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Banana Pudding With a Lot Less Elbow Grease

April 16, 1987|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN

When was the last time you made a soft stirred pudding from scratch? These wonderful nostalgic desserts are so much easier to microwave than they were to cook in the traditional stove-top way.

Because of their thickened consistency, stirred puddings tend to stick and scorch in a saucepan. You either have to stand and stir them continuously or cook them in a messy double boiler to ensure that they don't burn.

Microwaved puddings still must be stirred but not as frequently. If you use a wire whisk, you can easily break up the soft lumps that form around the edges of the dish as the pudding microwaves. And, of course, the bottom will not scorch.

The banana pudding recipe that follows is based on a basic flour-thickened recipe that must be stirred periodically while it cooks. It calls for dark brown sugar, which gives a rich caramel flavor, but you can substitute plain white sugar for a more classic-style pudding.

In keeping with tradition, the banana dessert has a generous portion of caramel pudding that is assembled Southern style, with layers of bananas, vanilla wafers and whipped cream. The pudding also is good on its own.

The Cocoa Rice Pudding takes two steps. First cook the rice--this takes about the same time in the microwave as on the stove top. Then add the pudding ingredients for a quick finish. This is delicious hot, with whipped cream or ice cream. Since it just takes five minutes to microwave after the rice is cooked, it is possible to finish this dessert at the last minute and serve warm. I like this pudding best if the rice is firm, rather than soft. The chewy texture contrasts best with the creamy consistency of the pudding.

To serve leftover rice pudding, reheat it in the microwave. If it seems stiff (rice frequently continues to absorb moisture as it stands), add a little more milk before reheating. Microwave at MEDIUM-HIGH (70% power) one to two minutes per serving.

Like custards and other dairy-rich desserts, puddings should always be stored in the refrigerator.

SOUTHERN BANANA PUDDING

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups milk

2 eggs

3 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

45 vanilla wafers (about 8 ounces)

6 large ripe bananas

1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Additional vanilla wafers, optional

Stir together brown sugar, flour and salt in 2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Slowly add milk, whisking until mixture is smooth. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 8 to 10 minutes, whisking every 3 minutes until mixture is thickened. Remove from microwave.

Lightly beat eggs in small bowl or cup. Add a little hot pudding to eggs, whisking to blend well. Add egg mixture to remaining hot pudding and mix well. Microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 4 to 6 minutes, whisking every 2 minutes, until mixture is thick and smooth. Stir in butter and vanilla.

Place about 2 heaping spoons of pudding in 1 1/2-quart glass serving bowl, then spread over bottom. Top with 15 vanilla wafers, slices from 2 bananas and 1/3 of remaining pudding. Repeat layers twice. Chill pudding, then top with whipped cream. Decorate top with additional vanilla wafers stuck vertically around edges of bowl to form scalloped edge, or sprinkle top decoratively with crushed vanilla wafers. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

COCOA RICE PUDDING

2/3 cup long grain rice

1 1/3 cups water

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 cup half and half

Whipped cream or ice cream, optional

Combine rice, water and salt in 3-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover and microwave at HIGH (100% power) 5 minutes, then continue microwaving at MEDIUM-LOW (30% power) 13 to 17 minutes. When finished, mixture should still be somewhat liquid but rice should be firm.

In separate small bowl, stir together sugar, cocoa, vanilla and eggs until smooth. Slowly add half and half and stir until smooth.

Add cocoa mixture to hot cooked rice. Microwave at HIGH 4 to 6 minutes, stirring every 1 1/2 minutes to break up soft lumps that form around edges. When finished, pudding should mound softly with spoon. Pour into individual dessert bowls and top with whipped cream. Makes about 6 servings.

Note: Large amount of half and half dilutes egg mixture enough that it can be added all at once to hot rice without curdling. Also, HIGH power can be used for brief cooking period.

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