Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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Day Old & Bold: Francis Lam’s Banana Pudding

It takes a little time to develop that flavor
(Day old banana puddin')
To soak it all up with your vanilla wafer

(Day old banana puddin')

So get out your bowl and your wooden spoon

(Day old banana puddin')

'Cause I can smell your pudding clean across this room

(Day old banana puddin')

~ Southern Culture on the Skids
Banana Pudding

A few days ago, in a Facebook thread about a pork shoulder I’d been cooking, banana pudding came up—specifically, a caramel-laced version Francis Lam posted recently. Someone—someone in my own household—declared “We ♥ Francis Lam.”

This is true. We do. What’s also true is that Francis, a friend of friends and erstwhile editor for Gourmet, has disrupted more dinner plans at our house than earthquakes and kitchen accidents combined. After Gourmet disbanded, Francis started writing—and writing and writing—at Salon.com’s food section. I really like his stuff. So much so that dishes I’d planned to make for dinner get shoved aside so I can play with his recipes instead.

Last Friday’s recipe for banana pudding in particular caught my attention. I had a load of bananas I intended to make into a Filipino banana ketchup. Enter Lam, all tatted up and full of loose talk about “Fancy Pants Banana Pudding.” Now, I like this tropical trifle as much as the next guy, but the version he wrote about incorporated a banana-spiked caramel. I was hooked. Ketchup? What ketchup? That’s for another day.

It was time for banana pudding. Click above to see Francis’ original post, but I’ve made some adjustments to the recipe (you know how these things go), so you can compare them if you like.

The result is simply one of the best banana puddings I've ever had. Homemade custard is almost always an improvement over store-bought powder, but the real trick pony here is the banana caramel. It gives deep, sweet, luxurious notes to the whole thing. Next time, I might toss a little rum into the dish (a quick dip of the cookies in, say, a nice Demerara), but for now, all I need is a spoon.
Banana Caramel
2 average to large bananas, very, very ripe (brown spots on skin)
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
  1. In a blender or food processor, puree the bananas fully, until they pour like pancake batter.
  2. Combine sugar and water in a very clean, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high flame, and turn it down to a vigorous simmer. As the water boils off and you're left with pure molten sugar, the bubbles will get bigger but slower and less violent. Nothing will look like it's happening for a while, but keep an eye on it.
  3. When you start seeing some color develop at the bottom, gently swirl the pan to distribute it; this helps the sugar caramelize evenly. Caramel is a game of chicken: Pull the sugar off when it's too lightly colored, and the flavor is one-dimensional. Pull it off when it's too dark and it's burnt, bitter and acrid. But once the color starts to turn, it turns pretty quickly, so you have to be brave but not stupid; only repetition and a good memory for color will tell you when you've got the perfect color. But if you're new to this, play it a little safe and cook and swirl until the sugar is amber-colored and remove it from the heat, still swirling gently.
  4. Pour in the banana puree and stir vigorously with a spoon, heat-proof spatula, or whisk, making sure to dig in the corners of the pan. It'll hiss and sizzle and maybe even boil. Just stick with it and it'll calm down. When it's cooled, give it a taste. Delicious! You will have extra; keep it in the fridge [edit: in fact, you’ll have enough for a double-batch of the pudding below).
1 ½ cups whole milk
½ cup heavy whipping cream, plus ½ to 1 cup more for whipping
3 Tbl 25g cornstarch
3 Tbl/45ml cold milk
2 eggs
6 Tbl/80g sugar
¼ tsp salt
2 Tbl/30g unsalted butter, cut in pieces
¼ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup banana caramel (or to taste)
1-2 large, firm bananas (ripe, but still pale yellow)
Nilla wafers (or ginger snaps , ladyfingers, or cookie or cake of your choice)

  1. In a heavy 2-quart pot, heat the 1 ½ cups of milk and the cream just to the point of simmering, lower the heat, and hold it there.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 3 Tbl cold milk to assure there are no lumps.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and salt together until light.
  4. Combine with the cornstarch mixture.
  5. Slowly pour—while whisking—about half of the hot milk/cream mix into the egg mixture. This helps to temper the eggs and make sure that the shock of a bunch of hot dairy all at once doesn’t curdle them. Add the remaining hot dairy, and whisk to combine.
  6. Working quickly, clean out the pan used to heat the milk (or just use a clean one), then return the mixture to the clean pan. Stir over medium heat, adding butter bit by bit, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
  7. Once thickened to a loose, well, pudding-like consistency, take off the heat, and pour into a mixing bowl.
  8. Add the vanilla extract.
  9. Fold in the banana caramel (if it’s very cold and thick from the fridge, measure some into a bowl, stir in a cup or so of the warm pudding, then fold this lighter, more malleable mixture back into the pudding).
  10. Assemble the pudding by putting down a layer of cookies in whatever dish you intend to use. Then about a third of the caramel-laced pudding. Then a layer of banana slices (about ¼” thick), then more cookies, then a final layer of the remaining pudding mix.
  11. Cover the top with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming, and chill in the fridge overnight.
To serve, lash it with whipped cream.

1 comment:

Alessandra said...

Next on my desert list!