There’s a time and a place for fruit cobblers and pies, but the hottest part of the summer simply isn’t one of them. These next few weeks are reserved for no-bake desserts only: icebox cakes, no-churn ice cream, and a new-to-me delight I’m calling magic no-cook pudding.
Inspired by J. Kenji Lopez Alt’s 10-Minute-Lime Cracker Pie (which was inspired by a dish his wife’s aunt made in Colombia), this dessert has all the nostalgic vibes of classic banana pudding: Nilla wafers and sliced bananas layered between creamy vanilla pudding. But unlike most homemade puddings, which involve lots of sweaty stovetop stirring (or they call for instant vanilla pudding), this one comes together with a mixing bowl and a whisk.
The magic happens between three main ingredients: heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and a big squeeze of lemon juice. Don’t worry. The lemon flavor is barely detectable. When the juice (acid) is stirred into the heavy cream (dairy), the mixture instantly thickens. And the condensed milk prevents the whole thing from curdling.
If you’re pairing it with something salty, like the Ritz crackers in Kenji’s pie, the pudding is ready to be layered and chilled. Or if you can go the sweet route like I did—à la Nilla wafers and bananas—you’ll want to fold in whipped cream. This cuts the sweetness and fluffs up the pudding, making the whole thing lighter and better suited for larger servings.
How To Make No-Cook Banana Pudding
This will serve eight to 10 and can easily be doubled. Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 cups heavy cream, divided (plus more for serving, if desired)
- 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided (from 2 large lemons)
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 large ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
- Half (11-ounce) box Nilla wafers (about 40 wafers, plus more for garnish)
Whisk together the condensed milk and 1 cup heavy cream in a large bowl until combined. Add 4 tablespoons lemon juice (1/4 cup) and a pinch of salt, and whisk until thickened, which will happen almost instantly. This is just enough lemon juice to thicken the pudding, but not enough to impart a lemony flavor. Instead, it brightens the pudding and helps balance the sweetness.
In a separate bowl, using a whisk and some elbow grease or an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1 cup heavy cream with the vanilla until stiff peaks form (don’t overbeat). Gently fold the whipped cream into the pudding until no streaks remain.
Wipe out the bowl you used to whip the cream. Add the sliced bananas and the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice to the bowl. Toss to coat the bananas. (This will help prevent them from browning).
Spread one-fourth of the pudding in the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish—any shape will do. Top with one-third of the wafers, followed by one-third of the banana slices. You can eyeball all of this. Repeat this order (pudding, wafers, banana) twice more, then finish with a layer of pudding.
Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap. You don’t need to press the wrap on the pudding directly, as its no-cook nature means a skin won’t form. Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight. Serve cold, topped with more whipped cream, if desired, and crumbled Nilla wafers, a non-negotiable.
Tips for Making No-Cook Banana Pudding
Repeat after me: this recipe is flexible! If you want to skip the layering and dip the cookies into the pudding, by all means, do it. Prefer a cute Mason jar presentation? That works, too! For a tropical twist, swap the lemon for lime and garnish with some coconut flakes.
The biggest thing to consider is how the dish changes as it sits in the fridge. A two-hour chill will result in slightly-softened cookies, while 24 hours will make them one with the pudding. The good news is that there’s no wrong way to do it.