Why It Works
- A long, slow steep infuses milk with maximum banana flavor without use of a purée, keeping the final texture silky smooth.
- Holding the custard at a boil denatures a starch-dissolving enzyme found in egg yolks, so crémeux stays creamy and thick.
- Cloves amplify the natural flavor of banana without adding an overtly spicy note of their own.
- Stiffly whipped cream lightens the texture of the chilled custard, making a dessert that's lighter than pudding if not quite as airy as mousse.
Crémeux is fancy way for pastry chefs to describe any dessert that falls somewhere between mousse and pudding in terms of lightness: something a bit more dense and creamy than the former but nowhere near as heavy or thick as the latter. Whatever you call it, this whipped banana custard is just that—rich and creamy and thick, but soft and light as well, with an intense banana flavor developed through a long, slow infusion.
- 28 ounces milk, any percentage will do (about 3 1/2 cups; 790g)
- 16 ounces peeled, ripe banana from about 5 medium bananas, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups; 455g)
- 1 empty vanilla bean pod, left over from another project, optional
- 7 ounces plain or toasted sugar (about 1 cup; 195g)
- 1 1/2 ounces cornstarch (a shy 1/3 cup; 35g)
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
- 1/8 teaspoon (.5g) ground cloves
- 5 ounces egg yolk (from about 10 large eggs; 140g)
- 1/4 ounce vanilla extract (1 1/2 teaspoons; 7g)
- 12 ounces heavy cream (about 1 1/2 cups; 340g)
Infuse the Milk: Combine milk, sliced banana, and empty vanilla bean pod (if using) in 3-quart stainless steel saucier and bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring from time to time with flexible spatula to prevent scorching along bottom. When dairy comes to a simmer, remove from heat, cover and let cool to room temperature, about 4 hours. Proceed to next step, or refrigerate up to 24 hours to extract stronger banana flavor. The exact timing will depend on both personal preference and convenience.
Make the Custard: Return banana milk to simmer over medium heat, stirring as before; then strain through fine-mesh sieve into medium bowl. Press gently on banana pulp to release liquid, but don't allow pulp to pass through sieve. Pulp can be refrigerated to use in muffins, pancakes, or smoothies, but it will not benefit the custard. If using vanilla pod, scrape out flavorful milk inside each half with flexible spatula before discarding.
Using the same 3-quart saucier as before (no need to wash), whisk sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cloves together until well combined, followed by egg yolks. Whisk in infused milk. Return to stovetop and warm over medium-low heat, whisking gently until custard is steaming hot, about 5 minutes.
Increase heat to medium and continue cooking until the custard thickens, about 5 minutes more. When it begins to bubble, set timer and continue whisking for 90 seconds. This step is important to neutralize starch-dissolving protein found in egg yolks. Off-heat, stir in vanilla extract and season to taste with additional vanilla, salt, or cloves. If desired, strain custard through same sieve as before (again, no need to wash) to remove bits of chalazae that may remain or any accidentally curdled custard. Scrape into large glass or ceramic baking dish; then cover and refrigerate until firm and cold, at least 2 hours, although timing will vary. Alternatively, the prepared custard can be refrigerated up to one week.
Finishing the Crémeux: In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip cream to stiff peaks. Meanwhile, use flexible spatula to stir chilled custard until smooth and soft (this can be done right in the baking dish or in a separate bowl if you prefer). Add about 1/3 of the cream to banana custard; then fold and stir until smooth before folding in remaining whipped cream. Transfer to disposable piping bag fitted with a large star tip and divide between serving dishes. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until needed, up to 24 hours. Pair with toasted nuts, cocoa nibs, fresh fruit, unsweetened whipped cream, or whatever toppings you desire.
3-quart stainless steel saucier, Nonreactive sieve, Whisk, Flexible spatula, Disposable pastry bag, Large star piping tip
This cornstarch-thickened custard works well as the filling in traditional banana pudding, or it can be used as a light and creamy filling for cream puffs, doughnuts, and other filled desserts.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The prepared custard can be refrigerated up to one week, allowing the finished crémeux to be assembled in about 10 minutes.