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Individual Vanilla Bean Banana Puddings

serves 4
As much as I love banana pudding, I never served it until I figured out how to make it a bit more elegant.  Real vanilla beans and brown sugar take it to a new level and serving it in individual portions is key.  This is the perfect make-ahead dessert.
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter
3 bananas (2 diced and 1 sliced)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
mini Nilla Wafers
Heat milk and vanilla bean in small saucepan.  As soon as it reaches a boil, remove from heat and set aside to let the vanilla bean infuse the milk.
     Whisk egg yolks and brown sugar together until fluffy.  Add cornstarch and whisk until smooth.  Remove vanilla bean from warm milk and discard.  Whisk 1/4 of the hot milk into egg mixture until incorporated.  Then whisk in the remaining milk.  Strain this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until pudding is thick and starting to boil slowly.  Remove from heat and stir in the butter.
Dice 2 of the bananas (about 1/4 inch) and stir into the pudding.  Fill individual ramekins about half full then add a layer of mini Nilla Wafers.  Add pudding to reach the rim of the ramekin.  Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap, pressing wrap to make contact with pudding and refrigerate until cold.  Whip the cream with the confectioner’s sugar.  To serve, garnish puddings with banana slices, a dollop of whipped cream and a mini Nilla Wafer, if desired.
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Banana Muffins

 

I’ve made countless batches of banana muffins over the years and this one is my current favorite.  It is adapted from Sara Foster’s Banana Nut Muffin recipe in her book Fresh Every Day.  I like to put the pecans on top because they get nice and toasty and keep their crunch.  And, this also makes it easier if you want to make a batch of muffins, half with nuts and half without.
 
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3 over ripe bananas
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans, broken into pieces
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners and lightly grease the top of the pan.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, nutmeg and salt.  In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, bananas, sour cream and vanilla and stir until the flour is just incorporated…do not over mix.  Fill the muffin tins until batter is just below the top of the paper liner.  Cover batter with broken pecan pieces and bake 25-30 minutes.  To test for doneness, I gently touch the top center of a muffin…it should spring back lightly.
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Strawberry Banana Crunch

 

When I was trying to decide upon a third banana recipe to add to this post, I suddenly remembered a treat from long ago, when I was in school in Memphis, TN.  The Squash Blossom was a health food store that had soft serve frozen yogurt and this combination of strawberry frozen yogurt, fresh banana slices and granola was my absolute favorite.  This was frozen yogurt that tasted like yogurt…not like fake ice cream.  So I set out to recreate it and was not surprised to find that I still love it.  The frozen yogurt is tart, the bananas sweet and creamy, and the granola adds the perfect crunch. I’m sure that The Squash Blossom had a clever name for this treat but I can’t remember it and they closed years ago.  Here are recipes for an amazing strawberry frozen yogurt and a yummy, easy granola… but don’t forget the bananas!
Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
This is Jeni Britton’s recipe from Food and Wine magazine, June 2008
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
One 1/4-ounce package unflavored powdered gelatin
12 ounces strawberries, hulled
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup heavy cream
 
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Pour the lemon juice into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin on top; let stand for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a blender, puree the strawberries until smooth; you should have about 1 cup of strawberry puree.
In a small saucepan, combine the strawberry puree with the sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil. Cook over moderately high heat until the sugar dissolves completely, about 1 minute. Remove the strawberry mixture from the heat and stir in the lemon gelatin until it melts.
In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt with the lemon zest and the hot strawberry puree. Stir in the heavy cream. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the strawberry yogurt is cold, about 20 minutes.
Pour the strawberry yogurt into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Pack the frozen yogurt into a plastic container. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the frozen yogurt and close with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.
 
 
Vanilla Scented Granola
This recipe was published in Bon Appetit in March of 2002.
 
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
4 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
 
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Lightly spray large baking sheet with nonstick spray.  Mix next 5 ingredients in large bowl. Combine oil, honey, and sugar in small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Pour hot liquid over oat mixture and stir well.  Using hands, toss mixture until thoroughly mixed.  Spread granola on baking sheet,  Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.  Cool completely.  Store in airtight container at room temp.
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