Baked Sunday Mornings: Banana Caramel Pudding with Meringue Topping

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Bananas… again? *sigh*

Why MUST there be more bananas?? I usually cringe when I see a banana recipe coming up on our Baked Sunday Mornings schedule, but the recent ones have had bananas mashed up into cake or whoopie pie batter, which I’ve actually grown to like quite a lot (though I’m reluctant to admit it). However, this recipe for Banana Caramel Pudding with Meringue Topping from the Banana chapter of Baked Elements would test my fragile personal growth… The bananas are simply sliced up and layered into the pudding in all their slimy, mushy glory. (*gulp*) At least they weren’t the overripe ones that I have to suffer through for those other desserts; would that make a difference in my tolerance of the vile specimens? In a word– NO.

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BAKED‘s puddings have been hit-or-miss for me. The chocolate pudding in the Mississippi Mud Pie (B) was TO. DIE. FOR.– rich, thick, creamy, and luxurious. The pudding for the Vanilla Bean & Chocolate Budino was a little gritty and didn’t have much flavor. The idea of caramel pudding certainly held plenty of delicious potential; sadly, the texture turned out more like that budino than the dreamy mud pie. BUT, the flavor was great, and the grittiness was more or less lost among the other textures in the layered pudding: crisp vanilla wafers, toasted meringue, and… those damn bananas. By the way, is this thing a trifle or not a trifle? I thought it looked like a trifle, but upon conducting preliminary research, it appears that a proper English trifle contains fruit juice and sponge cake. But it has such pretty layers, like a trifle…

I almost went for the standard-issue Nabisco Nilla Wafers, but then I remembered that Trader Joe’s makes the very tasty Ultimate Vanilla Wafers, so I chose those. (One for me, one for the pudding, one for me, one for the pudding…) I like these better because a) they have visible flecks of vanilla, b) they actually taste like vanilla, and c) they don’t contain artificial ingredients. I think they are also a little crisper than Nilla Wafers, so they’ll stand up to the pudding a little longer.

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The pudding is made by making a simple caramel base of sugar, water, and heavy cream, at which point I was already wondering if there was something wrong. Now, I should say that it’s totally possible that my less-than-splendid pudding texture was due to baker error. Also, I made a half-batch because I didn’t have a group of people to feed on this occasion. With something like caramel, timing can be tricky and precise, which does not always cooperate with the process of taking photos! I’m trying out a new lens on my camera, which I haven’t quite figured out yet, so between fussing with that and tending the boiling sugar pot, it’s possible that something went awry. (Or halving the ingredients may have disturbed the zen of the pudding, who knows…) The mixture seemed thin and had lots of tiny bubbles and some hardened bits on the bottom of the pan; it was still “caramel”, but not as smooth as I would have liked.

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The next step is whisking in a mixture of cornstarch, salt, and half-and-half, followed by more half-and-half, which resulted in lots of tiny brown bits floating around that were difficult to incorporate into a homogenous mixture, though it happened eventually. This custard-like mixture needs to come to a boil and thicken. You will then whisk a bit of the caramel cream into the eggs to temper them before pouring that back into the pot of pudding to boil one last time. Finally, add butter and vanilla bean paste and stir it up.

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The mixture was supposed to get very thick, such that I would need to push it through a sieve; I would call it medium-thick, which poured through my sieve fairly easily. I could see the slightly gritty texture at this point, but hoped for the best. The pudding then needs to cool to room temperature– make sure to cover the surface directly with plastic wrap. Mine formed a surprisingly thick skin that I had to scrape off.

The pudding definitely firmed up overnight in the fridge, but unfortunately that grittiness didn’t magically transform. I forged ahead anyway– it was still edible. I decided to assemble my puddings in 2 wide, glass ice cream dishes to show off the layered sides, as there was no need to bake only 2 meringues; this was a perfect opportunity to bust out my beloved and under-utilized kitchen torch! (The recipe says to divide the pudding between 8 6-ounce ramekins, or put it all in 1 larger soufflé dish, and bake in the oven to brown the tops.) I thought I would have a bunch of pudding and meringue left over, but I actually used almost all of it for the 2 servings. I’m not sure how the full batch would fill 8 ramekins, unless 6 ounces is smaller than I think it is.

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Whatever dishes you use, layer the pudding, banana slices, and wafer pieces in that order until you’ve filled up your vessels, and finish with pudding on top. The meringue is very easy to make: whip together egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar to glossy peaks, then dollop said meringue in your preferred creative formation onto the puddings. Torch or bake as needed, et voilà! I would recommend assembling these right before you plan to serve them, as the wafers will eventually get soggy and the meringue will start weeping.

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The finished puddings are quite pretty and elegant– I was very pleased with the visual element! We had these for breakfast, and they are very, very rich. I would probably make tiny portions next time, as I couldn’t eat more than a half-dozen bites. All the assembled flavors and textures were quite delicious… except I couldn’t get past the bananas. Despite slicing them very thin, they were wholly unappealing. However, if you love bananas, this dessert will be an absolute dream for all your senses. I would have *loved* it without the bananas– there’s plenty going on in there without them! Or, if there’s a way to blend mashed bananas right into the pudding, that would be acceptable too. As for the wafers, they were lovely, and I think speculoos cookies would be fabulous too, which I will try next time if I make this dish again (probably sans bananas).

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If you enjoy bananas (or if an obsession with caramel supersedes your aversion), you will love this Banana Caramel Pudding with Meringue Topping, and I encourage you to check out the recipe at Baked Sunday Mornings. You can also see how my less-banana-averse friends liked this dessert! 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.

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