banana pudding

I am not a pudding person. I mean, I like pudding and will happily eat it if it’s served to me, and I’ll even make it for my family (they adore it), but it’s not my first choice. I’m much more likely to reach for a pastry or a loaf of bread. 

But then last week the bakery made banana pudding for the diner dessert and I could not keep my hands off it. I scooped out the bits leftover in the corners of the pan and, when the pan emptied, I went to work on it with a rubber spatula (until my daughter wrenched it from my hands and took over the pan polishing). 

At one point we ran out of pudding, and, since the person who was in charge of making more wasn’t in yet, she walked me through the steps via texts and phone calls. I had to work fast, on account of the customers beating down the door for more pudding.

After all that pudding flurry, I had to make it for myself at home, of course. One would think it’d be easy, since it’s all store-bought ingredients, but I don’t do easy very well (I can’t make boxed brownies to save my life). It took me a couple tries to even source the right ingredients. 

The first time, I bought cook-and-serve vanilla pudding instead of instant because I can’t read. It wasn’t until the next day when the mixture was still soupy that I pieced things together. I was going to feed it to the pigs but then my daughter cooked it up and, since it appeared to set fine, I just ran with it. (It worked, though the pudding texture wasn’t quite as creamy as it should’ve been.) That pudding, I took to a July Fourth gathering where it got gobbled. 

Then I sent my older son to the store for more pudding mix, but he came back with instant banana pudding, probably because I mentioned I was making banana pudding even though I’d texted that I wanted vanilla. So now I have two boxes of instant banana pudding sitting in the drawer. Any suggestions?

Finally, my younger daughter made it out of the store with the right stuff and, just a couple days ago, I made it again, this time the right way from start to finish, whew! (Except now I’m looking at my photos and I realize I used a 5-ounce box of pudding when it was supposed to be only 3.4 ounces so I guess my pudding was stiffer than it should’ve been? Dang, instant food is hard.)

I’m kinda sick of banana pudding now (though not so sick that I didn’t just eat another serving — photos make me hungry) so last night I took a bunch of it over to my parents and my mom made such a fuss that you’d of thought I’d brought her the moon. 

I recently read a piece somewhere about the thrill of taking comfort food to potlucks. Most people show up with their quinoa salads and hummus, the article said, but it’s always the Doritos and rice krispie treats (and the banana pudding) that get eaten first. There’s something so homey about the easy classics (which I don’t know much about, clearly, but I am learning) so why not just go with it sometimes? It’s easy “cooking,” and the guaranteed (and outsized) appreciation and adoration does wonders for one’s ego.

So listen. Next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a box of mini Nilla wafers, a can of sweetened condensed milk, and a box of instant (INSTANT) vanilla (VANILLA) pudding. Stash them away in the back of your pantry where they will while away the months, just waiting to be called into service and make you a star.

Banana Pudding
The recipe is based on Magnolia Bakery’s famous banana pudding, a mash-up of my co-worker’s texts and The Girl Who Ate Everything.

Go easy on the bananas and wafers: “layer” means a single layer. The pudding is king — don’t dry it out or moosh it up with too many crackers and bananas.

The bananas need to be just barely ripe; they hold up better this way. Also, I think they’re best sliced quite thin. They will get brown, over time, in the pudding, so if this bothers you, dipping them in lemon waters helps prevent discoloration, or so I’ve read….

The pudding can be eaten immediately, if you like, but after a few hours, the crackers will soften and become cake-like, and the banana flavor will permeate the pudding. Up to you!

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1½ cups cold water
1 box (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding 
2-3 cups heavy whipping cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
4-5 bananas, barely ripe
1 11-ounce box mini Nilla wafers

Beat together the sweetened condensed milk with the cold water. Add the pudding mix and beat some more. Cover with plastic, transfer to the fridge, and allow to set up for at least four hours, though overnight is even better. 

Once the pudding is set, beat the heavy whipping cream and vanilla until you have stiff peaks. Fold approximately 2 cups of the cream, whipped (or, if you used 3 cups of cream, then 2/3 of the whipped cream) into the pudding, reserving the remaining cup or so for dolloping, or decorating.

To assemble, put a single layer of Nilla wafers in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Dollop over half of the pudding and spread smooth. Put another layer of Nilla wafers (reserving some for decoration, if you wish), and then a layer of banana slices. Spread the rest of the pudding on top. Optional: decorate the top with crushed wafers and whipped cream. 

Store the pudding in the fridge, covered, or devour immediately. 

This same time, years previous: mushroom burgers with cheese, the quotidian (7.8.19), fresh strawberry cake, nose spots, the quotidian (7.7.14), the quotidian (7.8.13), simple creamy potato salad and French potato salad.


  • Jenny

    I have made several of your recipes in the past and am excited to try this one but I am confused by the direction that says to fold the cream into the pudding (pre-whipping). Does that mean before the cream is beaten with the vanilla into stiff peaks? Or what does the pre-whipping phrase refer to?

  • theresakishkan

    This looks really delicious. I don’t know what Nilla wafers are (soft? crisp?) but wonder if the little Italian Amaretti biscuits might be an interesting substitution. (I have a bag in my cupboard…) And this is the nature of a thank you for all your enthusiastic posts about cheese making, cakes, anything to do with heavy cream, and just life in general.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Nilla wafers are a crisp, mildly sweet (and fairly bland) cookie. One of my friends on Facebook said she’s switched from Nilla wafers to chessman cookies (a shortbread cookie) and now she’s never going back. I haven’t tried Italian Amaretti biscuits, but they sound lovely — so I’d say go for it!

      Many thanks for the kind words! xo

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