We are building a chicken coop.
Actually, Paul is building a chicken coop. E. and I are just wandering around the yard clucking in anticipation.
I have wanted chickens for years but we’ve always lived in rental houses and never felt completely settled. We didn’t want to move chickens halfway across the country (the cats, baby and cars were enough to deal with), so we waited until now.
Paul cleared out the area where we plan to build the coop and run, but there was a big, fallen tree trunk in the way so he borrowed my brother’s chain saw and hacked it up a few days ago.
My only contribution? Making my brother and sister-in-law a big bowl of banana pudding in thanks.
Maybe it was the reliance of so many recipes on powdered pudding mix or the sight of slimy, slightly grayish rings of banana peeking out at the sides of too many casserole dishes, but I’ve never actually been all that big on banana pudding.
I feel like banana pudding is supposed to conjure up images of potluck church suppers and backyard barbecues. It probably makes me sound like a bad Southerner, but that was never really the case for me.
To me, banana pudding seemed a little forlorn, as far as desserts go. The sort of thing that that languished on the school cafeteria line while everyone ate pudding pops instead.
So I can’t remember what first compelled me to make the banana pudding recipe from “The Gift of Southern Cooking” a few years ago, but I am so glad that I did. It made an immediate convert out of me.
Leave it to Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock to restore my faith in a Southern classic. In this recipe, layers of silky smooth vanilla custard, ripe banana and ‘Nilla wafers get topped with a lightly-browned meringue. It’s pretty standard stuff, just done impeccably well.
I didn’t make my own wafers. You certainly could, but (the aforementioned powdered pudding mix aside) I think sometimes store-bought is plenty good. Lewis and Peacock recommend using toasted cubes of angel food cake instead, which is also a convenient way to use up all the extra egg whites you’ll have from making the custard.
You could just top the custard with whipped cream and call it a day, but meringue makes this dessert just a tad more special and is another good use for extra egg whites. I did make an Italian meringue in place of the French meringue called for in the original recipe.
French meringue is the kind most people are familiar with, made by simply beating egg whites and sugar (and sometimes a pinch of cream of tartar) into airy peaks. Italian meringue is made by pouring a heated sugar syrup into egg whites as they whip. It requires a candy thermometer and dirties an extra pan, but is otherwise just as easy to make as French meringue.
I prefer the thick, glossy, almost marshmallowy texture of Italian meringue and also like that it’s more shelf stable. Plus the sugar syrup heats the egg whites so there’s no need to worry about eating raw eggs, if that’s a concern.
Whichever approach you take, this banana pudding is a great dessert to make during this in-between time of year, when spring berries aren’t ripe yet and even winter citrus is on the wane.
It’s also great for times when you need to feed a crowd and it travels well, making it the perfect dessert for potluck suppers. Or, in this case, to express gratitude for borrowed power tools.
Adapted from "The Gift of Southern Cooking," by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock.
The original recipe calls for a vanilla bean but I didn't have one and just upped the amount of vanilla extract instead. I also topped my pudding with an Italian meringue, which is easy to make but requires a thermometer. The recipe below makes more meringue than you'll need, but you'll have leftover vanilla wafers too so just call it a cook's treat.
If you don't have a thermometer, you can make a French meringue instead, by beating together 8 egg whites and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract until frothy, then sprinkling in a generous 3/4 cup sugar and continuing to beat until medium peaks form. Spread the meringue over the pudding and bake for about 5 minutes in a 400 F oven until the meringue is just browned.
- 12 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 4 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
- 1 box vanilla wafers (You'll have some leftover.)
- 4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large saucepan, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until well combined. Whisk in the flour and salt, followed by the milk and 1 cup of the cream.
Cook the custard base over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens and begins to bubble. After the custard starts to bubble, cook it for one minute more and then strain through a mesh sieve into a large bowl. Immediately whisk in the remaining cup of cream and the vanilla.
Put a small amount of custard in the bottom of an 8-cup casserole or serving dish, top with a layer of cookies and then a layer of banana. Add another, more generous, layer of custard. Then add another layer of cookies and bananas, and so on, ending with a layer of custard.
Cover with the meringue and, if desired, lightly brown using a kitchen blowtorch. Serve.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine one cup of sugar and enough water so that you have what looks like wet sand. Cook, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 240 F.
Meanwhile, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they are frothy.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and, with the mixer running, carefully pour the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites. Once all of the sugar syrup has been added, increase the mixer speed and beat the egg whites until medium peaks form and the meringue is glossy and opaque. Spread on top of the banana pudding and torch lightly.
Leftover meringue will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.