Friday, February 4, 2011
Recipe for Birthday Bliss: Magnolia Bakery's Banana Pudding
Whenever I look at a dessert menu at a restaurant my eye usually gravitates to certain items: Bread pudding, anything with chocolate or salted caramel, and items that contain the words “cobbler” or “crisp.”
The other items – the panna cottas, crème brulees, cheesecakes, sorbets, and loathsome “fruit bowl” – quickly get crossed off the consideration list. Usually pudding (unless it contains some approximation of the aforementioned salted caramel) is nixed with it.
Pudding isn’t inherently exciting. While there’s usually some nostalgia attached to it (I too was and still am a fan of the humble Jell-O pudding snack), it doesn’t seem like a particularly fun or worthy indulgence. It seems a bit… well, vanilla. And who wants vanilla when there’s warm chocolate chunk bread pudding with crème fraiche and toasted hazelnuts?
On the surface, banana pudding seems to be perhaps the most mundane form of pudding of all. Bananas, by nature, are not an exciting fruit. They’re always readily available – even at the Starbucks on the corner – and they don’t pack much of a flavor punch like a super sweet strawberry or a ripe nectarine. Eating a banana is not something that makes me close my eyes and gasp at how good it is. For the most part, all ripe bananas taste the same.
Or at least I thought they did.
Magnolia Bakery’s banana pudding isn’t just a heap of vanilla pudding mixed with a bunch of mealy ripe bananas. The bananas add a delicate infusion of flavor to the fluffy folds of vanilla pudding that has the texture and lightness of whipped cream. Nilla Wafers bring a welcome touch of textural juxtaposition and lend the pudding an almost deconstructed cream pie-like quality. In short, it’s a dessert that’s worth the indulgence. It’s a dessert that is impossible to stop eating. And it’s a dessert that inspired one young man leaving the West Third Street bakery one Saturday night to stop my friend and me to tell us, “Dude, you gotta get the banana pudding.”
We, of course, were already planning as much, but it was a nice confirmation that the humble pudding really is the most memorable item on the bakery’s already compelling menu of sweets. It’s so compelling, in fact, that this past weekend I planned to pick up a pint for a friend’s birthday brunch instead of a traditional cake or cupcake.
But pints of pudding aren’t particularly graceful to serve at a “ladies who lunch” brunch, so on Saturday afternoon I decided to try my hand at making the pudding myself using the widely circulated recipe from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. While seemingly a daunting endeavor, once I read through the recipe, I found that the instructions and ingredients are actually quite simple. The hardest part was finding ripe bananas at a moment’s notice – and figuring out how to halve the recipe so my two girlfriends and I wouldn’t be drowning in a vat of pudding.
That said, if I’m going to drown in a vat of pudding, I’d want it to be this one.
Don’t send help, just send a spoon.
Note: Magnolia Bakery is offering Super Bowl fans a “Super Bowl” of their famed Banana pudding for $24 or $36 this weekend. Orders must be placed before tomorrow, Saturday, February 5th to ensure availability on Game Day. 8389 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles (323) 951-0636
Magnolia's Famous Banana Pudding
Recipe adapted from Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
Adaptations: I halved the original recipe and used proportionally more Nilla Wafers and bananas. I also let the final product chill approximately 16 hours before serving, instead of the recommended 4-8 hours. I found that the banana flavor became more developed as it “rested.”
½ cup + 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup ice cold water
¼ cup instant vanilla pudding mix (preferably Jell-O brand)
1 ½ cups heavy cream
60 Nabisco Nilla Wafers (no substitutions!)
2 ½ - 3 cups sliced ripe bananas
In a small bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat together the sweetened condensed milk and water until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the pudding mix and beat well, about 2 minutes more. Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours or overnight, before continuing. It is very important to allow the proper amount of time for the pudding mixture to set.
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the pudding mixture into the whipped cream until well blended and no streaks of pudding remain.
To assemble the dessert, select a large, wide bowl (preferably glass) with a 2-2 ½ quart capacity. Arrange one-third of the wafers to cover the bottom of the bowl, overlapping if necessary, then one-third of the bananas and one-third of the pudding. Repeat the layering twice more, garnishing with additional wafers or wafer crumbs on the top layer of the pudding. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (preferably longer) before serving.