Pawpaws are a little-known fruit with the redundant name. For the most part, they grow wild from Maryland to Missouri and Indiana to Alabama from mid-August through the end of September. Also known as the “hillbilly mango,” the pawpaw has a funky, sweet taste reminiscent of mangos, bananas and other tropical fruit. In the “A Chef’s Life” series finale, Vivian was inspired to create a pawpaw version of banana pudding.
Use your hands to crumble the vanilla wafers in a large bowl. Add ½ cup sesame or benne seeds, then the melted butter, sesame oil and salt. Mix to thoroughly combine. Spread out in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Combine granulated sugar, cornstarch, milk, 3 cups heavy cream and vanilla extract in a 4- to 6-quart saucepan. Stirring constantly, bring it up to a simmer over medium heat until things thicken slightly. Make sure to slide your spatula around the lower edges of the pan periodically. These edges are the hottest part and they’ll burn before you know it. Once the mixture has thickened slightly, remove the pan from the heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks until they lighten a little in color. Slowly, a little at a time, whisk in roughly ⅓ of the hot cream mixture. Pour the tempered yolks back in the saucepan and return that pan to medium heat. Stirring constantly, bring it up to a simmer and cook gently for two minutes. Look for it to thicken up even more.
Remove the pudding from the heat and whisk in the butter. If you notice lots of lumps and bumps, strain the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve.
Once pudding is smooth, stir in the pawpaw puree. Set aside.
Make the whipped cream: Combine the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer and beat until medium peaks form.
Assemble the pudding in either a large glass bowl, trifle bowl or individual ramekins. Layer crumble, pudding, whipped cream. Repeat until dish is filled. Top with remaining toasted sesame or benne seeds. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
First things first: procure some pawpaws, skin and deseed them (which is easier said than done). If the fruit has been refrigerated or frozen and defrosted, the process is less tedious. To make one cup of pawpaws, you'll need to blitz the pulp of about one pound of the fruit in a food processor. If you would like to buy frozen pulp, it is available online. If you’d like to buy pawpaw trees to plant, check out Full of Life Farms, a nursery in Pittsboro, N.C. To buy benne seeds, check out Anson Mills, the Columbia, S.C.-based company dedicated to the preservation of heritage grains.
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