Banana pudding is one of those Southern desserts that shows up at least once a year on a holiday, or when need-to-impress guests come for dinner, or when Pastor or the Parish Priest pays a visit. Trifles are an equally impressive British dessert made with layers of cake, boozy fruits, and cream anglaise, which is a slightly thinner pudding. Banana pudding is actually a kind of trifle, without the booze. The key to both of these desserts is perfect, creamy pudding - which so intimidated me in the past that I resorted to the boxed variety.
Making real pudding is not for the lazy. You can't walk away, or casually stir, or multi-task. The pudding chef must stand right next to his/her pudding pot and whisk and stir like it is no one's business. I was fully prepared to fail the first time I whipped up a batch of pudding from scratch but - surprise! I got a nice, smooth, creamy pudding on the first try. (Thank you Grandmere Annie!)
You can do it too. And you will slay the New Years Eve pot luck with this . . .
Here is a from scratch banana trifle with a buttermilk pudding spiked with lime (no booze for the kids), sponge cakes, and meringue. I toasted some crushed up banana chips tossed with cinnamon and made a coconut-cinnamon Creme Anglaise to pour over each serving. Sure, this trifle takes more work than popping open a box of wafer cookies and using boxed pudding mix, but it is sooooo worth the effort! This best served in an 8-inch glass trifle dish, but you can use any deep casserole dish on hand. I recommend that you make the pudding before making the cakes.
Your total ingredient list for this dessert includes:
1 vanilla bean
Thirteen eggs (9 whole eggs, 4 eggs separated))
Unbleached all purpose flour
Fine kosher salt
Heavy cream and whipping cream
Cream of tartar
STEP ONE: Make the pudding and sponge cake
For the Buttermilk Pudding:
1 1/2 cups whole buttermilk
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seed scraped
2-3 lime leaves, preferably fresh (can be found with the fresh herbs in the store)
3 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cups cane sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of fine kosher salt
2 cups heavy cream
1. In a heavy bottom large saucepan, whisk together the buttermilk and whole milk. Turn on the heat to low medium. Add the vanilla seeds, split vanilla pod, and lime leaves to the milk.
2. Heat the milk until it is just warm to the touch and before it begins to scald or froth. Stir gently and set aside to steep for 2 hours.
3. After the two hours, remove the vanilla pod and the lime leaves from the milk.
4. In a large mixing cup with a spout or a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well combined.
5. Return the milk to the stovetop and heat over medium low heat. When the milk is warmed, drizzle a small amount into the eggs while whisking vigorously (you don't want scrambled eggs!) Continue to drizzle small amounts of the milk into the eggs until the bowl is slightly warm to the touch. Then return the pan of milk to the stovetop and drizzle the warmed egg mixture into the milk while whisking. When all of the eggs have been added to the milk continue to whisk as the pudding thickens, about another 2-3 minutes. You should have a nice, smooth, thick pudding. Remove from the heat, pour into a separate bowl and let cool on the counter for 15 minutes, then cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for an hour.
6. Remove the pudding from the refrigerator, uncover, and pour in the heavy cream. Using a hand mixer (or in the standing mixer), beat the cream and pudding together until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. (Do not overbeat!!!) Cover once more with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator.
For the Sponge Cake:
6 large eggs
1 cup cane sugar
pinch of fine kosher salt
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans (preferably springform), then line the bottom of each pan with a circle of parchment paper. Butter and flour the paper.
2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and salt until light and frothy using a hand mixer or wire whisk, about 3 minutes. Fold in the flour about 1/4 cup at a time, and mix with a wooden spoon until the flour is completely incorporated and you have a smooth cake batter.
3. Divide the batter between the two cake pans and shake gently to smooth out. Bake the cakes for 10-12 minutes until they spring back to the touch. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and place side-by-side on a rack to cool completely.
STEP TWO: Assemble the first layers and let set
3 bananas, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
The sponge cakes
The prepared pudding
1. Beat the whipping cream and powdered sugar together until you have stiff peaks. Set aside.
2. If you are using a trifle dish, trim the two sponge cakes around the edges to fit in your dish. If you are using a casserole or other dish, cut each of the the cakes into 4 strips.
3. Remove the pudding from the refrigerator. Spoon in enough pudding to cover the bottom of the dish. Place one layer of sponge cake on top. Spread a layer of pudding (about half of what you have left) on top off the cake layer. Starting from the outer edge of the pan, place enough bananas in a single layer to cover the entire surface of the pudding. Place another layer of cake on top, pile in and smooth out the rest of the pudding, and add a final layer of the bananas.
4. Spoon the whipped cream on top of the trifle and smooth out. Cover the dish loosely with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.
STEP THREE: Make the toppings
For the Coconut Creme Anglaise
2 cups whole coconut milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 cup cane sugar
This is prepared similarly to the pudding.
1. Set a strainer filled with ice over a bowl.
2. Heat the coconut milk in a medium saucepan over low medium heat and whisk to keep from clumping. When it is warm, add the split vanilla bean and the seeds. Stir gently to incorporate, then turn off the heat.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until well incorporated but not frothy. Stir in the cinnamon.
4. Drizzle a small amount of the warm coconut milk (about 1 tablespoon) into the egg yolks while whisking vigorously. Whisk in another tablespoon to warm the yolks.
5. Place the saucepan with the remaining coconut milk over the burner at low medium heat. With your whisk at the ready, slowly drizzle the warmed egg yolks into the coconut milk while whisking vigorously. Do this until all of the yolks have been drizzled into the milk and whisk gently to keep lumps from forming. Stir gently but continuously while the creme thickens, about 2-3 minutes.
6. When the creme has thickened to the consistency of thin egg whites, turn off the heat and remove from the burner. Pour immediately over the ice in the strainer into the bowl. Discard the ice. Cover the bowl or pour into a smaller container, cover, and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the Toasted Banana Chips:
1 cup banana chips
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Put the banana chips in a gallon size zip lop bag and seal. Place the bag between two clean dish towels and place on your counter. Using a rolling pin, crush the chips by alternately smashing and rolling over the dish towel until the chips are finely ground.
2. Open the ziplock bag and add the cinnamon. Seal the bag and toss around until well combined.
3. Spread the banana chip crumbs on a baking sheet lined with foil. Place in the oven to toast until medium brown and fragrant, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
For the meringue:
4 egg whites
1/2 cup superfine sugar
pinch of cream of tartar
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Preheat the oven to 325F.
2. Using a hand mixer or standing mixer (or beat by hand with a wire whisk if preparing for your next arm wrestling match) beat the egg whites until they are foamy. Add the sugar and cream of tartar and continue to beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff and glossy.
3. Spread the meringue on the baking sheet to just smaller than the total circumference of your trifle dish/casserole/whatever the pudding is in. Place the sheet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the meringue starts to brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
STEP FOUR: Final assembly
Remove the trifle from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Peel the paper/foil from the cooled meringue and place it on top of the trifle. Sprinkle the toasted banana chip crumbs all over the top of the trifle.
Use a large spoon to serve. Pass around the coconut creme anglaise to pour over each serving.