do love it, I'll make sure to show you how to make it, too.
The assembly is pretty easy. You fill a big bowl with a layer of vanilla wafers, top the wafers with sliced bananas, pour the pudding on top of the bananas, and top it with whipped cream or meringue. If you're a meringue fan, you will then bake it until the meringue takes on a golden brown color. But here's the kicker—banana pudding needs to be served cold. So if you use meringue, you'll have to wait longer to eat it. I'm not a fan of waiting to eat something—so that's strike two in my "meringue sucks" book.
Some people like to layer the ingredients like a lasagna. I'm one of those people. I like to get a bite of equal parts wafer, banana, pudding, and whipped cream all in one bite. It's better that way to me. So complex and delicious! I'm getting hungry writing this article...
So in the subsequent steps, I'm going to show you how to make each and every ingredient from scratch.
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
2 hours 30 min
Step 1: Make the Vanilla Wafers
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick butter (1/2 cup) softened
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup regular sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 tablespoon vanilla emulsion
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- First, preheat your oven to 350°F.
- In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
- In a separate large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream the butter, powdered sugar, and regular sugar together until it turns a light yellow color and the grittiness of the sugar is gone. Once your butter mixture is smooth, add in the egg, vanilla, and cream. Mix until it is nice and smooth and well incorporated.
- Use a rubber spatula to slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet. You don't need to be too gentle, but be sure that you don't overmix.
- Once all the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients and is no longer streaky, use a small spoon to scoop out a small portion of dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Allow the cookies to bake for 10-12 minutes, or until they are a light golden brown. I tend to like my wafers a little more on the darker brown color, but that's on you. I think it adds more depth of flavor to go darker.
- When you remove the cookies from the oven, move them to a cooling rack so they don't become soggy on the bottom while cooling.
Step 2: Choose the Right Bananas
I know, this looks weird. But there is a reason I'm putting the bananas instructions here. The bananas you use for your banana pudding are just as important as the other ingredients.
- If you use bananas that are still a little green, the taste won't be as prominent as it should be.
- If you use bananas that are too ripe, they will be mushy and the texture will be kind of gross. Overripe bananas also go a bit slimy in banana pudding. No one wants slimy banana pudding.
- Choose a banana that is no longer green, but hasn't started browning just yet. You'll want to find a bunch of perfectly yellow bananas. A few brown spots on the outside isn't a deal-breaker, they can still work. Open one up, test the firmness by pressing your thumb into the flesh. It should give a little, but still be firm.
- You'll want to use 3 to 6 bananas for your pudding. I use 6, because I love a lot of banana in my banana pudding.
- Slice each banana in half-inch slices and place in a bowl. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of lemon juice over the bananas, toss them, and place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill out before assembly.
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Step 3: Make the Vanilla Pudding
The perfect silky, delicious, from-scratch vanilla pudding is an absolute must in the world's best banana pudding recipe. It's really simple, too. Don't overthink it, it will come together. The technique is key to the perfect pudding, and it's really easy to catch on. Make sure you don't burn the milk, temper the eggs with the hot milk, and whisk like a mad person for success. Once you make this one time, you'll want to make it all the time just to have as a snack.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla emulsion
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- In a 2-quart saucepan, pour in your milk and heavy cream. Turn your burner on to medium and use a rubber spatula to move the mixture constantly. You want your mixture scalded, not burnt. When tiny bubbles start forming around the outer edge of the saucepan, pull it. It's done. Don't let it go any further.
- In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Whisk it until it becomes a light yellow color and ribbons off the whisk when you pull up from the mixture. Remember, this is all about whisking.
- Now that your egg yolks are ready, use a ladle to scoop a half ladle full of the scalding milk into the egg yolks in a thin stream while whisking with your other hand. Sounds complicated, but it's not. Do this twice more, whisking your brains out each time. Once you can feel the egg mixture start to turn nice and warm from the milk, return the egg mixture to the saucepan. Turn the heat back up to medium and whisk constantly. Sometimes it will come together in 3 or 4 minutes, sometimes it takes up to 10 minutes. You'll know it's ready when the whisk starts to leave marks in the mixture when you whisk. You can feel it, too. Don't let it go to far, either. It can overthicken if you don't pull in time. Add the vanilla and butter and whisk it until incorporated.
- Strain the pudding through a wire sieve into a bowl to remove any lumps and achieve the perfect silky texture. Cover the pudding with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches every bit of the surface of the pudding. If you skip this step, your pudding will develop a nasty skin on top that is pretty gross.
- Place the pudding in the fridge while you complete your final steps.
Step 4: Make the Whipped Cream or Meringue
Anyone who says they can't make meringue is overthinking it. It's the same with whipped cream. With both toppings, timing is key. You have to know when you haven't taken it far enough and you have to know when it's gone too far. If you go too far with whipped cream, you end up with butter. If you go too far with meringue, you end up with some weird egg cloud that's starting to separate and liquid pools in the bottom of the bowl. While butter is delicious, that's not the topping you want for your banana pudding.
So here's how to get perfect whipped topping, followed by how to get a perfect meringue.
Whipped Topping Recipe
- 1 cup very cold heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (or more to suit your personal taste)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla emulsion
You'll want to do a little prep work before you start your whipped cream. It's easier to use a stand mixer (and twice as quick), but a hand mixer will do the job. If you don't have either of these, you can absolutely make whipped cream by hand, but I don't suggest it as your arm may fall off from whisking. Maybe not literally, but it will definitely feel like it's going to.
- Place your bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer for about 20 minutes before you are ready to make the whipped cream. The colder the equipment, the better your results will be. If you're using a hand mixer, place the bowl and beaters in the freezer. If you're going by hand, the bowl and whisk will need to be frozen.
- After your equipment is nice and cold, pour your cold whipping cream into the bowl and turn the mixer on high. Allow soft peaks to form, then add the sugar and vanilla. Whip again until stiff peaks form. This shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. It usually only takes around 2 to 3 minutes to get the perfect consistency. You'll know it's ready when you pull the whisk up from the cream and it stands still. If it starts to look curdled, you've gone too far and you're off the whipped cream track and on to butter city.
Now for the perfect meringue. Remember those egg yolks we used for the pudding recipe? Here's where we're going to use the egg whites. Waste not, want not.
- 4 egg whites, room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- Make sure the equipment you are using is sparkling clean. Any oil or residue of any type can murder a meringue.
- Pour the egg whites into the bowl. Use the whisk attachment on your stand mixer and start whisking the whites on medium-low. When it starts to foam a little, add the cream of tartar.
- Once the cream of tartar is incorporated and the mixture becomes even more foamy, add half of the sugar. Continue to mix the eggs until they start to become opaque.
- Add the rest of the sugar and turn the mixer up to high. Whisk the eggs until stiff peaks form. You'll know you're there when you can lift the whisk out of the eggs and it stands up on its own. If the peak flops over when you pull the whisk from the eggs, you didn't go far enough. The meringue will be glossy when it's perfect, and it will hold it's shape without collapsing. Some people hold the bowl over their heads to make sure it's ready. I don't suggest doing that unless you're ready for a shower. Especially if you're inexperienced.
Step 5: Assemble the Banana Pudding
Now that you've selected the perfect bananas, made your vanilla wafers, vanilla pudding, and whipped topping or meringue, you are ready to assemble this fantastic dessert!
- In either a casserole dish or a large glass bowl, place vanilla wafers in a single layer.
- Top the cookies with a single layer of sliced bananas.
- Spread pudding over the bananas.
- Optional step: Place another layer of vanilla wafers, another layer of bananas, and another layer of pudding.
- Top with the whipped cream or meringue. If you're using meringue, bake the dish at 350°F until the meringue is a light golden brown.
- Chill the pudding for at least 2 hours if you're using whipped cream, or 3-4 hours if you're using meringue.