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In the Kitchen With Ricky: Classic banana pudding with a few twists

By Ricky Webster For The Spokesman-Review

National Banana Pudding Day is May 22, and I have a fun and slightly different take on this all-American dessert classic. Banana pudding has many deep American roots even though it highlights a fruit that isn’t native to the land.

We also were not the first to layer similar ingredients in such a fashion. The method of layering some type of baked cookie or sponge with fruit and custard takes its inspiration from a trifle, a classic English dessert. The first mention of the banana pudding dessert comes from a New York Times column in 1878.

Vanilla wafers replaced sponge cake in the 1920s, and Nabisco started to print the recipe on boxes of wafer cookies in the 1940s. But it wasn’t until 1967 that these cookies were referred to as Nilla Wafers. Nabisco’s marketing efforts surely have something to do with bringing the popularity of this dessert to the masses.

I am updating the classic by replacing the traditional vanilla pudding with a gently spiced buttermilk custard. It’s an homage to another traditional Southern dessert: buttermilk pie. If you’ve never had buttermilk pie, I highly recommend that you try it as soon as possible. Who knows – maybe it will be a future recipe?

It is just as it sounds – a pie with a baked buttermilk custard with a hint of nutmeg – and I also like it with cinnamon and vanilla. The buttermilk custard in this recipe helps to add yet another layer and aids in balancing out the sweetness of the mixture of cookies, cream, pudding/ custard and bananas.

The recipe for the buttermilk custard can be used in so many other applications and is great with sliced strawberries or blueberries and cream for a dessert on a warm summer evening. This recipe can be individually portioned to make it feel a bit more elegant, or make it into one large, family-style dish to be placed in the center of the table after dinner.

Let the family get a scoop or two for themselves, and feel free to add caramel sauce (either homemade or purchased) for yet another layer of decadence to this re-imagined banana pudding recipe.

Banana Pudding

This recipe consists of a few components, all of which are to be made and then assembled.

To make the buttermilk custard:

2 tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup granulated sugar

1 cup whole milk

1 cup buttermilk

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon nutmeg

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks to lighten. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, mix the sugar and cornstarch. Combine the whole milk and buttermilk.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the cream mixture, little by little, to prevent lumps. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat when it is noticeably thicker.

Stir half a cup of the hot dairy mixture into the whisked yokes (this is the technique of tempering). Continue by whisking in another half cup of the hot mixture, until smooth.

Scrape the yolk mixture into the saucepan with the remaining buttermilk mixture and immediately whisk over medium low heat.

Continue to stir (with a heat-proof spatula or spoon) until completely thickened. Remove from the heat and add in the vanilla, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Stir until incorporated, then strain over a bowl, using a mine mesh sieve, by tapping the sides to help work the custard through.

Cover the strained custard with plastic wrap by pressing it directly onto the top. This helps the custard cool without forming a skin.

Place it into the refrigerator to chill. This can be done the day before assembling.

To make the whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup powdered sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, mix the whipped cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Set it aside.

To assemble the banana pudding:

Peel and slice two large (or three small) bananas into half-inch coins and set them aside.

Open box a box of Nilla Wafers (or another wafer-style cookie or graham cracker) and remove from the bag. Set aside all the small broken pieces and crumbs.

Decide if you want to make individual servings or a larger family-size dish and layer, starting with cookies and top with bananas, and then the cooled and set buttermilk custard.

Repeat the process until the ingredients are all used up. Top the pudding with whipped cream and top the whipped cream with broken cookies.

Lightly cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 4 hours.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Local award-winning chef Ricky Webster, owner of Rind and Wheat and the new Morsel, can be reached at Follow Webster on Instagram @rickycaker.