Desserts – State by State: Tennessee

The time has finally arrived, folks…state by state desserts has commenced!!! While this is my first state dessert post, I have made a couple so far which has allowed me to figure out just what I want to include in each post. For starters, I’m only putting recipes up for the desserts that I really like–after all this blog, first and foremost, is our recipe journal and there’s no point in publishing anything I wouldn’t make again. Secondly, I’m ranking these treats into three categories:

Fantastic: Thank you, (insert state here), for sharing this dessert with the rest of us!

Meh: If someone is going to go to the effort of making it, then I’ll make the effort to eat it. But I just may not be the someone who’s cooking.

Not worth it: Life is short–invest your calories elsewhere.

For my first entry into sugardom I chose one of my absolute favorite desserts in existence, which also happens to occupy the list under Tennessee: banana pudding! Way back when, all of four years ago, I made my first banana pudding from scratch (as in the pudding and whipped cream were from scratch…I have not ventured into homemade Nilla wafers…yet), and I have been hooked ever since. Before then I sort of thought of banana pudding as school food: artificial colored cafeteria mush that, despite each bite harboring notes of Salisbury steak (I swear that smell could permeate a gold brick), it was still one of maybe two items I ate on my tray–because anything is better than Salisbury steak. No longer relegated to the cafeteria table, however, this dish can hold its own at any dinner party.

My go-to banana pudding recipe comes courtesy of Alton Brown, with a few slight modifications, including a minor reduction in sugar (trust me it’s still plenty sweet) and a bit more vanilla (because vanilla). I also prefer to use low fat Nilla wafers, as I think they hold a bit more body than their full fat cousins. And if you prefer low-fat over whole milk, the pudding still turns out well – I’ve made it both ways and it was still gone in a flash.

Banana Pudding

State by State Desserts: Tennessee – Banana Pudding

Fantastic: Thank you, Tennessee, for sharing this dessert with the rest of us!

Yield: 1 9-inch square baking dish (or you can use a trifle bowl or another dish that holds about 2 quarts)

Ease of Preparation: Medium (the custard involves a number of steps, but the good news is it’s best when made the day before serving)


For the Custard

  • 2 cups whole milk (or 2% if you prefer)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbs flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup eggs (about 4 large)

For the Base

  • Low fat Nilla wafers (roughly half of an 11 oz. box)
  • 3-4 ripe bananas (make sure there is no green on the peel), thinly sliced

For the Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1-2 Tbs powdered sugar
  • Splash of vanilla

To make the Custard:

Using a medium saucepan, bring about an inch of water to a simmer (this will be used as part of your double broiler when making the custard). Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a small bowl and then set aside.

In another medium saucepan, combine milk and vanilla. Bring to a bare simmer over medium-low heat while whisking frequently, then immediately remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs until they have lightened in color, then slowly whisk in the sugar mixture; whip until the mixture is slightly thickened.

Temper the egg mixture into the milk mixture by slowly adding about 1/3 of the milk mixture into the egg mixture while whisking the egg mixture. Then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture. Whisk briefly to combine. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a stainless steel mixing bowl (tempered glass would work as well). Set the bowl over the simmering saucepan. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly for about 15 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads 170 degrees Fahrenheit. You will know it’s ready because the custard will be just starting to thicken. Don’t try to heat it until it reaches a pudding-like consistency; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Remove from heat and again pour through a fine mesh sieve into another bowl.  This will prevent any lumps that may form in the custard from getting into the final product.

To Make the Whipped Cream:

Make sure the whisk, bowl and cream are chilled before starting. To do this, stick your beaters (or whisk attachment if using a stand mixer) and bowl in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure the cream is well-chilled in the fridge (do not put cream in the freezer). Pour cream into the chilled bowl and beat on low for a few seconds then slowly increase the speed to high. Whip until soft peaks form, roughly 2 minutes. Add in sugar and vanilla and continue to whip on high until stiff peaks form, another 1-2 minutes. If making ahead of time, you can also add a little softened gelatin (follow directions on the gelatin packet and add a teaspoon or two of the gelatin water to the whipped cream when you add the sugar and vanilla). This will keep your whipped cream stiff if it will be sitting awhile before serving.


Line the bottom of your serving dish with wafers. Pour a thin layer of custard, then add a layer of banana slices. Repeat all the way to the top. Chill at least four hours or preferably overnight. Top with whipped cream before serving.


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