Monday, September 12, 2011
After getting hooked on homemade pudding, I started looking for new pudding recipes. I’d already bookmarked the usual suspects, vanilla and chocolate—which make up the vast majority of available recipes—as well as my childhood faves, butterscotch and pistachio, but it was surprisingly hard to find other options. In trying to narrow my search, I was brainstorming my way through the Jell-O instant pudding varieties and remembered banana pudding. Literal banana-flavored pudding, not the Southern dessert made with vanilla pudding, sliced bananas, whipped cream, and Nilla Wafers. I do remember my (most definitely not Southern) mom making this occasionally when I was a kid, and although I liked the flavors together, I was never really a fan of all that lumpy stuff interrupting the nice, smooth texture of my pudding. I preferred the fake-banana flavor of the instant variety, so I thought it would be fun to try to replicate that with real banana. Unfortunately, 99 percent of the “banana pudding” recipes on the Internet are for the Southern-style version, and of the remaining 1% that are actually banana flavored, most seem to call for banana extract rather than an actual banana. After a dogged search, however, I finally found what I was looking for—at least, sort of—at Homesick Texan. It was still a version of the Southern dessert, but lo and behold, there was a pureed banana in the pudding itself!
I ended up improvising to an uncharacteristic degree with this one. I tinkered with the procedure to make it more similar to the other pudding recipes I’ve made (adding the egg midway through the cooking time rather than at the end), but my main changes were to the banana cooking method; since my oven was broken, I couldn’t roast the banana as the recipe asked me to. My original plan had been to use a ripe frozen banana instead (I always have some in reserve for banana pancakes), because when defrosted again they become almost totally liquefied. But then I happened to acquire some non-frozen ripe bananas from work that week, and I couldn’t resist gilding the lily. I’d had great success with adding rum to my vanilla pudding, so what about taking a cue from bananas Foster and putting rum in my banana pudding too? And if I was doing that, I should really go whole hog and sauté my banana in butter and brown sugar, right? I don’t even like bananas all that much, but I can’t resist a caramelized banana. I also, afraid there wouldn’t be enough banana flavor, used two small bananas instead of one large one.
For the most part, I think my plan worked pretty well, but I’d like to experiment a bit more in the future. I went easy on the brown sugar (just 1 tablespoon, I think) in sautéing the banana, fearing the finished pudding would be too sweet, but I didn’t end up getting much caramel flavor and almost wished for more sweetness at the end. The caramelizing also created some textural challenges; as the pureed banana mixture cooled while I heated the milk, the sugar resolidified and I had to whisk it like the dickens to break up the chunks after adding it to the pot, so either this isn’t the best method, I need to sauté the banana simultaneously while heating up the milk so it doesn’t get a chance to cool, or I need to learn to live with some lumps in my banana pudding. The latter may well be the case; I always think of bananas as being smooth and soft, but they have some fibrousness to them and never break down entirely in baked goods, so it’s probably unrealistic to expect them to do so here. I suspect the reason that I didn’t find many pudding recipes using real banana is that it’s nearly impossible to get a totally smooth end product resembling the creamy, pillowy artificially flavored Jell-O version. I even strained mine to be sure and still ended up with small grainy flecks. But if I can live with pistachio pieces in my pistachio pudding, why not banana pieces in my banana pudding? Or did I simply use a bit too much banana?
Texture issues aside, the flavor was quite good. I thought it tasted a smidge flat (it needed more brown sugar, a pinch of salt, or both), but A, who was absent for the initial tasting session and ate his portion after I went to bed, loved it so much that he wrote a note to me on the bathroom mirror singing its praises, so it’s possible my expectations were just too high. Even though it wasn’t my favorite of the puddings I’ve made so far, it was certainly worth making again. I’d like to try some variations to see if I can improve it, though—once with the frozen-and-defrosted banana to see if that makes it smoother, once (if my oven is ever repaired) with roasted banana as written, and once again with the caramelized banana but more brown sugar. The best thing about pudding is that it always seems to taste good even if it’s too thick or too thin or too lumpy, so I’m happy to devour any number of “failed” batches in the name of science. I’ll keep you posted!
1 large ripe banana or 2 small ripe bananas
1–2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
2 cups milk (1% worked just fine for me)
⅓ cup white sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon rum (optional)
1. Place the unpeeled banana(s) on a parchment-paper lined sheet and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until skin blackens; then peel banana and lightly mash with a fork. Alternatively, peel and slice the banana(s) and sauté in 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat with the 2 tablespoons brown sugar, then puree with a food processor, blender, or immersion blender until smooth.
2. Place the milk, white sugar, and cornstarch in a saucepan, mix well with a whisk, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until just before it boils. Add the mashed banana and whisk until as smooth as possible.
3. Beat the egg in a separate dish. Very gradually add 1 cup of hot pudding, stirring constantly, and then add egg mixture back to the pot of pudding on the stove.
4. Bring pudding to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil 1 minute or until thickened.
5. Remove pudding from heat and mix in the vanilla, 1 tablespoon butter (I skipped this here since I’d already sautéed the banana in butter, but you could do both for a richer pudding), and rum (if using).
6. Press pudding through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any stringy banana pieces.
7. Divide pudding among four ramekins or airtight containers, cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap if you don’t like pudding skin, and chill.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Will keep in the fridge for a few days.