Homemade Banana Custard Part 1

The Difference between custard and pudding.

So what the heck is banana custard? Most people call it banana pudding. If it is made right it is custard. If the quick methods are used than pudding is the correct term. It is nothing more that vanilla wafers, sliced bananas and vanilla flavored custard or pudding layered in a dish. Some folks like to top that with whipped cream or meringue. The recipes are at the bottom if you are in a hurry.

One needs to understand the difference between a pudding and custard in order to appreciate the banana custard recipe. True custard is a sweetened mixture of milk and eggs which are either baked or stirred over gentle heat on the stovetop until thickened. It looks like pudding but it is completely different as eggs are the only thickening agent.

Cooked pudding contains a sweetened mixture of milk, flour or some other thickener like corn starch, flavoring and it may or may not contain eggs. In either case the primary thickening agent is not the eggs. If eggs or yolks are added it is for flavor and texture.

Making true stovetop custard is a slow process requiring a lot of time and attention as they must be cooked very slowly over a gentle heat to prevent separation (curdling). Using a "double-boiler" or "water bath" will improve your results. Always be sure to get it off the heat when the temperature reaches 175F as the hot pan will still raise the temperature a bit. Never let the temperatures exceed 189–193°F (87–90°C) or it curdles and the texture is spoiled. Flavorings may be added after removal from the heat. Stovetop custards are significantly softer than the baked variety. They are often used as toppings for another desert item. Custard or pudding recipes that use either cornstarch (or flour) and eggs are a version of crème patisserie * (pastry cream). So though I doubt my grandmother ever heard the term her banana custard recipe was really one of these hybrid custards, a not quite fully thickened version of a crème patisserie.

Baked egg and milk custards have been around since at least the time Rome ruled the world. Eighteenth-century English recipes included boiled custard puddings and quaking puddings of egg, cream, and flour. America in early nineteenth-century saw the beginning of the use of easy-to-use thickening starches such as arrowroot, tapioca, and potato flour.

The first extraction of cornstarch in 1842 in New Jersey led to food-grade starch being commercially produced by 1850. Cooks discovered that cornstarch helped stretch an inadequate egg supply and, when added to custard, made it more stable. Pudding and pie recipes utilizing this new thickening agent increased rapidly in number and many new flavors like caramel, lemon, and almond were added.

Custards are used to make many pies. When that practice began is unknown but we know that as early as 1685 the English author Robert May gave patterns for baked custard tarts.

American cooks have created some distinctive variants of custard pie though they would not necessarily call their creations custard pies. The use of and reliance on eggs and milk in the recipes for pumpkin pie, key lime pie, chess pie, lemon meringue, and variety "cream pies" all show a clear link to custard pie.

This article concludes with the recipes in Part 2

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