Gourmet (March 2009)
One of us (whose name rhymes with "mack") served on his high school's cafeteria committee.
Okay, he was the co-chairman of the committee.
For two years.
Lest you think this was dorky, well, first of all, Zach was a dork in high school. So, joke's on you. Or something.
But Zach was also able to use his cafeteria leadership position to help get a jukebox for the cafeteria, as well as a pizza cart where you could get a slice every single day, and a patio with outdoor seating for seniors.
So the bottom line is, THERE IS NO SHAME IN THE CAFETERIA COMMITTEE.
What does this have to do with banana pudding? Well, Zach's high school's banana pudding was highly revered. It was delicious, the perfect blend of spongy wafers, slices of banana and sweet, custardy pudding. Students loved it. Teachers loved it. On the days it was served, kids would travel from other high schools just to eat it. [Ed note: No they wouldn't.] For Homecoming the year Zach was a freshman in college, the cafeteria ladies made a special batch of banana pudding to serve at the football game, at the request of Zach and his friends. [Ed note: That is actually true.]
So it was with that warm sense of nostalgia in mind that we turned to this Bourbon Banana Pudding with Glazed Pecans. It had all the promise of that delicious childhood banana pudding, but with some decidedly grown-up accents. We were sold!
This is one of those dishes that's actually like four recipes in one. You have to make the pudding, let it cool, bake a spongecake, let it cool, brush it with syrup, toast pecans, let them cool, and then assemble the whole thing. And then let it chill.
Though this dish is a very time-consuming endeavor, it was actually really fun to make -- neither of us had ever made a pudding from scratch, so that was a really great learning experience. Same with the spongecake. It's so light and delicate and airy, and it was a true education for us.
Unfortunately, this sum of the parts of this dish is more than the whole. Everything seems great on paper -- bourbon syrup! homemade vanilla pudding! candied pecans! -- but it just didn't come together. The finished product was bland and boring. What we wanted was to dive into a big ol' bowl of old-school banana pudding. What we got was something way too polite and too restrained. Not just restrained, though -- we just weren't happy with the flavors of the whole thing.
We loved aspects of this dessert, especially the spongecake. But it just didn't scratch our banana-pudding itch. Maybe we need to go back to Zach's high school for pointers?
For pudding and candied pecans
* 3 large egg yolks
* 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, divided
* 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 3 cups whole milk
* 5 teaspoons bourbon
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 1/2 teaspoons mild honey
* 1 1/2 teaspoons water
* 3/4 cup pecan halves
For spongecake and syrup
* 3 large egg yolks
* 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
* 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
* 1/4 cup bourbon
* 1/4 cup water
* 3 ripe medium bananas
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
* a 9-inch square cake pan
Make pudding and glaze pecans:
Lightly beat yolks in a medium bowl.
Whisk together 3/4 cup brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk in milk, then boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, until pudding is thick, about 3 minutes. Gradually add hot pudding to yolks, whisking constantly, then whisk in bourbon and vanilla.
Cover surface with wax paper and chill until cold, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
Warm remaining 2 Tbsp brown sugar with honey and water in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Stir in pecans, tossing to coat, then transfer to a lightly oiled 4-sided sheet pan.
Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and shiny, about 15 minutes. Transfer pecans with a metal spatula to a rack to cool. Coarsely chop, reserving 4 halves for garnish.
Make spongecake and syrup:
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour cake pan. Warm eggs (in shell) in hot water 5 minutes.
Whisk together flour and salt.
Beat eggs, 1/3 cup sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until tripled in volume and thick enough to form a wide flat ribbon that holds its shape on top of batter when beater is lifted, 7 to 8 minutes in a stand mixer or 14 to 16 with a handheld.
Transfer to a wide bowl. Sift flour mixture, one third at a time, over batter, folding gently but thoroughly with a rubber spatula after each addition. Stir together butter and about 1/4 cup batter in a small bowl until combined, then fold butter mixture into batter gently but thoroughly.
Pour batter into cake pan and smooth top. Bake until golden brown and edges start to pull away from sides of pan, 12 to 14 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring bourbon, water, and remaining Tbsp sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.
Transfer cake in pan to a rack, then run a thin knife between cake and side of pan and cool 5 minutes. Invert cake onto rack.
Cut off one third of cake, reserving for another use. Brush remaining cake with half of bourbon syrup. Carefully turn cake right side up and brush with remaining syrup. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.
Cut cake into 1 1/2-inch squares. Thinly slice bananas.
In 4 bowls or 10-oz glasses make 2 layers each of pudding, bananas, cake (use all of it), and chopped pecans, then top with a third layer of pudding, bananas, and chopped pecans.
Chill, loosely covered, 1 hour. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.
Whip cream with sugar until it holds soft peaks, then dollop on top of each dessert. Garnish with reserved pecan halves.
* Pudding can be made 1 day ahead and chilled.
* Glazed pecans can be made 3 days ahead and kept (leave whole), layered between sheets of parchment paper in an airtight container, at room temperature.
* Cake can be baked and cooled (but not soaked with syrup) 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature. Brush with syrup before using.
* Store-bought spongecake can be substituted for homemade.Assembled desserts can be chilled up to 6 hours.