In my grandmother’s 1928 cookbook from the Fort Worth Woman’s Club, the Banana Pudding recipe consisted of just three sentences: “Arrange alternate layers of sliced bananas and vanilla wafers in baking dish. Cover with thick boiled custard. Put meringue on top and brown in oven.” That’s it. No ingredient amounts and no clues as to how to make that custard — which is crucial in a proper banana pudding. So I turned to my mom’s church-lady cookbooks from the 1960s through early 1980s and found only those banana pudding recipes involving boxed pudding mixes, canned sweetened condensed milk, and frozen dairy topping. The cumulative level of artificial flavors there (to say nothing of chemicals) is sky-high, so I simply got back to basics. In making the custard, a pure vanilla extract is essential; I especially like those from Adams, Watkins or the Nielsen-Massey brand of Madagascar vanilla. And instead of vanilla wafers, I happen to like shortbread cookies best as they hold up well when covered by bananas and custard. For the topper, I’m partial to real whipped cream that includes a little more vanilla extract.

Serves 6

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 20 shortbread cookies or vanilla wafers, divided use
  • 3 bananas, divided use
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Make custard: Combine sugar, flour and salt in a large, heavy saucepan. In a large bowl, lightly beat egg yolks and then whisk in milk. Pour the egg-milk mixture into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and thick. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Set aside 6 of the cookies to use for garnish at serving time. Coarsely crumble the rest.

Peel and slice 2 of the bananas. Cover bottom of medium glass dish with a layer of crumbled cookies and add a layer of banana slices. Pour custard over that layer and repeat process with more crumbled cookies, banana slices and custard. Cover and chill thoroughly.

At serving time, whip cream with sugar and vanilla. Divide banana pudding among serving bowls, topping each with whipped cream, a cookie and banana slices.

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