With homemade vanilla pudding, sweetened condensed milk (the secret ingredient no one talks about), and mascarpone, this truly is the best (and easiest) banana pudding recipe. Many recipes call for using instant pudding mix, but making it from scratch adds about five minutes and a creaminess and complexity you won’t get from the boxed stuff.

You might think sweetened condensed milk would make for a cloyingly sweet banana pudding, but fear not! The pudding is barely sweetened and the mascarpone adds a subtle tang and slight acidity. I like the velvety richness mascarpone imparts, but if you are team cream cheese (another banana pudding secret ingredient), go for it. And skipping the mascarpone or cream cheese all together works too.

Nilla Wafers are traditional—and fantastic—but there’s another world-famous(ish) recipe out there that calls for Pepperidge Farm Chessmen Butter Cookies, so substituting with those is an option if you’re looking to shake things up.

Finally, be sure to plan ahead, as the vanilla pudding needs to be chilled for an hour before you assemble the whole shebang and the finished dish needs to chill for about 6 hours before serving. (Make-ahead-dessert lovers, this one’s for you!) Pro tip: If you’re making ahead for a group, consider doubling the recipe. Leftovers keep just fine in the refrigerator for up to three days. The bananas will brown a bit and the pudding may loosen, but the flavors and textures hardly suffer, and with a dessert this good, you won’t even notice. —Jessie Sheehan

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