In case you're unfamiliar with this Southern classic, it's basically a trifle made with pudding, vanilla wafers and bananas. Like most traditional dishes, there are as many versions of banana pudding as there are cooks who make it. While I'm not a huge fan of their cupcakes, which are too sweet for my taste, Magnolia Bakery has won a permanent place in my heart with their banana pudding. Less dense than most renditions, it's lightened with fresh whipped cream and studded with healthy chunks of banana. I like my banana pudding to have little pieces of fruit, to remind me that I'm eating something made from scratch rather than from a box. Last week, spurred on by our pudding contest, I attempted to recreate Magnolia's light, not-too-sweet banana pudding, using a simple vanilla pudding recipe from Martha Stewart as my jumping-off point. And I think I came pretty close to the original. —Merrill Stubbs
plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
Nilla wafers (please, no substitutes here!)
large, ripe bananas
freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for garnish
To make the pudding: prepare an ice bath and set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch, 2 tablespoons sugar and the salt. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until smooth and pale; gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture.
Put the milk in a medium saucepan. Put the remaining sugar in a small bowl. Split the vanilla pod down the middle, scrape out the seeds and rub the seeds into the sugar with your fingertips (Shuna Lydon taught us that this helps distribute the seeds). Add the sugar and the vanilla pod to the milk and bring just to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs, whisking constantly. Return to the saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, whisking continuously, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Set the saucepan in the ice bath, whisking occasionally, until cold.
Whip the cream to soft peaks and whisk 1/2 cup of the whipped cream into the chilled pudding. Gently fold in another 1/2 cup of the cream. Roughly chop 2 of the bananas (this should give you about 1 1/2 cups chopped banana) and mash them lightly with the back of a fork. Fold the bananas into the pudding. Gently fold in a little less than half of the remaining whipped cream. Cover and chill both the pudding and the whipped cream.
Crumble the Nilla wafers by putting them in a zipper bag and whacking at them gently with a rolling pin or a mallet (you can use a food processor, but you'll get more even chunks this way). Set aside some of the finer crumbs in the bottom of the bag for garnish and stir the nutmeg into the larger chunks.
Slice the remaining bananas thinly. To each of 8 pretty glasses, add a layer of Nilla wafer crumbles, then a couple of spoonfuls of pudding, then a layer of sliced bananas (use a 1/4 of a banana for each layer), and then a few dollops of whipped cream. Repeat, and top each glass with a sprinkling of fine Nilla crumbs and a dash of grated nutmeg. Cover the glasses and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.