Endurance Dessert-Making

I don’t know how to cook many things. If, for example, you were to ask me to make Chicken Cordon Bleu, I wouldn’t know what ingredients to buy. I wouldn’t even know which part of the chicken to use.

That said, I am famous for making the few things I know how to make extremely well. Better than anyone else in the whole world, in fact.

Here are the things I am the very best in the world at making:

  1. Mashed potatoes. Yes, I know a lot of you also think you make the best mashed potatoes in the world. Which might be true if I didn’t have an actual certificate stating that I make the best mashed potatoes in the world.
  2. The best cake in the world: Actually, I’m no better at making this than anyone else. This cake is superlative in its own right.
  3. Chili: I have an honest-to-goodness, bona-fide secret ingredient I use in my chili. Nobody has ever identified it, but everyone agrees that my chili is better than everyone else’s. Oh, also I sometimes make fry bread to go with the chili. I have received several marriage proposals based solely on my fry bread and chili.
  4. Hamburgers: There is nothing secret or fancy about the way I make hamburgers. I just use top-quality beef, add more worcestershire sauce than most people think you should (hint: you’ve used enough when it actually changes the color of the burger), knead, and grill over charcoal. The reason my burgers are the best in the world, evidently, is because I am apparently the last person in the world to grill with charcoal. I’ll tell you what, though: when gas-grillers eat my burgers, they see (however briefly) the error of their ways.
  5. Kitchen Sink Quiche: I call it “Kitchen Sink Quiche” because I put so much stuff into it, there’s hardly any room for the eggs: cheese, peppers, bacon, grilled chicken, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, avocado, and anything else that strikes my fancy in the produce aisle. And yes, I’ve heard the “real men don’t eat quiche” line. To which I respond, “By all means, feel free to not to have any.” But everyone tries a bite, and then they apologize. Kitchen Sink Quiche is best with Cholula hot sauce.
  6. Banana Cream Parfait: This is the most difficult thing I make, and it’s the subject of my post today: endurance dessert-making.

Endurance Dessert Making
I make the Banana Cream Parfait exactly twice per year: for Thanksgiving, and for Christmas. And while a good reason to make it so rarely would be because it’s fattening beyond belief, the real reason is because it’s an incredibly laborious process. Ie, it’s a pain in the butt.

But it’s so worth it.

I’m now going to share with you my recipe for making the Banana Cream Parfait, but I think it’s worth making a few observations first:

  1. You will have to stand at the stove, stirring continuously, for a full hour.
  2. Even after spending all this time stirring, you are not done with the dessert. In fact, you need to count on spending about two hours to make this dessert. And I don’t mean two hours 90 minutes of which you’re letting something bake in the oven. I mean two hours of constant work.
  3. Because this is so much work to make, the recipe is big. Big enough to make some for yourself, for your family, and for your neighbors.
  4. Once you have made this for your friends and family, be prepared for them to demand you make it again. You will then need to — as I have — declare that it is an annual tradition, and that you will make it for them again next year.
  5. I expect that I have now frightened most of you away from making this dessert. That’s OK.
  6. Don’t you dare make substitutions to this recipe. When I say “whole milk,” I mean it. When I say “Butter,” I mean it. And if you think you can just substitute pudding from a mix for the cream filling, you and I no longer have anything to talk about, and I never want to see your face again.

I feel quite strongly about my Banana Cream Parfait.

Let’s begin.

2.5 cup sugar
1 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
3 quarts whole milk
16 egg yolks, beaten
8 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup vanilla

12 bananas
1 quart whipping cream
2 boxes Nilla Wafers

The Long, Arduous Process
First of all, you need to plan on spending an hour up front making the filling, and then another hour 2-3 hours later actually assembling the parfait. And then the parfait is not going to be ready to eat for another 3 hours. And it’s going to be at its best about 24 hours after you make it. So plan ahead.

Let’s start with the filling.

In a big ol’ saucepan — I use my pressure cooker pan — mix your sugar, cornstarch, and salt together. Slowly stir in the first few cups of milk, until you’re certain there are no lumps of cornstarch. You can then pour in the rest of the milk, stirring as you go.

Now, get ready to stand for a while, because you need to stir this mixture continuously over medium heat until it comes to a boil. And that’s going to be about 15-20 minutes. Or more. During this time, here’s what you should not do:

  1. Stop stirring for a minute, because what could go wrong? Here’s what could go wrong: the bottom of the pan will get scalded milk all over it, and you’ll wind up with gross chewy burned flecks of milk in your parfait.
  2. Turn up the heat, to speed up the process. If you go above medium heat, your mixture will indeed boil sooner. And the result will be a nice sweet, grainy, thin gruel that never sets up, instead of the smoothest, most perfect cream filling that has ever been created. This is an endurance race, Bub. If you try to treat it like a sprint, you’ll be sorry.

Once the mixture has thickened and come to a boil, keep stirring for another minute, then remove from the heat and keep stirring another minute longer (even though it’s off the heat, the milk can still stick to the bottom of the pan).

OK, time to add the egg yolks. If at all possible, have a second person available to help you with this part, because this is tricky.

Your egg yolks should be in a mixing bowl big enough to hold at least half the milk mixture. S-l-o-w-l-y pour a little of the milk mixture into the beaten egg yolks, while briskly whipping those egg yolks. The idea here is to do this slowly and a little bit at a time, so you don’t wind up cooking those egg yolks all at once. ‘Cuz really, who wants scrambled eggs in their cream filling?

Once you’ve slowly stirred in a couple cups of the milk mixture, you can speed up just a bit. Keep pouring the milk mixture into the egg mixture (stirring the whole time) until you’ve mixed half of it in.

And now, you’ve got to reverse the flow. Slowly pour the egg mixture back into the milk mixture in the saucepan. It should now be a lovely yellow color.

And hey, guess what! You’re finished!

Just kidding. You’re not even close.

Put the saucepan back on medium heat, and keep stirring, ’til it comes to a boil again. And yes, it’s going to be another 15 minutes or so. Once you’ve got a boil, stir for another minute, and then take the saucepan off the heat.

Now you’re ready to add the butter and vanilla. Toss them in (but not from a great height, because you might discover that boiling hot pudding splashed on your face, well, stings. Not that I’d personally know anything about that).

Stir the butter and vanilla in until the butter is melted and both are blended in.

Dip a spoon in so you can taste what you’ve made. Blow on the filling until you feel a little bit ridiculous, then blow on it some more, because you would be amazed at how hot this stuff is, and how much heat it retains.

When you do finally taste it, your eyes should roll back into your head and you should involuntarily let out a low moan. If you don’t, you didn’t make it right.

Now let this filling cool down for a couple hours.

Layer Upon Layer
Once the cream filling has cooled down enough that you can sneak a spoonful without burning your mouth at all, you’re ready to start assembling the parfait.

There’ll be a skin on the filling by now. Peel it off and eat it. It’s delicious.

Whip the whipping cream to nice soft peaks. I find that adding a little sugar makes the whipped cream hold its shape a little better.

Now, in as many large, deep bowls as it takes, do the following:

  1. Spread a layer of filling.
  2. Put down a layer of Nilla Wafers.
  3. Spread a layer of whipped cream.
  4. Put down a layer of banana slices.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 until the bowl is full. The last layer should always be whipped cream. And be sure the last layer is not bananas, because they’ll look all brown and gross if they’re exposed to the air for long.

You may wonder if the order of the layers is important. It is. I’ve thought it through. Don’t mess with it.

Before Serving
You should refrigerate this dessert for at least a couple hours before serving it; it’d definitely best cold.

And — if you can manage to wait — this is one dessert that actually gets better as it sits in the fridge with the flavors blending. It’s at its very best 24 hours after you finish making it.

And, finally, prepare yourself for some rather embarassing displays of affection. The Banana Cream Parfait tends to bring that sort of behavior out.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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