Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Old Fashioned Nilla Wafers Banana Pudding

Being from the Northeastern US, there are so many classic recipes that I only discovered once I moved away from home. Banana Pudding is something I had never even heard of when I was a kid. Shocking, I know. I can hear you all gasping and imagine a lot of head shaking. One of my friends, Jenny, from whom I pried many great recipes (but unfortunately not this one), first told me about banana pudding, her eyes rolling with pleasure at the thought of scooping out a nice fresh portion of creamy, warm, cookie studded banana pudding. I knew I had to try some, and once I did, I was definitely a fan.

The best version of this dessert that I ever tasted was at a cute little family style restaurant, The Rainbow, in North Carolina. Every once in a while, the owner's mother would make up a batch and bring it to the restaurant as a special secret dessert of the day. Only the regulars and locals knew it existed, as it was not displayed in the huge dessert case that greeted you as you entered the dining area, nor did it appear on the menu itself. You just had to ask and hope they had some. And if they did have any, you knew to order it immediately, before you even had your dinner, because that stuff always seemed to vanish fast. Sadly, the last time I was there, I learned that there would no longer be any banana pudding served, as the lady had passed away.

I have been trying out different variations of banana pudding ever since, hoping to one day recapture the essence of The Rainbow's secret version. The following is my most recent attempt, which is essentially the same version found on the side of the Nilla wafers box. I have tried this recipe twice, first using the Cool Whip variation, and this time topped with a golden meringue. I enjoyed it both ways.

Nilla's Famous Old Fashioned Baked Banana Pudding (adapted from their official recipe, found here)

for the custard:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 dash salt
3 egg yolks (save the whites for the topping)
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

additional ingredients:
Nilla wafers cookies, about 45, (save some for the garnish)
3-5 ripe bananas, peeled, sliced into thin rounds (save some slices to garnish)

for the meringue topping:
 3 egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Have a 1 1/2 quart deep baking dish ready. You will also need either a double boiler, or you can use a heat-safe bowl set on top of a saucepan.

Mix 1/2 cup sugar, flour and salt in top of  the double boiler. Blend in 3 egg yolks and milk, whisking to combine. Cook, uncovered, over boiling water 10 to 12 min., or until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla. 

Spread small amount of custard onto bottom of your baking dish. Cover with layers of 1/3 each of the cookies, bananas and remaining custard (saving some cookies and banana slices for the garnish). Repeat layers 2 times.

Beat the egg whites on high speed of mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining sugar until stiff peaks form. Spread over the top of the baking dish, sealing all of the edges.

Bake uncovered 15-20 minutes, or until lightly golden. Cool slightly. Decorate with reserved cookies and banana slices just before serving.

**NOTE: This is very good warm, but we liked this even better after it had chilled and the cookies had time to soak up some of the custard. To help keep your banana slices from browning, you can briefly soak them in some lemon flavored soda (like Sprite), which doesn't leave you with the tangy flavor of lemon juice. Be sure to drain well before using.

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