NOTE: The focus of this blog has changed exclusively to photography. This archived article was one of my most popular, and remains here for reference.
I never thought I would see any possibility of a dish from the American South colliding with a staple of the British kitchen, but alas, I’ve seen it, and it’s glorious. Or at least easy and delicious…
I think it’s safe to say that if you open an average British pantry or cupboard door, you’re going to find a canister of Bird’s Custard Powder somewhere inside. Wikipedia has the details, so you can check it out there, but it has a long history in the UK, and I’ve seen it in the imported foods section of my grocery store, at places like Cost Plus World Market who carry such things as a specialty, and most recently, at my local Indian grocery when I was buying paneer cheese and spices for my Indian dishes. I finally decided to try it for reasons that escape me. I’m glad I did.
While a true made-with-egg custard is a delicious treat, there is something to be said for mixing some powder and milk together and spinning-up a reasonable substitute for it at a moment’s notice. That’s the premise of Bird’s.
The Brits seem to like their custards on the runny side (by American standards), so the can’s typical recipe of 2 Tablespoons of Bird’s to a pint of milk results in that thin consistency. I find I prefer the thickness of 3 Tablespoons of the powder to a pint of milk, which results in something about half way between the British thinness and an American “pudding” consistency, but that’s the beauty of having an entire canister vs. a one-time-mix packet: You can make it however you prefer it, and that includes how much sugar you add. (The package recommends 1 or 2 Tablespoons, by the way.)
Anyway, back to the point of this post. I decided I’d try various admixtures of a Bird’s custard with “other stuff,” notably fruit and such. And the winner was not unexpected: banana custard. The American version, banana pudding, is pretty common in the American South, made with Nilla wafers, typically. I had a slightly-past-its-prime banana sitting around when I was making some Bird’s, so I decided to give it a whirl. It was awesome — especially with some whipped cream on top, and with or without the Nilla wafers.
Here’s how to make it:
3 Tablespoons of Bird’s Custard Powder (or less if you like it thinner)
2 Tablespoons of sugar*
2 cups (16 fl. oz.) milk
Place the powder, sugar and milk in a small saucepan, with 1/2 the banana. Use an immersion (stick) blender to mash the banana into the mix and to thoroughly blend all the powdered and liquid ingredients together. Quarter the rest of the banana both ways. (In other words, divide it in four pieces, slice each one, and then cut each slice into four pieces.) Hold that aside for the moment. Over medium-high heat, and whisking constantly, heat the mix until it’s at a rolling boil. Remove from the heat, and pour into four small dessert cups or ramekins. Evenly distribute the banana pieces among the four cups or ramekins, and use a butter knife, small spoon, etc. to mix it into the custard. Allow it to cool in the refrigerator until it’s at a suitable eating temperature. (We like it slightly warm-ish in our home, but you may prefer it cold.) Top with whipped cream and serve. It’s best the same day, but it’s acceptable the next day (though the bananas will brown a bit).
If you like the Nilla wafers, add them however you want… Line the ramekins, or crumble it in, or on top, or whatever you fancy.
It takes minutes to prepare, and with a canister of Bird’s in the cupboard all the time, there’s never a moment where we say, “I wish we had dessert.” Now, we do.