How To Make the Best Southern Banana Pudding
Banana pudding is a classic Southern dessert, well-loved for its creamy texture and comforting qualities. Here in the South, nearly every family has their own spin on the crowd favorite, and there’s not a tailgate party, church potluck, or family gathering without it on the menu. If you’re looking for a simple Southern favorite to satisfy your sweet tooth, banana pudding is the recipe for you.
Why Should I Make This Banana Pudding?
It’s a combination of the very best methods. Scan the internet or old Southern cookbooks for longer than a minute and you’ll find about a hundred different ways to make the easy dessert. Meringue or whipped cream? Vanilla wafers or shortbread cookies? Served warm or chilled? No-cook or custard-based? We’ve married the best methods and ingredients to showcase a classic, from-scratch banana pudding you can be proud of.
It’s authentically Southern. Southerners started incorporating bananas into fruit pudding around the turn of the 19th century — and the earliest versions consisted of custard-based pudding, bananas, and meringue. Today, many Southerners still prefer a meringue-topped pudding, although whipped cream has become just as common. While some variations call on instant pudding mix, a folded-in whipped cream, or even the addition of sour cream, the most classic Southern version is thickened over the stove with either flour or cornstarch.
Here, a custard-based vanilla pudding is cooked on the stovetop and layered with sliced bananas and crumbled vanilla wafers before chilling in the fridge — then topped with either whipped cream or fresh meringue. We’re leaving it up to you!
What Ingredients Do I Need for the Best Banana Pudding?
Classic banana pudding requires just a few easy-to-find ingredients. Milk, eggs, and sugar make up the bulk of it, but the two things you’ll want to get right are the wafers and bananas. (This recipe was perfected using Nabisco Nilla Wafers). We crumble the wafers for easy eating and serving, although Mini Nilla Wafers are a cute (and delicious!) alternative.
When choosing bananas, look for ones that are perfectly ripe with no brown or green spots. They’ll break down over time in the pudding, so you want to pick the freshest, most ready-to-eat bananas you can find. Slice them into thick-enough chunks to where they’ll hold up well in between the layers of vanilla pudding.
How Do I Assemble Banana Pudding?
Start with a thin layer of pudding, followed by a few cookie crumbles, banana slices, and then a thicker, more substantial layer of pudding. Repeat the layering of cookies, bananas, and pudding once more while the pudding is still warm, then chill the whole thing in the fridge. You can lightly press a single sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding to prevent it from forming a “skin,” although I’ll have you know that plenty of Southerners love that part. Once the pudding is cold, top with your choice of fresh meringue or whipped cream, then finish with more crumbled cookies.
How Do I Serve Banana Pudding?
Banana pudding can be assembled and served in glass bowls, casserole dishes, or individual jars. For a quick and simple treat to share with a crowd, choose a serving dish (about 1 1/2 quarts in size) that guests can spoon from into their own bowls. Stick with two layers of pudding, bananas, and cookie crumbles. If you want to serve individual portions, layer the pudding in small ramekins or Weck or Mason jars.
While banana pudding can be made in advance, keep in mind that the bananas will break down over time, releasing a watery “weep” that may spoil the treat for some. We recommend eating the pudding within 48 hours of preparing it.
Prep time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
- 1 cup
- 1/4 cup
- 1/4 teaspoon
- 2 3/4 cups
large egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons
- 3 tablespoons
vanilla wafers (about 6 ounces), coarsely crumbled (2 2/3 cups), plus more for garnish
large bananas, sliced
(6-ounce) jars or 1 (1 1/2- to 2-quart) baking dish
Measuring cups and spoons
Combine the sugar, flour, and salt. Whisk the sugar, flour, and salt together in a medium saucepan.
Whisk in the milk. Gradually whisk in the milk until combined, then place the pan over medium heat.
Heat the mixture until thickened. Heat the milk mixture, stirring regularly, until thickened to a creamy salad dressing consistency and gently bubbling, 8 to 12 minutes. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes more.
Whisk the milk mixture into the yolks. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. While whisking the yolks vigorously, slowly drizzle in the milk mixture.
Return everything back to the heat. Once combined, pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place back over medium heat. It will be pale yellow, and just barely thicker than heavy cream consistency. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat.
Stir in the vanilla and butter. Stir in the vanilla and butter until melted and combined. At this point, the mixture will be back to that creamy salad dressing consistency (think: runny ranch) and just a bit more saturated yellow in color.
Make the first cookie layer. Sprinkle half of the crumbled vanilla wafers into a 1 1/2- or 2-quart baking dish, or the bottom of 8 (6-ounce) jars.
Top with half the bananas. Place half of the sliced bananas over the crumbled wafers.
Top with half the pudding. Dollop half of the warm pudding over the bananas, or fill each jar to its halfway mark with half of the pudding.
Repeat layering. Repeat the layering process once more with the remaining wafers, bananas, and pudding.
Chill at least 2 hours. Cover the baking dish or each jar with a sheet of plastic wrap (press it directly onto the pudding if you don't want a skin to form). Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.
Top with whipped cream or meringue. Top with whipped cream or meringue, and more crumbled cookies, if desired.
Storage: Store in the fridge covered with plastic wrap for up to 48 hours. To delay the browning of the bananas, you can mix a cup of water with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to spritz on the bananas before adding them to the pudding.
Ingredient/Equipment Variation: Caramelize the bananas, add shredded coconut or chocolate shavings to the trifles, or use shortbread cookies in place of Nilla Wafers.
Kate Wood is an Alabama-based baker, writer, and photographer. Find more of her recipes at her blog, Wood & Spoon.
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