Banana pudding is the only dessert your summer needs

Ben Mims
Ripe bananas and cool vanilla pudding are the best combination for the best summer dessert, banana pudding.  (Hanna Carter / For The Times)

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With so many of you having to stay home and cook for the first time — ever or more than you have in a long time — we get that it can be overwhelming to have to cook all your meals from scratch. So, we’re here to get you started.

Each day we’re going to post a new skill here and go into detail about how to do it — a resource for cooking basics so you can get food on the table and get through this.

Lesson 46: Banana Pudding

When Memorial Day pops up on my calendar, I’m reminded, “Oh yeah, it’s summertime!” And when that nebulously defined season hits, my brain switches from the cooked fruit baked goods and cakes of late winter and spring to the cooling ice creams and puddings that dominate backyard barbecues and picnics — any type of outdoor eating that leaves you sitting in a lawn chair at the end of the meal with grass at your feet, a couple half-melted ice cubes clinking around in your cocktail glass and the last gasp of warmth lingering in the air as the sun goes down over the horizon.

To me, the quintessential outdoor dessert is banana pudding. It’s got everything you want in a summer dessert: cookies, a cooling vanilla pudding and plenty of ripe banana slices, which you’ll relish eating raw after months of baking them into a seemingly unending procession of hearty loaves.

Bananas for pudding should be ripe but not the kind of overly blackened, basically rotten “ripe” good for breads. The pudding should be vanilla-flavored only, but like good vanilla custard ice cream, it should taste pretty eggy, so I don’t skimp on the yolks, which add velvety-ness.

Also, do not mash those bananas into the pudding. The joy of eating good banana pudding is not unlike that of eating nachos. Every bite should be a surprising mix of the various elements — crunchy cookie, tender banana, smooth and creamy pudding. If you want uniformly textured glop, just make ice cream.

Homemade vanilla cookies add crunch to ripe bananas and cool vanilla pudding.  (Ben Mims/Los Angeles Times)

I stray from tradition and make my own cookies. I know, I know: “Why?!”

I’m a Nilla wafer-or-die guy too, but if you didn’t plan ahead at the grocery, then you can easily make them at home, and, honestly, they’ll taste better. Of course, if you can’t be bothered, I offer the amount of store-bought wafers to use in their place. Going the extra mile to make your own cookies is so easy and gives you some well-earned “Hey, I made that!” points to brag about to your family and friends. It allows you to use butter and real vanilla beans or extract to really bump up the wafer’s characteristically “nilla” flavor.

The recipe makes extra cookies too. Drag them through any remnants of pudding after everyone’s been served and notice how it tastes so much better in that moment before the sun goes down and you have to put your shoes back on to go clean up.