Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner is one of the more humble, yet celebrated chefs in the country who is legendary for his southern food at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill.
The James Beard Foundation named Crook’s an “American Classic,” so let’s listen as Bill pairs one of his American classics with, well… you guess. Get the recipe at the bottom of the post!
Bill tells Kitty, “I was thinking, we’re sort of famous for this banana pudding we do, and it’s sort of unsung so we’ve had it forever. But, when I first put in on the menu, when I first came here years ago, I would just do it occasionally, and people would get really mad, they’re saying “Where’s the banana pudding? Where’s the banana pudding?” So I thought that would be good, and we can pair it with our friends at Southern Culture on the Skids, because they have that wonderful song, “Day Old Banana Pudding”.
Serves 10 plus
8 cups half-and-half
1 vanilla bean
¾ cup cornstarch
8 large eggs
2 cups sugar
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and kept cold
1 box vanilla wafers
5 pounds ripe bananas
Meringue (recipe follows)
Scald 6 ½ cups of the half-and-half with the split vanilla bean in a heavy-bottomed pot until it just starts to steam. Do not boil. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into the remaining 1 ½ cups of the half-and-half to dissolve it, then whisk in the eggs one by one. Everything should be completely combined. Whisk a cup of the scalded half-and-half into the egg mixture to temper it, then beat all of the eggs mixture into the pot of half-and-half. Put on medium high heat and begin stirring. For some reason I can’t explain, custards vary a lot in the amount of time they take to set. Continue stirring until it has thickened to the point that it coats a spoon and a line drawn in it with your finger holds. The custard will tug at the spoon a little as you stir. Turn the heat down a little. Stir in the butter, bit by bit until it is completely absorbed. Lastly, whisk in the sugar, until it is completely dissolved. I save this for last because the custard is less likely to scorch. Remove the vanilla bean. Wash it off and store tightly wrapped in the refrigerator as it can be used several more times.
Pour a little of the custard in an oven proof serving dish. Then layer cookies, bananas and custard until they are all used up, making the last layer custard. If your dish is glass you can arrange the cookies around the sides.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spread the meringue all over the top of the pudding in attractive swirls. Sprinkle two more tablespoons of sugar generously all over the top. Bake for 30 minutes or so until the meringue begins to color. Turn the oven up to 350 and cook a little longer until he points of the meringue begin to look toasty. Serve hot, warm or cold.
1 Tablespoon of cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar plus 2 Tablespoons
2 teaspoons vanilla
Swirl the vinegar around in a mixing bowl with the salt and then dump it out over the sink. The amount that remains in the bowl will be the right amount. Add the egg whites and begin to beat on medium speed. Add the cream of tartar, then gradually feed in the sugar. Increase the speed to high and beat until the meringues form stiff glossy peaks.