Serious Eats: Recipes

Homemade Nilla Wafers (Leave the Box on the Shelf)

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.

20081008-nilla.jpgInstead 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.

Vanilla Wafers

- makes about 8 cups of cookies (it makes a lot, but I’ve never counted!) -

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