One day, shortly before the restaurant where I'm pastry chef opened, Matt, our general manager, showed up with a few dozen beautiful, vintage glass coupe bowls. Inspiration struck: those bowls were meant for pudding, and pudding there would be.
With a silky smooth vanilla pudding recipe burning a hole in my pocket (the basis for my butterscotch pudding recipe), and a menu generally running to the simple, classic, and slightly playful, the beloved layered combination of vanilla pudding, bananas, and Nilla Wafers seemed a perfect fit.
Since I wasn't content with a straight recreation of the recipe on the Nilla Wafer box, I added a little interest to the banana layer by incorporating a puree of miso and bananas (with a touch of lemon juice to prevent discoloration, and a little guar, a plant-based starch, to tighten the mixture and prevent weeping), which brought notes of caramel, salt and a subtle funkiness to the dish.
Instead of boxed wafers, I made my own, using real vanilla and butter, in place of artificial flavorings and partially hydrogenated fats. The crust that developed on my pound cake had always reminded me of Nilla Wafers, so I began there, adjusting butter, flour and egg ratios in the cake recipe a bit, and piping the batter onto a baking sheet in nickel-sized mounds instead of baking it in a loaf pan.
After a few runs, I arrived at a formula that seemed just right.
The final test was a side-by-side comparison between the boxed wafers and my homemade version. To my deep satisfaction, my version tasted better and had a more satisfying crunch than the boxed variety. The homemade also held up far better when dunked in milk, maintaining its structure and texture for quite some time. The real Nilla Wafers dissolved (almost instantaneously) into structureless mush, making the homemade variety even better suited to asphyxiation by pudding and banana than the original.
Speckled with vanilla, and served in our beautiful pressed-glass coupes, with no more adornment than a little pile of additional vanilla wafers for dipping, this silly little pudding is the stand-out favorite of our dessert menu so far.
About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband.
- makes about 8 cups of cookies (it makes a lot, but I’ve never counted!) -
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1 stick or 112g)
- 1/4teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar (210g)
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds only
- 1 large egg white (~33g)
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 1/3 cups AP flour (160g)
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder (~3g)
With an electric mixer, cream butter, salt, sugar and vanilla seeds until light.
Beat in egg white until well incorporated, scraping sides and bottom of mixing bowl to insure that all white has been incorporated.
Beat in extract and milk until well incorporated.
Whisk together flour and baking powder and add to butter mixture. Mix just to incorporate, scraping down sides and bottom of mixing bowl to insure that all flour has been incorporated.
Fit a piping bag with a large, plain pastry tip (I use Ateco #806, but slightly larger or smaller sizes will also work). Fill bag with about 1/3 of the batter. Holding the filled bag perpendicular to a parchment-lined baking sheet, pipe batter into nickel-sized mounds, about 1 inch apart. To make neat, well-shaped cookies, as you finish piping each round, sweep the pastry tip horizontally off to the side with a slight curving motion. (The cookies should cover 2 to 3 standard baking sheets. Batter will hold for a while after it is piped, so trays can be baked one or two at a time, as your oven allows.)
Bake at 350°F for about 15-20 minutes, until cookies are lightly browned, rotating trays every 5 minutes or so for even coloring. Cool completely before storing. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for at least a week.