I firmly believe that there is no more perfect dessert than banana pudding. I’ll even go so far as to say that bananas themselves are the most luxurious of fruits. Sure, apples are crisp and refreshing, and oranges are cooling and juicy, but sometimes you want a fruit with less water and more creaminess. And it is precisely this quality that makes bananas the ideal fruit for an indulgent dessert.
The funny thing is, I hated bananas when I was a kid. Maybe it was because they seemed so boring and ordinary; we always had a bunch in the fruit basket at home. Or maybe it’s because I’ve always disliked the color yellow. How can it compare to the allure of a deep cherry red or the dusky indigo of a blueberry?
I began changing my opinion when I got to college, where bananas were often the only fresh fruit available in the dining hall. To make them palatable, I slathered them with peanut butter; soon enough, I was enjoying them all on their own. But the real revelation came during my senior year when one of my five housemates, a loud-mouthed, a cappella–singing, aspiring actor from Tennessee had a little dinner party and made an honest-to-goodness, all-American banana pudding—complete with Nilla Wafers and instant Jell-O pudding. I may have hated hearing him practice his scales every night, but it was worth keeping quiet about it just so I could continue eating that delicious dessert.
Since then, I’ve explored all kinds of ways to turn this dish—tasty even in its most humble incarnations—into something you can really be proud of. This version, with a cool custard deepened by the flavors of brown sugar and bourbon, is my absolute favorite. The brown sugar heightens and rounds out the banana, while the bourbon adds an unexpected kick, keeping the whole thing from being overly sweet. The foundation is a homemade sponge cake, which soaks up all the flavors of the custard without getting mushy. I’ve also added my own little flourish, caramelized pecans, which add a crunchy nuttiness to every spoonful.