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Photo by: Joseph DeLeo
Funerals are a big deal in New Orleans and our family was no exception. Though we didn’t send our beloveds off with a jazz funeral and a brass band, we did put out quite a spread to keep the mourners sated. I would sit through the eulogy, the whole time keeping my fingers crossed that I’d meet up with banana pudding at the post-service buffet table at one of the cousin’s houses. I’d walk into the gathering and within minutes I’d be scanning the dessert table-nine out often times it was there-a giant bowl of canary yellow and banana-flavored righteousness beckoning to be pillaged.
Sometimes it was layered with vanilla wafers like a parfait. Sometimes the cookies were half sunken into the abyss. Sometimes there were bananas and sometimes there weren’t. I’d always scoop out a giant serving with more than my fair share of cookies. Now that I’m grown, I like my banana pudding flavored with banana liqueur and topped with a vanilla-wafer and cinnamon-tossed crumb topping. The topping always stays crisp and provides an amazing contrast to the soft-tender bite of the chopped bananas and the silkiness of the pudding. It’s humble and homey but just different enough from the traditional version that I feel good about serving it in a more sophisticated setting.
To make the pudding:
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat and whisk a little at a time into the egg mixture. Once the bottom of the bowl is warm, slowly whisk in the remaining hot milk. Pour the mixture back into a clean medium saucepan (cleaning the saucepan prevents the pudding from scorching), add the banana liqueur, and whisk over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 2 minutes Cook while constantly whisking until the pudding is glossy and quite thick, 1½ to 2 minutes longer. Transfer the pudding to a clean bowl.
Add the vanilla and butter and gently whisk until the butter is completely melted and incorporated. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
To make the crumble:
While the pudding sets, heat the oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the wafers in a resealable plastic bag and seal (make sure there is no air in the bag prior to sealing). Using a rolling pin or a flat-bottomed saucepan or pot, crush the vanilla wafers until they’re coarsely ground. Transfer them to a small bowl and stir in the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Use a spoon to evenly stir in the melted butter, transfer to the prepared baking sheet, and toast in the oven until brown and fragrant, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. (The crumbs can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days at room temperature or frozen for up to 2 months; re-crisp in a 325°F oven for 6 to 7 minutes if necessary.)
Slice the bananas in half crosswise and then slice in half lengthwise so you have 4 quarters. Slice the banana quarters crosswise into ½-inch pieces and divide between 6 custard cups or martini glasses (sprinkle with a squeeze of lemon juice if you like-this helps prevent browning). Whisk the pudding until it is soft and smooth, about 30 seconds, and then divide it between the custard cups. Top with the vanilla wafer mixture and serve. (If not served immediately, the pudding will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, with plastic wrap intact. Sprinkle the crumbs on just before serving.)
Nutritional information is based on 6 servings.
Nutrients per serving (% daily value)