Bananarama!

And no, I’m not talking about a marathon session of listening to Bananarama or even of watching the Hanna-Barbera The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (‘though that, combined with watching H.R. Pufnstuf, might make for a somewhat amusing revisiting of my youth).

Nope, I’m talking about Banana Pudding, which is a quintessential U.S. Southern dessert.

Now, to be honest, I’m not overly fond of bananas as a general rule. This lack of fondness stems from an experiment I conducted when I was around 4 or 5 years old. In the interest of science, I had wondered if one could eat a banana while standing on one’s head and still be able to swallow and have it reach your stomach. I suppose I was testing, in a vague way, the laws of gravity. My experiment results? Yes, one can still swallow a banana whilst one is on one’s head, and it will, indeed, reach the stomach — but it will not remain there. 😉

So while I will occasionally eat foods containing bananas, the results of my grand banana experiment made a lasting impression on me, so you can vote me least likely to eat a banana. 🙂 But being a Southerner, I’ve been known to make an occasional exception for Banana Pudding.

For Mother’s Day yesterday, one of my sister-in-laws planned and coordinated a meal up at my in-laws. Our assignment was to make the dessert, and hubby quickly thought of Banana Pudding.

Mom on the Left; Ma-Maw on the Right -- Circa the 1980s, I Think

As with any dish, there are myriad variations on Banana Pudding. I make mine the way my mom makes hers, which is how her mom (my late Ma-Maw) made hers — so I suppose you could say this is at least a three-generation Banana Pudding. 🙂 This version of Banana Pudding has layers of vanilla wafers and sliced bananas, a vanilla pudding filling, and is topped off with a meringue. I’ve only made two adjustments: 1) to make it sugar-free and 2) to have also developed an alternative recipe for when one wants a Banana Pudding that comes together more quickly and easily, and so therefore doesn’t have the meringue. (Much to Mom’s disappointment, I have a tendency to make it the quicker, easier way than the more traditional recipe.) Either way you fix it, it’s yummy! I love it best after it’s rested and set but is still warm. And while the primary recipe listed is the sugar-free version, I’ve included notes on for the regular (with sugar) version, as well, thereby preserving Ma-Maw’s and Mom’s original recipe.

Every time I make it — which, to be honest, isn’t all that often — I think of Mom and I think of Ma-Maw. You can adjust the recipe up or down a bit as necessary for more or fewer servings. For the tastiest Banana Pudding, use the ripest bananas you can find — the riper, the fuller the flavor.

A few notes about meringue and eggs:

  • Eggs separate easiest when they’re still cold from the ‘fridge,  but the whites will whip up best once they’ve set out for a bit (30 to 45 minutes) and gotten nearer to room temperature.
  • Make sure that your hands, the bowl, your mixer beaters, ANY and EVERYTHING that comes into contact with the whites for the meringue is scrupulously clean — the least speck of oil will prevent the whites from whipping up well.
  • Ditto yolk — not one drop of yolk should be in the egg white.
  • And last, but not least, be sure to spread your meringue onto piping-hot filling and “seal” it to the edges to prevent it from creeping away and exposing the filling below.

Three-Generation (Mom’s Traditional) Banana Pudding (Makes around 10 – 12 servings)

  • Sugar-free/no-sugar-added vanilla wafers (I use 2 boxes of 5.5 ounce Murray Sugar Free Vanilla Wafers) (Use regular vanilla wafers if not making sugar-free)
  • Approximately 3-4 bananas

For the pudding filling:

  • 3 eggs, separated (you will use the yolks in the pudding)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons and 1 3/4 teaspoons Splenda granular, Equal Measure, or other artificial sweetener that measures the same as sugar (For the “regular” (not sugar-free) pudding, use sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • Smidge (just over 1/8 teaspoon) of salt
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups 1% milk (because the wafers absorb and thicken the liquid mixture as it sets, it’s okay if the filling is a bit on the runny side) (If not making sugar-free filling, use 2%  or whole milk)
  • 3 tablespoons softened butter or magarine
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

For the sugar-free meringue topping:

  • 3 egg whites (from the separated eggs above)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/3 cup Splenda granular or equivalent sugar-free substitute that measures-for-measure like sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For traditional (non-sugar-free) meringue: 3 egg whites, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, 6 tablespoons of white sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. In a 2-quart oven-safe casserole, bowl, or other dish, place a single layer of vanilla wafers. (If baking in a glass/see-through dish, make sure that the “attractive” — the rounded top side — of the wafer is placed bottom side down so that the “pretty” side is the one visible from outside the pan — Mom likes to make sure it looks as attractive as possible. Top with a single layer of banana slices. (Slice as to your preference, but probably 1/4″ to 1/3″ thick is what you want.)
  2. Repeat alternating layers of wafers and sliced banana (and, if using a rounded, bowl-type casserole, along and around the sides), ending with a layer of wafers (rounded side up!) on top. You want to leave some “head-room” in the dish for when you pour in the pudding and also add the meringue, so don’t fill it completely to the top. Number of layers will depend upon the shape of your container.
  3. Preheat oven to 375F (or to 400/425F if making the meringue with sugar in it).
  4. Prepare filling and meringue. (If I’m preparing this while working alone, I often will prepare the meringue first, then move on to the filling, to ensure that I can put the meringue over a piping hot filling.)
  5. While oven preheats, prepare filling:
    1.  Lightly beat egg yolks and set aside.
    2. In a medium-sized saucepan, mix together 3 tablespoons cornstarch, smidge of salt,  and 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons and 1 3/4 teaspoons sugar substitute (or sugar). Gradually stir in milk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to bubble/low boil.
    3. Cook (reducing heat as necessary) and bubble/boil, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
    4. Remove from heat. Temper egg by gradually beating at least half of the hot mixture into the egg yolk, beating egg/hot milk mixture constantly. (This prevents the lumpy, disgusting scrambled egg effect that you would otherwise get by adding a boiling hot liquid to egg yolk.)
    5. Pour tempered egg/milk mixture back into pan. Return to medium heat and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil/bubble (adjusting heat as necessary), for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
    6. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and 3 tablespoons of butter or margarine, stirring in until melted.
    7. Pour slowly and evenly over the wafer/banana layers. If necessary, poke thin spaces in the layers with a dull knife to help enable the pudding to seep through all layers.
  6. To prepare meringue:
    1. Add cream of tartar to egg whites and beat on medium to high speed of mixer until frothy.
    2. Gradually add in sugar (or Splenda, if making sugar free, AND cornstarch) and beat at high speed until stiff peaks begin to form.
    3. Beat in vanilla. Spread (or pipe) evenly over hot filling, making sure you “seal” it to the edge of the dish.
    4. Bake until light golden brown (about 10 to 15 minutes at 375F for a sugar-free meringue, or about 8 to 10 minutes at 400/425F for a meringue made with sugar).
  7. Remove from oven and let rest before serving. Let cool to room temperature and keep refrigerated.

Quicker Banana Pudding (Sans Meringue)

  • Sugar-free/no-sugar-added vanilla wafers (I use 2 boxes of 5.5 ounce Murray Sugar Free Vanilla Wafers) (Use regular vanilla wafers if not making sugar-free)
  • Approximately 3-4 bananas

For the pudding filling: 

  • 6 serving size COOK AND SERVE (not instant!) sugar-free vanilla pudding mix (or 1 package 4-serving size and 1/2 package 4-serving size COOK AND SERVE sugar-free pudding)
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups 1% milk
  1. Layer wafers and bananas in a 2-quart container as described above in traditional recipe.
  2. In a medium-sized saucepan, mix together milk and sugar-free COOK AND SERVE (not instant!) sugar-free pudding mix. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a simmer/bubble/low boil. Cook and bubble, stirring constantly, adjusting heat as necessary, for 1 minute.
  3. Pour evenly over wafer and banana layers as described above.
  4. Let rest and set before serving. Top individual servings with whipped cream or lite Cool Whip if desired. Refrigerate leftovers.
  • NOTE: You could separate eggs and top this version with a meringue, as well, but if you’re not making your filling from scratch, you will either need to find another use for the egg yolks or you’ll be wasting the yolks.

However you make it, you find yourself in such a Banana-rific mood because it smells so yummy that you may break out into a Bananarama song! (Go on, take 186 seconds out of your life to sing and dance along a bit — you know you want to! 😉 ):


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About MissieLee

I love tasty food prepared in a healthy way with a budget in mind.
This entry was posted in Dessert, Pudding and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bananarama!

  1. LinnieGayl says:

    That’s interesting. I thought when you posted about banana pudding you meant that banana-flavored pudding stuff (which I hate). This sounds much different. I am a big fan of bananas, but tend to prefer mine close to green. I suspect this dish is one I would like, and had no idea this was what banana pudding should really be like.

    • MissieLee says:

      Linnie, here in the South, anyway, Banana Pudding — or “Nanner Puddin’,” as it’s often called 😉 — ALWAYS means some kind of combo of vanilla wafers and sliced bananas and pudding. But there are myriad variations on those basic ingredients.

      Bananas on the riper side are suggested because they’re softer and infuse more banana flavor to the pudding — a banana on the firmer, greener side will taste INCREDIBLY green if used in a banana pudding. I made it once with green bananas and vowed never again.

      To the best of my knowledge, my family’s recipe is the only one that includes a meringue — which is a thrifty and sensible use of the egg whites leftover from the yolks used in a homemade pudding.

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