Stop buying instant pudding mix! This easy, decadent vanilla pudding recipe comes together quickly with only a handful of basic ingredients and a few minutes of stirring. You’ll be amazed. It’s rich, creamy and perfect for dessert lovers of all ages.
When I initially began my quest to become a better home cook, homemade vanilla pudding was one of the first recipes I tried. I was amazed at how much better it was in terms of both taste and consistency when compared with store brands.
Vanilla pudding is like a non-citrus version of one of my all-time favorite desserts, lemon curd. The wonderful thing about homemade pudding is that you have control over the intensity of the richness, sweetness, and flavor. It always takes a bit more time and effort to make anything from scratch, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quick this comes together.
How to Make Homemade Vanilla Pudding
Most homemade pudding recipes are comprised of a few basic ingredients, with variations here and there:
- Dairy: depending on how rich you want your pudding, this can be all whole milk, or a blend of milk and heavy cream. You can also lighten things up by going with a mix of whole milk and 2%, but I wouldn’t go much lighter than that. Fat is what gives pudding it’s signature mouthfeel. Canned coconut milk would be a good non-dairy option if you’re lactose intolerant, though it would obviously change the flavor.
- Sugar: Granulated white sugar is typically the sweetener used in homemade pudding.
- Egg Yolks: As with lemon curd, yolks work here as a thickener, and they also add richness and a creamy texture.
- Cornstarch: Cornstarch is used as a neutral-flavored thickener.
- Butter: A very small amount of butter at the end gives pudding a smooth, glossy shine.
- Pure Vanilla Extract: Since vanilla is the star of the show, use a good quality extract for best results. I’m a fan of Nielsen Massey and Rodelle. However, prices have gotten a bit insane recently due to a vanilla shortage, so do the best you can. If possible, I highly recommend using pure vanilla extract instead of an imitation version.
The process is very simple: ingredients are gradually added and whisked together while being heated in a saucepan. Once the pudding is thick, it’s strained through a fine mesh strainer and chilled until cool. That’s it!
Can you make vanilla pudding without cornstarch?
I haven’t tried this so proceed with caution, but I think arrowroot should work. It has similar thickening properties to cornstarch, and I’ve used it successfully with sauces on many occasions. This article from LiveStrong also suggests tapioca powder and rice starch, which I’ve never used as thickeners.
Vanilla Pudding Toppings & Mix-Ins
If you like some added flavor and texture with pudding, here are options that work well:
- Chopped or crushed vanilla wafers or chocolate sandwich cookies
- Fresh or roasted strawberries or blueberries (my goat cheese mousse with roasted blueberries includes instructions for roasting berries)
- Chopped, toasted nuts (such as my candied pecans!)
- Freshly whipped cream (I would use this in addition to something crunchy)
More Custard Recipes
- 4 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup cornstarch (2 ounces)
- 6 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- Set aside 1/2 cup milk. Heat the remaining milk, cream, sugar, and salt in large saucepan set over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to help dissolve the sugar.
- Meanwhile, place the cornstarch in a large bowl and whisk in the reserved milk until smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks until smooth.
- When the milk mixture reaches a simmer, remove from the heat and slowly pour into the yolk mixture while whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling (aka tempering).
- Transfer the liquid back to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisk constantly until the pudding thickens (see notes) and a thermometer registers 180 degrees F, about 60-90 seconds. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla until shiny and smooth. Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh strainer set over a clean bowl.
- Press plastic wrap directly against the surface of the hot pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, 3-4 hours or overnight. Before serving, re-whisk pudding until smooth, then divide into serving bowls.
- Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Re-whisk before serving.
For a less rich pudding, you can use all whole milk, or a combination of whole and 2% milk.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
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