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When you're craving "banilla," nothing hits the spot quite like homemade banana pudding. Even from-scratch versions of this potluck perennial require relatively few steps or ingredients. The classic dessert is made by alternating layers of vanilla wafers, sliced bananas and vanilla pudding, and then topped with a whipped-cream layer and optional garnishes. Banana pudding shows off its layers best in a clear trifle dish, but any 2-quart serving or casserole dish will do, as will individual dessert bowls.

Pudding Prep

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Before you assemble the dessert, you'll need to make a basic vanilla pudding and a whipped topping. Start by separating a few eggs – the yolks will go into the pudding, while the whites form the base of the topping. For the pudding, use your favorite basic homemade vanilla pudding recipe, which will likely involve whisking together 12 parts milk, 3 parts flour, 2 parts sugar, a few egg yolks and a bit of salt in a double boiler. Add a dash of vanilla extract after the pudding thickens and comes off the heat.

The Layered Look

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After you've sliced a small bunch of peeled bananas, set a ladle full of the vanilla pudding at the bottom of a clear serving bowl. If you'll be browning the top in the oven, make sure the bowl or casserole dish is heatproof. Alternate about three layers each of vanilla wafers, banana slices and pudding, finishing with a pudding layer. To make the topping, beat together roughly equal parts of the reserved egg whites and sugar, until the mixture reaches the stiff-peak stage. After the whipped topping goes over the surface of the pudding, it can set in the refrigerator or brown in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 15 minutes. Banana pudding can be served warm or chilled.

Special Touches

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For New Orleans-style cooking, cookbook writers David Guas and Raquel Pelzel add a few spoonfuls of banana liqueur to the pudding mix and garnish the chilled dessert with a crumble made by oven-toasting crushed vanilla wafers, a bit of sugar and cinnamon and enough melted butter to make the mixture crumbly. To give the pudding a taste of the South, drizzle in a bit of rum or bourbon when cooking the vanilla pudding. Or follow the lead of Virgil’s Real Barbecue restaurant in New York City – skip the sliced banana layers in favor of bananas that have been pureed with cream, sugar, vanilla extract and corn syrup.

Instant Gratification

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Because banana pudding is such a quintessential cookout and potluck dish, it's not surprising that a version exists that relies on convenience items, such as instant pudding and whipped dessert – along with vanilla wafers, of course. For this quick dish, make a double portion of instant vanilla pudding per package directions. Alternate layers of wafers and vanilla pudding in a serving bowl, and top it off with a thick layer of whipped dessert topping. Chill the dessert for a few hours before serving.

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About the Author

Ellen Douglas

With a focus on food, nutrition, cocktails and the latest dining trends, Melissa J. has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years. Her specialties include articles for such publications as SF Chronicle and National Geographic Green Living, as well as blog posts for the hospitality industry. Her previous positions include newspaper staff reporter and communications specialist for a nonprofit agency.