A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, holy-cow factor. Psst: We don't count salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. This time we're making an icebox cake that thinks it's banana pudding. (Shhh, don't tell!)
I always assumed banana pudding was banana pudding—like, banana-flavored pudding—but it’s not. It’s actually vanilla pudding, layered with vanilla wafers, and banana slices.
Or, as David Rosengarten, writing for The Splendid Table puts it, “a totally unfashionable vestige of the old South.” His friend’s family’s recipe is as classic as it gets: Nabisco wafers, Jell-O pudding, and homemade meringue, which you toast in the oven until the top turns the color of a camp-fired marshmallow.
Rosengarten lauds its “amazingly high pleasure-to-work ratio.” But I wanted to up the pleasure and drop the work even more.
First, let’s not make meringue. Basically, meringue is two ingredients: egg whites and sugar. The egg whites become big and bouncy thanks to whisked-in air, and stable thanks to sugar. Which means another sweet ingredient in an already sweet situation.
I want something less cloying. And less laborious. You know, something simpler, that doesn’t need to be baked. So, while we’re at it, if we’re not turning on the oven, let’s not turn on the stove either. Let’s not make a pudding, boxed or homemade.
Enter, meringue’s effortlessly chic cousin: whipped cream. This can act as a stand-in for the meringue and the pudding—a Big Little Recipes win-win. Whipped cream brings all the creamy, billowy drama without the need for sugar to stabilize it.. We just need a little something-something to make it rich and pudding-y.
Like malted milk powder. Serious Eats’ Stella Parks calls this “the umami bomb of desserts”. Most commonly, it sends milkshakes over the top. But I love incorporating it into frostings and cakes and blondies, too.
Ingredients, you wonder? Mostly wheat flour and malted barley extracts, plus milk powder and salt. That malted barley (kisses fingertips) gives our whipped cream an undeniable confidence, plus a glowing tan, like it just got back from a day at the beach.
Now, where to stack all this gorgeousness? Banana puddings can be layered anywhere you please. Sometimes it’s a casserole dish, which can be slid under the broiler. Other times, it’s a big trifle bowl, to show off in front of guests.
We’re taking another route entirely: a loaf pan. Not because this will be baked, but because it’ll be icebox-ified. If you’ve been here before—I thought I recognized you!—you know that we looove icebox cakes. They ask so little and give so much, especially in these sunny, sweaty months.
All you have to do is line the loaf pan with plastic, layer the wafers, banana slices, and malted cream up, up, and away, and chill for half a day, or a few days. Whatever works with your sched. Then slice into extra-thick slabs and tuck in.
Everyone will assume it’s banana pudding—wait, isn’t it?—but now, it’s neither banana-flavored, nor pudding at all. What’s in a name anyway, right?
- 2/3 cup malted milk powder
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced (about as thick as the wafers)
- 7 ounces vanilla wafers
Have you ever made banana pudding or an icebox cake before? Tell us about it in the comments.