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I got a text from Neighbor Thomas last week.
“Do you make banana pudding? Have someone with a birthday next week if you’re interested.”
To which I responded, “I haven’t, but I could!”
I don’t really like bananas all that much, although I could be persuaded to change my tune after that daiquiri, but I never say no to Neighbor Thomas. Because, when he asks for a dessert sometimes I get to make cake for Webby. And sometimes I inadvertently help him cheat to win an award. And sometimes I end up baking Skynet cake.
Fortunately, Thomas is not a traditional dude, so I didn’t feel obliged to make a traditional banana pudding. I asked on the fan page how folks make their banana puddings, and I got some really great ideas. Gary, who bakes extraordinary pies, offered a version with a “salted caramel sauce” in the topping along with some cream cheese, and that got me thinking about dulce de leche, especially after Cecilia from Field and Feast mentioned using sweetened condensed milk in hers.
As far as I’m concerned, the primary reason for owning cans of sweetened condensed milk is to make dulce de leche. I like mine to be super thick and very darkly caramelized, so I just toss a can or three into a large pot in water deep enough to cover them by about an inch. I turn on the heat and when the water reaches a boil, I keep it at a low boil for three hours, making sure to add water when necessary to keep the cans submerged. After the time is up, I let the cans cool down in the water.If you want a pourable consistency, watch Chef John make his version. Or you could only boil your submerged cans for an hour and a half or two.
My next thought was to roast some bananas and put them in my custard, because I don’t understand using vanilla pudding to make a banana pudding. Why not layer in as much banana flavor as you can? Really commit to the banana pudding. The resulting flavor of the pudding was lovely–sweetly banana-y and dulce-ish. Really good. But do read the caveat down below. Bananas are stringy little dudes and can muck up the works if you’re not careful.
The next consideration was the cookies. Cookies are a vital part of the whole structure of banana pudding. They’re there for textural contrast, although most folks like them to soften up in the pudding somewhat. After long and serious consideration, and after I realized that I did not want to purchase vanilla wafers as I had a whole crate of Lorna Doone shortbread cookies here, I decided to throw caution to the wind and deviate even further from the standard by losing the Nillas and going with shortbread.
A couple of caveats before I share the recipe, friends. Because I want you to be successful and Not Curse.
- Make sure you take the labels off the cans of sweetened condensed milk and clean off all the glue before setting them in your pan to boil. Otherwise, you will end up with a ring of glue around your pan, and it will be Very, Very hard to get off. If it does happen to you, scrub really well with baking soda. (That’s what worked for me. The glue just laughed at my hot, soapy water).
- After you roast your bananas, puree them in a blender and then smoosh them through a strainer. It will be easier to do now than it will be if you wait and try to strain after you make your custard. If you do throw caution to the wind and wait, don’t use your fine strainer because the banana goo will just get stuck in all the wee openings and you will be very sad.
For the Roasted Bananas
- 2 large bananas
For the Custard
- Roasted banana puree
- 32 oz whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup corn starch
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar, (or as sweet as you like)
- 1/2 cup dulce de leche, (the thicker and darker, the more flavor)
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, (or to taste)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
For the Topping
- 6 oz (3/4 block) softened cream cheese
- 6 oz dulce de leche, (the thicker and darker, the more flavor)
- 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar, (or as sweet as you like)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, (you want this part to be fairly assertively salted)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 8 oz heavy cream or whipping cream
- A lot of cookies of your choice: vanilla wafers, , shortbread, etc. The Lorna Doones were lovely.
- 4-6 large bananas, , ripe but not overly so
To Roast the Bananas
- Remove the labels from the bananas but leave the skins on.
- Place the bananas on a lined baking sheet and bake them at 350F for about 30 minutes. They will swell a bit and turn very dark brown all over.
- Let them cool, then slit the skins and remove the sweet, roasted insides.
- Puree the bananas and then press through a medium strainer.
For the Custard
- Place the milk, yolks, corn starch, sugar, dulce de leche and salt in a large, heavy saucepan.
- Put the banana puree and vanilla in a bowl large enough to hold the custard. Set a fine mesh strainer over the bowl and keep close to the stove.
- Heat the custard over medium heat, stirring or whisking constantly, until it comes just to a boil. Before it gets too hot, taste and adjust the sugar/salt if necessary, but remember that you'll be stirring in some sweet banana puree later.
- Turn the heat down a bit and let boil for about 45 seconds, whisking all the while. The mixture will be quite thick.
- Press the custard through the strainer and stir well to incorporate the roasted banana puree and the vanilla.
- Set aside.
For the Topping
- In your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the softened cream cheese until smooth, about 1 minute.
- Add the dulce de leche and whip until creamy and well incorporated, scraping the bowl as necessary, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the sugar salt and vanilla and beat another minute more.
- Pour in 1/4 (about 2 ounces) of the whipping cream and beat for a few seconds until incorporated and thick.
- Add another fourth of the cream and whip again.
- Add the rest in two more additions, whipping for 20-30 seconds with each addition and scraping the bowl as necessary. The mixture should be thick and hold its shape.
- It is entirely up to you how you layer in all of your ingredients, but here's how I made mine:
- Spread a very thin layer of pudding in the bottom of the serving dish--using about 1/4-1/3 cup of pudding. Just enough to keep the cookies from sliding.
- Add a layer of cookies, placing them close together.
- Spread about 1 cup of custard over the cookies and top with a layer of sliced bananas.
- Spread another cup of custard evenly over the bananas and top with another layer of cookies.
- Spread another cup of custard evenly over the cookies and top with another layer of bananas.
- Spread the last of the custard (there won't be much less) in a thin layer over the bananas. Top with another layer of cookies.
- Spread or decoratively pipe the topping over the cookies.
- Chill for at least four hours or overnight, depending on how much texture you want your cookies to have. They'll get softer the longer they sit.
This is the text I received from Thomas on Wednesday morning:
“Your dessert was a hit again! You’re a legend at the DOT.”
I do hope you give this pudding a try. The dulce de leche adds a subtle yet complex caramel note that is really rather sophisticated and plays really nicely with the bananas.
The Difference Between Dulce de Leche and Caramel, for Those Who Care
While many people refer to dulce de leche as caramel sauce the two are very different from each other. Granted, they taste similar and even look similar, but they take two very different paths to get to their finished state.
Caramel sauce derives the majority of its flavor and complexity from the caramelization of sugar, namely glucose and fructose, the two sugars that make up table sugar, or sucrose. Once the cream is added, you might simmer it for awhile, but the milk sugars in the cream never really get hot enough to brown.
Dulce de leche, on the other hand, starts with both sugar and milk together, so not only are you getting flavor from the caramelization of sugars (glucose and fructose from the sugar and lactose from the milk), you’re also getting additional complexity through the Maillard reactions that occur when amino acids (from the milk proteins) are exposed to heat.
To my palate, dulce de leche is both mellower and more complex than caramel, it has a nice roundness of flavor that fills up your mouth and doesn’t have the bitter edge that caramel has. Please don’t misunderstand—I love a bitter-edged caramel; I’m just pointing out the differences between two equally lovely sauces/confections.
And there you have it. I hope you enjoy the pudding!
Thanks for spending some time here with me today. Have a great day.