DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel, includes recipes like King Cake; Chocolate Cupped Cakes with Coffee & Chicory; and Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafer Crumble.
Funerals are a big deal in New Orleans and our family was no exception. Though we didn't send our beloveds off with a jazz funeral and a brass band, we did put out quite a spread to keep the mourners sated. I would sit through the eulogy, the whole time keeping my fingers crossed that I'd meet up with banana pudding at the post-service buffet table at one of the cousin's houses. I'd walk into the gathering and within minutes I'd be scanning the dessert table—nine out of ten times it was there—a giant bowl of canary yellow and banana-flavored righteousness beckoning to be pillaged.
Sometimes it was layered with vanilla wafers like a parfait. Sometimes the cookies were half sunken into the abyss. Sometimes there were bananas and sometimes there weren't. I'd always scoop out a giant serving with more than my fair share of cookies. Now that I'm grown, I like my banana pudding flavored with banana liqueur and topped with a vanilla-wafer and cinnamon-tossed crumb topping. The topping always stays crisp and provides an amazing contrast to the soft-tender bite of the chopped bananas and the silkiness of the pudding. It's humble and homey but just different enough from the traditional version that I feel good about serving it in a more sophisticated setting.
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat and whisk a little at a time into the egg mixture. Once the bottom of the bowl is warm, slowly whisk in the remaining hot milk. Pour the mixture back into a clean medium saucepan (cleaning the saucepan prevents the pudding from scorching). Add the banana liqueur, and whisk over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Cook while constantly whisking until the pudding is glossy and quite thick, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer the pudding to a clean bowl.
Add the vanilla and butter and gently whisk until the butter is completely melted and incorporated. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
While the pudding sets, heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the wafers in a resealable plastic bag and seal (make sure there is no air in the bag prior to sealing). Using a rolling pin or a flat-bottomed saucepan or pot, crush the vanilla wafers until they're coarsely ground. Transfer them to a small bowl and stir in the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Use a spoon to evenly stir in the melted butter, transfer to the prepared baking sheet, and toast in the oven until brown and fragrant, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. (The crumbs can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days at room temperature or frozen for up to 2 months; re-crisp in a 325 degrees F oven for 6 to 7 minutes if necessary.)
Slice the bananas in half crosswise and then slice in half lengthwise so you have 4 quarters. Slice the banana quarters crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces and divide between 6 custard cups or martini glasses (sprinkle with a squeeze of lemon juice if you like-this helps prevent browning). Whisk the pudding until it is soft and smooth, about 30 seconds, and then divide it between the custard cups. Top with the vanilla wafer mixture and serve. (If not served immediately, the pudding will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, with plastic wrap intact. Sprinkle the crumbs on just before serving.)
Why buy vanilla extract when you can make it yourself? Stir 2 cups of vodka with 6 scraped vanilla pods cut into 1-inch lengths. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and set aside for 2 months in a cool, dark spot. Homemade vanilla keeps indefinitely.
Once you've used half the bottle, simply top off with more vodka and set aside until the color becomes rich and amber (this could take a few days). Once the vodka doesn't turn a deep amber color, you know the vanilla beans are spent. Time for a fresh batch!
Throughout the book, whenever I call for vanilla beans, I usually specify Tahitian vanilla beans. I find Tahitian vanilla (and even Tahitian vanilla extract) to be a little more floral and softer than the somewhat more grounded Bourbon-style vanilla.
In fact, Tahitian vanilla is actually a different species than Bourbon vanilla (which refers to the former Bourbon Islands, not the whiskey) that is grown in French Polynesia's vanilla archipelago: Taha'a, Raiatea, and Huahine. Vanilla beans are the fruit of a climbing orchid plant originally native to Mexico and shipped by Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes to Europe along with another popular export—cocoa. Vanilla-producing orchids were brought to Tahiti in 1848 and, over the course of half a century, they developed into a new species with more heliotropin, the chemical compound responsible for the sublime perfume of vanilla beans.
Bourbon vanilla has to be harvested before it is fully mature. That's not the case with Tahitian vanilla, which can remain on the vine longer to soak up some rays. Like a tomato or peach that benefits from a few extra days of hot sun, the same is true for vanilla. If you can find Tahitian vanilla beans, definitely try them out—you won't be disappointed.
This page created July 2010
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