Every southern baker makes banana pudding. It's the quintessential icebox dessert: an ingenious combination of crunchy and creamy ingredients melded into sweet perfection by the magic powers of your fridge. I have to admit, though, that I have a few bones to pick with the traditional version of banana pudding. I bet you know what I’m talking about: too often, the classic is a lumpy mess of soft banana slices and soggy vanilla wafers. Not here. Personally, I think everything sweet improves with some texture. Whether it’s dark chocolate shavings or chunky sea salt flakes or the sprinkles in my Confetti Cookies, a crisp bite adds dimension to sweetness. In this recipe, the pie’s crust brings the crunch. It’s that texture that makes the flavor of bananas--buttery, mildly tangy--come alive. And topping the slices with a dusting of crushed vanilla wafers doesn’t hurt either.
Sometimes after working all week, at home all I want is a pie. I don't want to be in my own kitchen long--and certainly not long enough to cook and chill and whip a custard, make and parbake a crust. That’s why I love this recipe: it’s assembled in thirty minutes, ready to serve in an hour. And while this recipe is full of shortcuts and food coloring and even artificial flavoring, you’re not compromising any deliciousness. Whipping instant pudding into heavy cream isn’t cheating, but a super resourceful trick: essentially you're setting the pie with gelatin, without the pesky work of blooming. And, there’s no shame in a bit of yellow food color to counteract the grayness of the ripest-ripe bananas, especially when the end result is a decadent mash-up between banana cream pie and banana pudding that’s anything but mushy.
Banana Pudding Pie
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 8 ounce package cream cheese
5 small, ripe bananas
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yellow food coloring***
1 teaspoon banana extract***
2 cups heavy cream
1 large box instant vanilla pudding (5.1 oz size)
1 9 inch prepared graham or nilla wafer crust
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and light. In a food processor or blender, combine 3 of the bananas, salt, yellow food coloring, and banana extract. Blend until it's extremely smooth, about 5 minutes. At this point, it's gonna look way too yellow and you're likely to think you’ve made a mistake. Scrape the neon banana mixture into the cream cheese mixture. Mix until combined and smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Clean or rinse the mixer bowl and grab the whip attachment. Whip the heavy cream and pudding mix until stiff. Keep a close eye on it. You don't want to over whip it. And it will whip a lot quicker than regular heavy cream. It has pudding in it! Fold the banana mixture into the whipped pudding mixture until combined and smooth. Take about half of the pie filling and spread it into the bottom of the pie shell. Peel and thinly slice the remaining 2 bananas and cover the surface of the filling. Spread the remaining filling on top of the banana layer. It's way too much filling for a level pie, so mound it up in the middle. Stick it back in the fridge and let it chill until you're ready to serve. The fresh banana layer may darken a bit, but it will keep for a few days. If it lasts that long!
***Both of these ingredients are optional. The extract just bumps up the flavor of the pie. It evokes the memory of banana candy or a classic banana cream pie. The food coloring covers up the greyish color of puréed banana. If you're cool with that, feel free to leave it out. I use McCormick brand for both.