Here’s my late mother Johnetta Miller’s recipe for banana pudding. A version of it was served at the dinner where I received the 12th Annual Literati Award from the Friends of Southern Methodist University.
She liked to chill her mixer beaters in the freezer before using them to whip the pudding’s topping; she said it helped create a stiffer meringue. And she liked to bake the pudding in a clear dish, to show off the layers.
The custard is pretty sweet when you use a full cup of sugar, less so when you use 3/4 cup.
Make Ahead: If you’re making this more than a few hours in advance, assemble the banana pudding without its meringue, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Bring to a cool room temperature while the oven’s preheating and you’re making the meringue.
SERVINGS: 12 servings
FOR THE PUDDING
- 3/4 to 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 11 ounces vanilla wafers (1 regular-size box)
- Flesh of 8 fairly firm bananas, cut crosswise into slices (your choice of thickness)
- FOR THE TOPPING
- 4 large egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup sugar
For the pudding: Heat a few inches of water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
Fill a heatproof bowl with the sugar (to taste), flour and salt; place it on top (so that it fits snugly) of the saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium; pour in the milk. Cook, whisking constantly, so the mixture becomes well combined and lump-free.
Lightly beat the egg yolks in a liquid measuring cup; whisk a few tablespoons of the hot milk mixture into them (to temper them), then whisk that egg mixture into the heated bowl. Cook for a few minutes, whisking, until slightly thickened, then remove the bowl from the heat. Stir in the vanilla extract. This is your custard, which will thicken further as it cools yet still be pourable.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have a 9-by-13-inch baking dish at hand; make sure it’s at least 2 inches deep.
For the topping: Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld mixer; beat on low, then medium-high speed until frothy. On medium-high speed, gradually add the sugar to form a meringue that holds stiff peaks.
To assemble, create a single layer of vanilla wafers in the bottom of the baking dish. Use some of the sliced bananas to create a layer covering the wafers. Spread half of the custard over the bananas; repeat those three layers, ending with the custard.
Spread the meringue topping so that it covers the custard entirely; swirl it decoratively to make it look nice. Bake (middle rack) for 15 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned in spots.
Let cool completely, then refrigerate (with a tent of foil over the top that does not touch the meringue) for at least 2 hours or until well chilled.