Banana pudding is one of those Southern belle desserts. You can find banana pudding at potlucks and BBQ joints. At Southern sorority stores (yes those are a thing), you can even find baking dishes with the recipe painted right on the glass. It’s one of those dishes whose flavor depends on convenience items–a can of sweetened condensed milk, a box of powdered, artificially flavored banana pudding mix, a tub of Cool Whip. Minus the whip, my recipe includes these items. Sometimes, you just need a taste you remember…
My banana pudding initiation
The first time I had banana pudding, Norma made it for my mom and me on the last day of our visit. I was around seven. Norma wasn’t a blood relative, but she was married to my mom’s biological dad. Since my mom and her dad didn’t grow up together, a lot of our visit consisted of small talk around golf, model trains, and other grandkids. But on the last day, Norma, being the quintessential Southern host she was, made banana pudding. Like most Southern foods to me at the time, it seemed decadent. How could anything possibly taste this good?
Later, at home, I tried recreating the recipe. Somewhere between dolls and chapter books, I made the unfortunate decision of following a recipe from scratch. I tried making pudding in a double boiler, and it was messy as well as bad. Without that artificial banana flavoring, the whole thing tasted like cornstarch. Messing up only made Norma’s version seem more magical.
In the meantime, Norma and my grandfather would move to her turf in Tennessee when I was 12. My mom would be there when he passed away, and together, my mom and I would attend the funeral where Norma’s Nashville-bound niece sang sad, beautiful country songs. Afterward, Norma would quietly exit our lives.
I think of her when I make banana pudding, about her presence and absence. I think about both the generosity and the limitations of hospitality as a way of welcoming others into one’s life. And I wonder what Norma’s doing now, if she’s still making banana pudding. I wonder who she shares it with, and I hope there are still many who share theirs with her.
There are infinite ways to dress up banana pudding–meringue, chocolate shavings, whipped cream on top. You can even bake banana pudding. I made a no-bake version and based it off of the Magnolia Bakery recipe. For the uninitiated, Magnolia Bakery is a line-out-the-door cupcakery in the heart of Manhattan. I’ve tried their banana pudding straight from the source, and yes, it’s delicious. I’m also curious to try their variations – chocolate hazelnut banana pudding and red velvet banana pudding. Is there such a thing as too much pudding?
Believe it or not, there are only 5 ingredients if you don’t count water!)
- Sweetened condensed milk: Yum! I once made this dessert with the coconut version for a vegan alternative. It wasn’t too bad!
- Boxed banana pudding mix: Even as a huge fangirl of slow foods, I opt for the boxed version here. There’s nothing like it! The original Magnolia recipe calls for vanilla pudding, but if you’re really crazy, you could add a teaspoon of vanilla extract with the whipped cream and get both.
- Heavy cream: You’ll whip this into oblivion with your mixer in a second. But if you have no mixer, you could always do the new classic, Cool Whip! You could also do the vegan, new classic, Coco Whip or Truwhip! So many options.
- Nilla Wafers: These little things are so good. I did use the generic brand instead of the Nabisco brand. They were exactly the same. It’s pretty hard to mess up a crunchy cookie.
- Bananas: A TON of them!
Timing – be warned:
This recipe is simple, but it’s a bit time sensitive. For one, you’ll have to start making the pudding the night before to make sure it’s set before adding the whipped cream. Additionally, banana pudding is just not good the second day. It’s a one-day kind of thing. If you let it go too long you’ll have soggy wafers–or, worse, disintegrating bananas. Unlike I did, make sure you make this dessert for a crowd. I made mine “just because” and ended up having to pass it off on various neighbors. (They were not sorry!)
Whether you’re making banana pudding for the sugar rush or for the memories, leave me a comment below and let me know how it goes!Print
A classic, no-bake dessert adapted from the Magnolia Bakery recipe. It’s got creamy, banana goodness in every bite. It’s a perfect recipe to make for a crowd.
- 1 can sweetened-condensed milk (14 ounces)
- 1 ½ cups cold water
- 1 box banana pudding mix (3.4 ounces)*
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 12 ounces Nilla Wafers
- 6 ripe bananas, sliced
The Night Before
- Add the sweetened condensed milk and the cold water to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Using egg beaters or a mixer, beat the mixture for about a minute. Beat in the banana pudding mix for an additional two minutes. This is your pudding! Refrigerate it, covered, overnight.
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the heavy cream and vanilla. Whip the cream with a stand mixer. Once soft peaks form, you’ll want to check every few seconds to make sure you haven’t over whipped your cream. Whip your cream just until it forms stiff peaks. (A stiff peak means no floppy cream when you lift the whisk out of the cream).
- Add the pudding mixture to the cream and fold in using a spatula. The mixture should be homogenized when it’s ready.
- Assemble the dessert in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Set aside a handful of Nilla Wafers for the top, and then divide the rest in half. Layer one half of the wafers in the bottom of your pan. Then, slice three of your ripe bananas and add this on top of the wafers. Finally, add half the pudding mixture on top of this. Repeat the process again, adding wafers, three more sliced bananas, and then the second half of the pudding mixture. Crumble the rest of the Nilla Wafers and sprinkle them on top.
- Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve–but ideally eat it right away!
Recipe adapted from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook.
*Vanilla pudding is fine, too.
Keywords: banana pudding, no-bake, desserts, sweets, Southern, soul food, banana, fruit desserts, fresh, classic, traditional, vegetarian