I wonder if I could fit any more descriptors in that title. I thought about editing it down, but then I knew it wouldn’t properly describe the AWESOMENESS of this AMAZING dessert. So, it is what it is.
Last week my husband came to me and said,
‘I want banana pudding.’
Then a couple days later he said,
‘I have an idea. Let me know what you think…What about a banana pudding bar?’
Um…awesome! My wheels were turning on this banana pudding bar concept for days and days. I literally lost sleep over it. I was sketching, brainstorming, going back and forth over how I was going to do it, until I finally came up with a recipe. During all my planning, I decided that I couldn’t figure out how to make this dessert as delicious as I wanted it to be while making it a handheld bar type thing. I tried by using gelatin and it definitely made it firm, and yes, you could eat it with your hands, but it was too tall to do it without looking like a moron. So, I decided to just take the gelatin out and keep it as an eat-with-a-fork dessert.
This stuff is pretty freakin’ awesome. And I don’t even really like banana pudding. I love bananas, (only when still green) but have never liked banana desserts. This recipe has converted me, I think. It’s incredibly well-balanced with the salted sweetness of the dulce de leche, the richness of the vanilla wafer crust, and the tangy sweetness of the cheesecake. I honestly am very proud of this one and I hope you give it a try.
This is a fairly time consuming dessert due to all the homemade components, even though it’s technically a ‘no-bake’ dessert, but you could always use store-bought shortcuts to make this easier on you. Instead of making your own dule de leche, sub 2 cans of the store-bought kind. Instead of making your own vanilla ‘pudding’, sub 4 cups of store-bought (I recommend the really good stuff you find in the dairy aisle, like Kozy Shack Vanilla Pudding as opposed to the powdered or individual, snap-off containers that we all know of. I just can’t guarantee that the end result will be firm enough if you use store-bought pudding. The pudding recipe I’m giving you is made much firmer than usual to ensure the perfect texture.)
*Salted Caramel Banana Pudding Cheesecake Squares
-For the Crust:
-In the bowl of your food processor, empty the contents of 1 11-12oz box of vanilla wafers and pulse until you’ve got crumbs.
-Add to that 1 1/2 sticks (12 TB) of unsalted butter, melted, and a rounded 1/2 tsp of kosher salt.
-Process until you get what looks like wet sand. You want to make sure all the crumbs are fully moistened.
-Press this firmly into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish (greasing isn’t necessary but doesn’t hurt).
*For the Dulce de Leche:
-In a medium saucepan, empty the content of 2 14oz cans of sweetened condensed milk and season with a rounded 1/2 tsp of kosher salt.
-Turn heat on med-low heat and allow the tiniest of bubbles to appear. STIR OFTEN!!!
-Keep checking on it and stirring, never letting it boil, and cook until your milk goes from blonde to dirty blonde. You basically want it to look like caramel. And don’t worry if you get some dark spots like I have in the picture, no one will ever know.
-Pour this onto your prepared crust and spread evenly with a spatula.
-Set aside to cool while you make the rest of your filling…
*For the Pudding or ‘Bancmange’:
(this can be done days in advance and stored airtight in the fridge):
-In a medium saucepan, combine 1/3 cup light brown sugar, 6 TB of cornstarch and a good pinch of kosher salt, set aside.
-In a microwave safe bowl, heat 2 1/2 cups of milk, half-and-half, or a combination of the two until hot but not boiling.
-Turn the burner under your saucepan on medium heat. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the cornstarch mixture, being sure to not cause any lumps to form. Keep whisking this until it starts to thicken, which takes about 1 minute. Once you see it begin to thicken, turn your heat on low and switch to a spatula. Continue to stir on low heat for 10 minutes.
-Turn the heat off and add a couple splashes of vanilla extract. This should be very thick.
-Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool a bit while you make the rest of your components.
*For the Bananas:
-Cover the entire cooled caramel layer with sliced, just ripe bananas. I ended up using 5 1/2 organic bananas, which are smaller than the usual, but I would make sure you have 6-7 just in case.
*For the Cheesecake:
-In a large mixing bowl, add 2 8 oz bricks of neufchatel cream cheese, softened, the zest of 1 lemon and a squeeze of its juice, 2 TB of powdered sugar and 2 splashes of vanilla extract. With an electric beater, mix this until fluffly.
-Add in your prepared and cooled pudding (should be about 4 cups worth) and continue to beat until well combined. The texture should resemble mascarpone cheese.
-With a spatula, dollop large amounts of the filling onto your bananas, keeping them towards the center of the pan as if you were icing a cake. Then, using a large spatula, carefully spread the filling evenly over the bananas and out to the sides of the pan. You may need to wet the spatula with warm water to get an even layer.
-Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 5-8 hours, (unless any of your filling isn’t cooled all the way… If any of the components are still warm at first, covering the pan will cause it to sweat. Fridge it uncovered for the first bit if this is the case).
-To serve, slice into squares and enjoy chilled, with or without a fork.
-Repeat if necessary.