Banana pudding is a classic, homestyle Southern dessert made with layers of vanilla wafer cookies (Nilla Wafers), sliced bananas and pudding or custard. Sometimes the dish is also topped with meringue or whipped cream to finish it off, as well. The dessert has actually been around for quite a while, as cooks around the turn of the 20th century looked for ways to use the then-exotic bananas in desserts and other dishes. Creamy bananas worked well with creamy custards. The Nilla Wafers were added somewhere along the line, probably to contribute a bit of extra texture to the dessert, and the recipe was made even more popular once it was printed as a standard recipe idea on boxes of the cookies.
Not having grown up in the South, I never ate banana pudding as a kid. I like all the flavors, but it doesn’t have any of that nostalgic value for me. With a box of delicious Trader Joe’s Ultimate Vanilla Wafers in my cupboard, I decided to try putting a little spin on the traditional dish to capture those flavors in a new way.
I decided on a tart. I used the vanilla wafers to make a cookie crumb crust and topped it with a layer of perfectly ripe sliced bananas. Using the classic pudding recipe from the “back of the box” version of the dessert, I cooked up a vanilla pudding to top off the tart with. The resulting dessert was fantastic. The vanilla crust had a great flavor and was very crisp, holding up well under the soft toppings and providing the dessert with a great textural contrast. The pudding was quite good and very easy to make, too.
Don’t use “overripe” bananas for this recipe. You want to choose the type that you might just ordinarily peel and eat, or they’ll be too soft to work with. You also must refrigerate this tart before slicing so it will hold together well enough to slice cleanly. Top each piece with a bit of whipped cream before serving and tuck an extra banana slice on top during plating to make it look extra special.
Southern Banana Pudding Tart
2 cups vanilla wafer cookie crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup melted butter
3 medium, ripe bananas, sliced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 large egg yolks
2 cups milk (low fat is fine)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all crust ingredients (add 1 tsp vanilla extract if you are using fairly plain vanilla wafers) and stir with a fork until mixture is moist, like wet sand. Pour into a 9- or 10-inch tart pan and press into an even layer, going up the sides of the tart.
Bake for 12-14 minutes, until crust is just starting to brown at the edges. Cool completely.
When crust has cooled, prepare the filling.
Arrange sliced bananas in a single layer (slices should be about 1/4-inch thick) on top of the tart crust.
In a medium sauce pan, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Whisk in milk and egg yolks until smooth. Cook over medium heat until pudding comes to a simmer, stirring frequently. Cook until pudding has thickened enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla extract. Strain into a large measuring cup or bowl.
Pour hot pudding over sliced bananas, spread evenly, and allow to cool down to room temperature before refrigerating.
Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.