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Banana Pudding Recipe – Quintessentially Southern, But It’s a Mystery

April 12th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Photo Courtesy Kraft Recipes

One of my best buds from the world of newspaper food editors, past and present, is Kathleen Purvis, food ed at the Charlotte Observer. She’s savvy, a terrific reporter, funny and she has a pinpoint memory about people and places that scares me witless. She also used to work at my old haunt, The Palm Beach Post.

Her story this week on banana pudding had me intrigued – she wonders, as I do, why it’s largely known as a Southern dessert. Read her article to get her recipes and try my traditional one, below. I make a homemade custard, using the egg yolks in the custard (c’mon – it’s easy!) and the egg whites in the meringue topping.

Nanner puddin’ ala Uncle Bill

 My Uncle Bill Ward, was a fiend for banana pudding, but it had to have more bananas than pudding. My father was the exact opposite – there was never enough custard for him; he loved everything custardy and rice pudding was his other favorite.

We wound up making two puddings every time they were together – to give each what they wanted.

Variations on the traditional recipe

If there’s one thing I’m great at, it’s devising other flavor profiles for foods that are simple to pull off. So below the original recipe are variations for a Ginger-Banana Pudding, Coconut-Banana Pudding and a nod to Elvis: Peanut Butter-Banana Pudding. These are an “ultimate” pot-luck dessert – nearly everyone loves bananas.


3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups milk – see note

3 large eggs, separated

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Nilla vanilla wafer cookies

3 to 4 bananas, ripe, but not overripe

For meringue:

3 egg whites (from eggs above)

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup sugar

Put 1 inch of water in bottom of double boiler and bring to a simmer. In the top bowl of a double-boiler, combine the sugar, salt, and flour; stir to blend. Slowly stir in milk or half-and-half until smooth. Place bowl on bottom pot of double boiler containing just simmering water. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture begins to thicken.

In a small bowl, whisk the 3 egg yolks. Gradually, so as not to cook the yolks, whisk in about 1 cup of the slightly thickened hot milk mixture. (This is called tempering the yolks.) Pour the warmed egg mixture into the milk in the double boiler, stir in the vanilla and butter, and continue whisking constantly. Cook until custard is thick and smooth, scraping bottom frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a 2-quart oven-proof serving dish arrange a layer of vanilla wafers, then sliced bananas. Spoon half of the pudding over the banana layer then layer with more vanilla wafers and banana slices, topping with remainder of pudding. 

Make meringue: Put egg whites into spotlessly clean large mixing bowl. With clean beaters, whip the whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and whip until soft peaks form. Add sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, beating well with each addition. Beat until stiff peaks form – but do not beat until dry.

Spoon meringue on top of pudding to cover completely, touching all sides of the bowl (this prevents meringue from shrinking). Use back of spoon to form uniformly tall peaks in the meringue. (This will prevent burned areas of the meringue.)

(Note: If using ovenproof individual custard dishes, use only one layer each of the wafers, banana slices, and pudding, and then top with meringue.)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Set bowl in center of oven, and bake 5 minutes or until meringue is nicely browned. (Watch carefully, as this will go from nicely browned to burned  in seconds.)

Remove and cool slightly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours; the pudding is best the day after making it.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Using half-and-half, or evaporated milk, makes a richer pudding.

Variations on Traditional Banana Pudding: 

Ginger-banana pudding: Use soft gingersnap cookies in place of, or for part of the vanilla wafers.

Coconut banana pudding: Use coconut milk as 1/3 of the milk for the custard, and stir 3/4 cup shredded coconut into the custard. Complete recipe as above.

Peanut butter-banana pudding: Stir 3 tablespoons softened peanut butter into the custard; add 1/2 cup crushed roasted peanuts on top of the banana layers.

Tags: Southern Roots Run Deep

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rae // Apr 13, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    a great dessert– even the recipe on the box is good. you are right, though, the meringue topping is the best…

  • 2 Kelly Bush // Apr 14, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    I will have to make this as my hubby LOVES “nana pudding”.

  • 3 Jan Norris // Apr 15, 2010 at 7:26 am

    Of course he would – your Mississippi man!

  • 4 Julie // Apr 25, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Oh No No No! Growing up in London England -Classic Banana Pudding was day old Victoria Sponge Cake broken into pieces in a bowl with sliced bananas mixed in and Bird’s Custard poured over it. Yummy!!

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