Go bananas: This isn't grandma's banana pudding

May 16, 2012 10:31:41 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Southerners love their banana pudding. Maybe it traces back to the late 1800s, when ton after ton of the tropical fruit arrived in America through Southern ports, particularly New Orleans. (So many tons, in fact, watching banana schooners unload became a tourist attraction.)  


Today, Gulfport has the largest banana/tropical fruit handling facilities in the nation, the Mississippi Development Authority tells us, and our fondness for the creamy dessert hasn't wavered. In fact, we just keep dreaming up tempting new ways to enjoy this cool, sweet treat. 


While banana pudding itself is always welcome, today's recipes for banana pudding cheesecake, gingery banana pudding with bourbon cream and frozen pudding dessert prove there are plenty of ways to venture out of the yellow comfort zone. 




'Nana facts 


While a banana-infused pudding satisfies the sweet tooth, remember the fruit itself is a nutrient-dense, fat- and cholesterol-free source of potassium, vitamins B6 and C and dietary fiber. All gift-wrapped by Mother Nature in about 110 calories. 


Bananas are one of the few fruits picked and shipped green. They continue to develop flavor, color and texture after harvesting. As the banana ripens and its starch converts to sugar, it becomes creamier and sweeter. 


Luckily for consumers, ripeness is easy to judge. The main question when selecting bananas is simply how soon you'll want to eat them. 


Chiquita Brands International Inc., one of the best-known producers and distributors of bananas, classifies ripeness into five peel color stages: green, green with yellow tips, yellow, yellow with brown flecks, and brown.  


Most people like their bananas when the peel is completely yellow, or yellow with a few brown flecks. These are ripe and ready to eat.  


Slightly green ones will be ready to eat within a few days. (Green bananas are still very starchy and can be difficult to digest, although there are certain recipes for curries and stews that call for green bananas.) 


As a rule, bananas should be left to ripen at room temperature, away from direct heat or sunlight. If you need to speed up the ripening process, put them in a brown paper bag with an apple or a tomato overnight, advises Chiquita. To slow down the ripening process, store the fruit in the refrigerator. The skin may darken, but the banana will be just right for several days. 


If your bananas get too ripe before you can eat them, don't send them to the trash. They can be frozen. But first peel them and store in a ziplock bag. The texture of frozen banana may not be the same, but it will still taste good and can easily be used in desserts after thawing.  


To freeze mashed bananas for smoothies, shakes and banana bread, you can add a tablespoon of pineapple juice and store them for up to three months in an airtight container.  




A few pudding tips 


Whether your banana pudding is homemade custard with meringue topping, or instant mix and Cool Whip, here are a few suggestions from food blogger Greg Allbright you might find useful. Allbright recommends using mini-nilla wafers instead of regular size, for a better bite-sized portion of wafer with every spoonful. He also suggests opting for French vanilla pudding mix instead of simply vanilla. "You can taste the difference immediately," he says. 


"Most important is to let it chill as long as possible," Allbright states. "If I want it for dinner, I try to have it in the fridge by noon. There is something about letting it congeal and letting the flavors run together that gives a better taste." 


With some of today's recipes, cool down that Mississippi summer and enjoy taking your banana pudding to places it may have never been before. 






Hands-on prep time: 45 minutes 


Total time: 11 hours, 10 minutes 


Makes 10-12 servings 




1 1/2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers 


1/2 cup chopped pecans 


1/4 cup butter, melted 


17 vanilla wafers 


2 large ripe bananas, diced 


1 tablespoon lemon juice 


2 tablespoons light brown sugar 


3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened 


1 cup granulated sugar  


3 large eggs  


2 teaspoons vanilla extract 


1/2 cup coarsely crushed vanilla wafers 


Garnishes: sweetened whipped cream, vanilla wafers, sliced bananas tossed in lemon juice 




  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together first 3 ingredients in a small bowl until well blended. Press mixture onto bottom of a greased and floured 9-inch springform pan. Stand 17 vanilla wafers around edge of pan (rounded sides against pan), pressing gently into crust to secure. Bake 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack (about 30 minutes). 


  • Combine bananas and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Stir in brown sugar. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, one minute or just until sugar has dissolved. 


  • Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer 3 minutes or until smooth. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until yellow disappears after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Gently stir banana mixture into cream cheese mixture. Pour batter into prepared crust. 


  • Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove cheesecake from oven; gently run a knife around edge of cheesecake to loosen. Sprinkle top of cheesecake with coarsely crushed wafers. Cool completely on a wire rack (about one hour). Cover and chill eight hours. 


    (Source: Rhonda Harms, Clearwater, Fla., Southern Living, March 2012/myrecipes.com) 








    1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream 


    5.6 ounce box banana flavored instant pudding 


    2 cups cold milk 


    2-3 bananas, sliced or diced 


    1 large box vanilla wafers 


    1 tub of whipped topping 




  • Melt the ice cream for about two minutes in microwave. (You want it almost soupy.) Then add your pudding and 2 cups of milk. Stir in some chopped fresh bananas and half a tub of whipped topping. (We use Cool Whip. You can keep the other half for garnish.) It will look like a soupy mess, but don't worry, it will all re-freeze 


  • Start with a layer of wafer cookies in a wide-bottomed freezer-safe bowl or container. 


  • Pour one-third of the soupy ice cream/pudding mixture over the first layer of cookies and repeat the cookies on top. Then repeat with the ice cream mixture and the cookies again. End with a final layer of the ice cream/pudding mixture. (You will have three layers of cookies and three layers of ice cream/pudding mixture.) 


  • Allow the dessert to sit in the freezer overnight until it is set. Take out of the freezer 10-15 minutes before serving to thaw slightly, so it is easier to serve. 


    (Source: curryandcomfortblogspot.com) 








    Makes 8 servings 




    1/2 cup sugar 


    5 tablespoons cornstarch 


    1/8 teaspoon salt 


    4 cups 1 percent low-fat milk, divided 


    2 large egg yolks 


    2 teaspoons vanilla extract 


    4 ripe bananas, divided 


    12 gingersnaps, crumbled and divided 


    1/2 cup heavy whipping cream 


    1 teaspoon sugar 


    1 tablespoon bourbon (optional) 


    1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted 


    2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger 




  • Combine first 3 ingredients in a saucepan. Gradually whisk in 3 cups milk. Heat to 180 degrees or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). 


  • Combine remaining 1 cup milk and yolks; stir with a whisk. Gradually add 1 cup hot milk mixture to yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Add egg yolk mixture to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.  


  • Place pan in a large ice-filled bowl for 20 minutes or until mixture cools, stirring occasionally. Cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap. Refrigerate two hours or until chilled. Mash two bananas; cut remaining two bananas into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Stir mashed and sliced bananas and half of gingersnaps into pudding; chill 30 minutes. 


  • Combine cream and 1 teaspoon sugar in a medium bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form; stir in bourbon, if desired. 


  • Spoon 2/3 cup pudding into each of eight dessert glasses; divide remaining gingersnaps among servings. Top each serving with 2 tablespoons whipped cream, 1 1/2 teaspoons pecans, and 3/4 teaspoon ginger 


    (Source: Liza Schoenfein, Cooking Light, December 2010) 






    Makes 12-15 servings 




    2 (4.6 ounce) packages cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix 


    4 cups milk 


    1 (8 ounce) container sour cream 


    8 (2.75 ounce) chocolate-marshmallow sandwiches, cut into eighths 


    3 bananas, sliced 


    1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed 




  • Cook pudding mix and 4 cups milk in a saucepan according to package directions. Remove pan from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Whisk in sour cream; let stand until pudding thickens. 


  • Pour half of pudding into a 2-quart baking dish. Layer about 40 chocolate-marshmallow sandwich wedges (we used Moon Pies) evenly over pudding. Top evenly with banana slices and remaining half of pudding. Top with whipped topping. Arrange remaining sandwich wedges around outer edge of dish. Cover and chill at least two hours or overnight. 


    (Source: myrecipes.com, from Southern Living, June 2003)

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.