You can’t do summer in the South without banana pudding. It’s a must, like ripe peaches, seersucker, firework stands and Chigarid. That’s mostly because banana pudding is quick and cheap – especially the versions that use Jell-O pudding and Cool Whip – and it makes people happy.

Especially people who love Nilla Wafers.

But the ‘Nana Pudding’ in “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook” is something completely different: layers of homemade vanilla cream pudding, crumbled shortbread cookies and fresh banana slices, all topped with a cloud of sweetened whipped cream.

Total ‘Nana Nirvana.

The real stars are the buttery shortbread cookies. You know how the Nilla Wafers eventually go mushy in most banana puddings? These cookies have a sandy texture that stays crunchy, and they provide a constellation of salty bits in a sky full of sweetness.

The recipe isn’t hard, but it takes time, so tackle it some morning when you feel like spending a few hours in the kitchen. You’ll need that long anyway to figure out what to do with four quarts of banana pudding.

We took it on the road. Code name: Nanageddon.

Jeff delivered a few quarts of banana pudding to his co-workers, while I took the rest up 65 North with Henry the Wonderdog riding shotgun. Our last stop was a gas station, where my sister Jennifer and I met to trade a few containers of pudding for a bucket of wild blackberries. Then Henry and I took the long way home.

No need to rush. We were out of pudding.

‘Nana Puddin’

Adapted from Cheryl and Griffith Day’s “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook”

Serves 12

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • One 14-ounce can condensed milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 36 Janie Q Shortbread Cookie Bars (recipe follows), crumbled
  • 8 large bananas, sliced into coins
  • 1 recipe Fresh Whipped Cream (recipe follows)
  1. For the Pudding: In a large heatproof bowl (like Pyrex or ceramic), whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well blended. Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the half-and-half to its boiling point (do not let it actually boil), then whisk 1/2 cup into the egg mixture to temper the eggs.
  3. Keep whisking as you add the rest of the half-and-half.
  4. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water) and cook, whisking slowly, until the mixture has thickened. (This can take 15 minutes or more, so don’t panic! Look for the pudding to make big, slow bubbles, like lava. The cornstarch won’t start to thicken the pudding until it comes to a slow boil.)
  5. Remove the bowl from the heat, and gently transfer the pudding to a fresh bowl, being careful not to scrape up any scalded pudding sticking to the bottom of your pot. (The pudding might seem a little thin. Again, don’t panic! It thickens even more when the whipped cream and cookies are added later and it sets up in the fridge.)
  6. Whisk in the vanilla.
  7. Let the mixture rest for 3 minutes to cool slightly, then whisk in the butter until it is melted and the pudding is glossy.
  8. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding so that a skin does not form, and let the pudding cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  9. Whisk in the condensed milk, and chill for 2 hours or overnight.
  10. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), whip the cream on medium speed until it starts to thicken. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the cream holds stiff peaks.
  11. Gently fold the whipped cream into the chilled pudding mixture. Put it back in the refrigerator to chill until you’re ready to put everything together.
  12. To Assemble the Pudding: Spoon one-third of the pudding into a large serving bowl. (Don’t worry if the pudding seems a little runny. It will soak into the cookies and firm up as it chills.) Top with about one-third of the shortbread cookies, followed by a layer of sliced bananas. Repeat the process, ending with bananas. Finish with dollops of Fresh Whipped Cream. Covered with plastic wrap, the pudding will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 days.

Janie Q Shortbread Cookie Bars

Makes 48 bars

  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  1. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 18″ x 13″ cookie sheet with parchment.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla together on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Grab a rubber spatula, and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour in thirds, beating until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Finish mixing by hand to make sure the dough is thoroughly mixed.
  6. Press the dough evenly into the cookie sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until golden. Remove the shortbread from the oven and let cool completely. Cut into 2-inch bars. (You should get 48 bars. The banana pudding only needs 36, so feel free to go crazy with the remaining 12.)

Storage: These bars will keep for up to 5 days stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Fresh Whipped Cream

Makes about 3 cups

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  1. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large mixing bowl—using a handheld mixer), whip the cream on medium speed until it starts to thicken.
  2. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the cream holds nice soft peaks.