Banana pudding is a perfect dessert. Puddings and custards in general are key ingredients of all my favorite confections: creme brulee, flan, custard filled donuts, rice pudding, etc. They are also less forgiving and more difficult to veganize than baked goods like cakes, cookies, and muffins. A year into being vegan and I have found excellent versions of many of the above desserts or managed to make them myself, but banana pudding had been an insurmountable craving for both Maddy and I until last week, when I attempted a banana pudding for a Friendsgiving, aka the ultimate chance to show off. It was a real high risk high reward situation. If I failed, I’d disappoint everyone who was expecting to finally get to eat banana pudding and if I succeeded, I’d fulfil a major cooking aspiration and also no one would be able to tell me shit, ever.
I had a terrible freak out the morning of when the pudding would just not get thick no matter how much cornstarch I continued to add. Then when it finally thickened but tasted corn starchy, I resigned myself to the fact that all I had to do was please vegans who hadn’t had banana pudding in years, which should be easy even if mine wasn’t quite up to snuff.
When it came time for the dessert course though, it totally landed. Once the pudding was layered with homemade vanilla wafers and banana slices, the consistency was perfect. And in later tests, I actually measured all my ingredients, and the result was much more consistent.
I will give a disclaimer that the pudding itself is an admittedly unappetizing grayish brown because of the bananas. Some recipes call for making a plain vanilla pudding and then layering with banana slices which is very wrong!! I probably could have used banana extract and a pinch of turmeric to mimic the classic Jello pudding mix version, but banana extract would mean plastic packaging and the bananas are a valuable thickening agent for the pudding. Also, you should feel free to top this with some sort of dairy free whipped cream. I tried to make some with coconut cream, but it would! not! form! stiff! peaks! The pudding is lovely without it, but if you find banana pudding without whipped cream to be sacrilegious, there are lots of vegan whipped cream recipes out there! Also, agar is a seaweed derived vegan gelatin alternative. You should be able to find it at asian grocery stores or specialty markets, but you could probably get away with omitting it if you can’t track it down since cornstarch does most of the heavy lifting as a thickening agent for this particular recipe. I really would like to avoid using parchment to reduce my waste, but the second time I tested the cookies I was out of parchment and used a greased sheet pan and the cookies flattened and baked way too quickly, probably due in part to the lack of parchment. If you do skip it, keep a close eye on your cookies!
After I made this, a bunch of people asked me for the recipe. Since Thanksgiving is just days away, I figured it would be a good first recipe post here! If you make it, let me know how it turns out!
Vegan Banana Pudding:
8 tablespoons unsalted vegan butter, softened
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons aquafaba (cooking liquid from chickpeas, either from a can or reserved after cooking dried beans)
2 teaspoons flax meal
3 tablespoon non dairy milk
1 ⅓ cup all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
- Mix flax and aquafaba in a small bowl and let sit until gloopy (official term! think egg white consistency).
- Add butter, salt, sugar, and vanilla to a large bowl and use an electric mixer to beat on medium until light and well combined.
- Beat in flax/aquafaba mixture until well incorporated.
- Add milk and beat until well incorporated.
- Whisk flour and baking powder and add gradually to butter mixture, mix until just combined, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to insure all flour is incorporated
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Fill a piping bag with the batter and pipe small circles each the size of a ubiquitous Nilla Wafer (about 1 ½ inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets, about an inch apart.
- Bake until cookies are lightly browned on the edges, about 10-20 minutes. Cool completely before storing or using in recipe.
Note: The baking time has such a wide range here because when we baked them in Maddy’s oven, they took 25 minutes and nearly burned after 15 in mine. Ovens are so so inconsistent, so when baking sight and smell indicators are always a better judge of when your food is done.
5 cups non dairy milk of choice (I used soy, though anything on the creamy side of the plant milk spectrum like oat or coconut would work. I’d avoid almond.)
3 bananas, very ripe for maximum banana flavor
2 bananas, sliced, ripe to preference (I like them a day or so after they’ve gone from green tinted to completely yellow, Maddy prefers them covered with brown spots)
1 cup sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup cornstarch
¾ teaspoon agar agar powder
- In a small bowl, combine agar and cornstarch. Add about ¼ cup of milk to the mixture and whisk until smooth and well combined. Add a ½ cup of milk and combine until smooth and lump free.
- Blend remaining milk and the three very ripe bananas.
- Transfer cornstarch and milk mixture to a large saucepan on medium heat, cook until thickened, whisking constantly.
- Once thick, slowly add the milk and banana mixture, a little bit at a time, whisking constantly.
- Add vanilla and sugar and whisk mixture constantly until very thick and bubbling, this may take a total of 20 minutes.
- If you have any lumps in your pudding from the cornstarch, feel free to blend again.
- Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate overnight, or until chilled and set.
- Layer ingredients in a vessel of your choice. Begin with a layer of wafers, then top with pudding, sliced bananas, pudding, another layer of wafers and so on until you run out of ingredients. Eat immediately for crunchier wafers, refrigerate for a few hours for softer, more saturated cookies.