Once you try this homemade vanilla pudding recipe, you will never go back to the box mix. Vanilla pudding from scratch is made with pantry ingredients that you probably have in the fridge right now (milk, eggs, sugar! easy stuff guys.) This recipe makes a smooth, creamy, and incredibly flavorful pudding that is perfect with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. I will show you my hack for tempering the eggs. And did I mention it’s done in 10 minutes??
Table of Contents
- A defense of homemade pudding
- Why homemade pudding is better than the box
- What makes homemade pudding thick?
- How to make vanilla pudding
- Brown sugar vs white sugar
- Tempering Eggs is the Worst
- Hand mixer to the rescue
- How to store leftover homemade pudding
- What to do with vanilla pudding
- Can dogs have vanilla pudding?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Head full of pudding? Try these pudding recipes!
- Homemade Vanilla Pudding Recipe Recipe
Well guys, it happened. The summer actually ended, for my kids anyway, with all of us kicking and screaming our way through the finale. School started on August 8th, and our district didn’t even seem to notice me thumbing my nose at them for their ridiculous calendar choices. IT’S 106 DEGREES OUTSIDE no one should be in a classroom for heaven’s sake.
But we made a pretty decent dent in our summer bucket list that we made back in May. Do you do something like this with your kids? I think I’ve become a little obsessed with making sure we get the most out of our summers. A while back someone told me about this book called “The Family Board Meeting: You Have 18 Summers To Create Lasting Connection With Your Children” and guys, I didn’t even read the book. That title totally got me.
This is a trend for me actually, not reading the actual content of stuff, it’s a terrible habit. One time my sister told me she read a book that said whole milk is more nutritious because it hasn’t had the natural vitamins stripped out and then added back in (as they do for 1% or 2%) and that was enough to get me to only buy whole milk forever and ever. That was like 10 years ago. (Apparently it doesn’t take a lot of cajoling to convince me to buy the fatty more delicious milk.)
I also get emails from the Atlantic every single day that give a short summary of one article, and I tell people all the time, “oh I read this interesting thing in the Atlantic,” but the truth is I just read one paragraph. Poseur extraordinaire!
Well in any case, we squeezed what we could out of summer, the kids are back in school, and it’s back to routine, routine. The only plot twist is that my 3-year-old is all alone during the day now that Valentine is in 1st grade, and losing his mind with boredom. He conspires against me every day. This morning I found him at 8am nestled into the pillows of our guest bedroom, messily easting a contraband Tootsie Roll that he found who-knows-where, probably mentally preparing for the day of nothingness ahead. The little rascal! Send help 😅
A defense of homemade pudding
Okay let’s talk pudding.
“Doggone it, can’t do nothin’ right. Head full o’ pudding!”
This is one of my favorite quotes of all time, and if you can name that movie you get one thousand sparkle unicorn points.
Do you love pudding? Do you love its smooth creaminess? Do you love how it brings you back to being maybe 6-years-old and having someone beloved, perhaps with gray hair, serving it to you with a little spoon? There is just something about pudding, amiright. I can’t think of a better after school snack than a little tub of this goodness. If you surprise your kids with this, you will for sure win all the sparkle unicorn points.
It is absolutely crazy to me that boxed pudding mixes are still so popular, given how easy and fast homemade pudding is. Everyone loves pudding from a box, right? I’m no exception. Those boxes have an iron grip on our collective American nostalgia.
But homemade pudding IS objectively better, and it is incredibly easy to make, with ingredients you likely have in your fridge right now. (Unless your sister never told you to always buy whole milk 10 years ago, then you might only have 1% in the fridge and you will need to go to the store. See? Whole milk is better. Pudding-at-the-ready-always.)
There is a place in the world for instant pudding that can be done in 5 minutes. I get the appeal of pour-milk-and-stir. But if you have a couple hours? Why would you EVER make Cook and Serve pudding from a box?? Powder is never going to taste as good as real eggs and milk.
Modern food habits like boxed pudding mix are an interesting leftover from our grandparent’s generation, who had to make every little thing from scratch, so shortcuts could literally save you hours of time. If you can make it from a box, you should. My mom sent me a fascinating article about this very topic that changed my whole perspective on “gross food from the 50s.” It’s definitely worth a read!
These people were still hand washing their clothes for heaven’s sake. I have my grandmothers washboard that she used in college hanging up in my laundry room, a quiet nod to the gratitude I should feel for the two machines below it that save me an entire days work.
So no shade on previous generations for using boxed pudding. But times have changed. You don’t have to scrub your clothes on a washboard. Use your precious extra time to make pudding from scratch. BECAUSE IT’S A HUNDRED TIMES BETTER. And it really does take 10 minutes, plus the chill time.
Why homemade pudding is better than the box
Homemade pudding is better than the box because it is has WAY more flavor. It is much richer, plus it is smoother, creamier, and has a thicker texture. How is it done?
All you have to do is take a look at the ingredients. What’s in the box of powder, anyway? Sugar, sure. Cornstarch, yes. Today’s recipe includes both of those ingredients.
It’s the eggs and butter that make homemade pudding better. When was the last time you sat down to eat a bowl of cornstarch? Never, obviously. But I bet you had a scrambled egg for breakfast just this morning. Because eggs are DELICIOUS, and full of fat and protein and flavor.
And the butter of course. Butter is mostly fat, and as we all know, fat=flavor. I saw this guy at the airport last week with a shirt that said, “If fat means flavor then I’m *%# delicious.” Ha!
SO for the best pudding:
- Use whole milk
- Use egg yolks (get those whites outta here) for ultra creamy, flavorful pudding. (When was the last time you had an egg white omelette? I bet you regretted it.)
- Use butter
What makes homemade pudding thick?
Science! No but really, when the milk is heated with the cornstarch, the cornstarch binds to the proteins in the milk and the mixture can become quite thick depending on how much cornstarch you use. You don’t want to add too much, as it may overpower the flavor of the pudding.
Homemade pudding is extra thick and creamy compared to box mix because it has the addition of egg yolks, which is not only an additional binder, but also adds rich fattiness. If you’re looking for a vanilla pudding recipe that is gloriously thick AND has tons of flavor, this is it!
Here are all the ingredients you need, yes really there are only 8. The full recipe is below!
- large egg yolks
- granulated sugar
- brown sugar
- kosher salt
- whole milk
- vanilla bean, or vanilla extract
How to make vanilla pudding
Okay here we go guys. This recipe could NOT be easier!
First, get your cute nephew to measure all the dry ingredients into a pot. Make sure you lay out your marble-looking photo board on the table so your final photos look like you have marble countertops, but then be really lazy about using it, so everyone can see that you actually don’t.
Teach said nephew (hi Eli!) how to separate an egg, and don’t get all judgy when he accidentally breaks a yolk right into the bowl of whites. (Just kidding, that yolk fail was actually me right before I took this photo. I have no idea how I have been cooking so long and still suck at cracking eggs. Anyone hungry for a scramble??)
Drop those egg yolks right into your dry ingredients. Should we go over the brown sugar now? It’s looking all front and center.
Brown sugar vs white sugar
I love to use half brown sugar, half white sugar in my vanilla pudding. This actually lends a bit of a butterscotch flavor to this pudding. I LOVE the darker notes it adds and will never say no to it, but if you are looking for Very Vanilla Flavor, use granulated sugar in place of the brown sugar.
I fell in love with Butterscotch pudding back in 2013 with this recipe for Butterscotch Pudding with Roasted Banana Whipped Cream. That recipe is similar but uses ALL brown sugar for a strong butterscotch flavor. I like today’s recipe better because this recipe has egg yolks in it, which lends a richer flavor.
If you want all in on the butterscotch flavor, make today’s recipe, but replace the white sugar with brown sugar. It won’t make any difference to the pudding besides the flavor.
Okay back to the recipe. After the yolks, add in some COLD milk and beat it up with a hand mixer. Most recipes for pudding call for beating with a whisk, but this is the starting phase of my Extra Special Technique To Avoid Tempering Eggs. More on that below.
Add in a vanilla bean, if you want this pudding to be amazing, or even half a vanilla bean is enough. If you don’t have one that’s okay, you can add vanilla extract at the end. But this bean, I’m telling you, is a magic bean.
(Here’s my pretend marble countertop again. Good grief Karen.)
Scrape the vanilla bean into a measuring cup full of milk, and toss the pod in too for good measure. Then microwave for about 2 minutes. Excuse me what?? Yes, microwave it! This is the trick that lets us skip the egg tempering as we usually know it. Let’s take a moment.
Tempering Eggs is the Worst
I hate traditional egg tempering and think it’s the stupidest method of all time. I refuse to participate lately. It’s not that I’ve messed it up one too many times (it’s not hard, really) you just almost always need full attention and 3 hands, which I rarely have. The 3 hands might even be easier to finagle than the full attention, to be perfectly honest, especially since (somehow??) I have a fully competent tween in the house these days named Charlotte. (She is an excellent 3rd hand and no charlatan let me tell you)
BUT. Traditional tempering involves pouring hot liquid with one hand, whisking as if your life depended on it with the other hand, and then dumping the hot liquid back into a boiling pot that you really should have been stirring the whole time, even though you were busy with the tempering process (3rd hand, see?) Because you lack said appendage, your egg proteins harden up in your absence, resulting in little bits of cooked egg in the custard; not the smooth dreamy creamy texture we’re going for.
Hand mixer to the rescue
All we really need to temper the eggs is hot liquid. So instead of cooking our milk and cornstarch, breaking the yolks into a separate bowl, and transferring some of the hot milk mixture to our eggs to heat them up slowly (I’m confused just reading that sentence), we’re heating just the milk in a glass measuring cup, then pouring it into the egg yolks with the hand mixer running. This prevents our eggs from curdling, and heats the eggs slowly, exactly what we are trying to achieve. And as a bonus, we don’t have to get a whole other bowl dirty. This pudding is made start to finish in one pot. Don’t you just love me?
Once you have used a hand mixer to beat in the hot milk, transfer the whole business onto the stove; we are finally going to turn on the heat. Set the pan over medium heat and switch to using a whisk (but keep your mixer nearby). You need to stick around and whisk pretty much constantly.
Make sure to dig the whisk into the corners and scrape down the sides, to make sure you don’t get any lumps. I love using a flat whisk particularly for pudding, to get in the corners.
The pudding will only take about 3-5 minutes to come to a boil; once you see bubbles popping on the surface, cook for about 15-45 seconds, until your whisk makes marks that stay in the pudding when dragged across the top.
Turn off the heat and beat the pudding with the mixer one more time, to beat in air and make the texture fluffy and light. No sad heavy pudding please.
DON’T forget to add in a couple tablespoons of butter at the end. This is not only for the fantastic flavor it adds, but it also smooths out the pudding, making it glossy and shiny and homogenous. (This is the point where you would add regular vanilla extract, if you skipped the bean)
If you are a texture-is-everything person, take the time to strain your pudding through a sieve. It will get out any tiny bits of egg protein that cooked into hard whites. Honestly, even if you won the whisking Olympics, it’s nearly impossible not to have a few of these bits when making pudding, (the electric mixture does help minimize this though.) Straining solves the problem entirely if you want the smoothest of smooth puddings.
THIS is the moment to snag a bite of hot steamy creamy pudding my friends.
Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of your pudding right away. If you don’t, your pudding will form a film on top, then when you mix it in later you won’t have smooth pudding anymore.
Chill for 2-4 hours and voila! A delightful pudding treat just for you! Be sure you whisk it one more time really well before serving.
How to store leftover homemade pudding
So easy! Make sure it’s added to an airtight container with a lid, then pop it into the fridge. It’s best to press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding every time you store, to avoid that pesky film forming.
It’ll be good in the fridge for about 5-7 days if you can keep your kids out of it. If there’s any accumulation of moisture around the edges, just stir thoroughly before serving.
I don’t recommend freezing pudding. The cooking process that binds the cornstarch to the proteins in the milk weaken in the freezer, and you’ll end up with a runny, watery mess. Luckily it is SUCH a fast recipe to whip up and it lasts for a good while in the fridge so long-term storage isn’t as necessary as other recipes. Also, it makes a reasonable amount, so even if you’re all alone you can have one serving for 6 days and still not have it go bad! See I should have called this “Vanilla Pudding For One…Every Day for a Week.”
What to do with vanilla pudding
While there’s something so nostalgic about a simple bowl of pudding, there are seriously SO many things you can do with it to step things up a bit. Here are some of my favorite ideas:
- Top with whipped cream! This may be something you want to add no matter what else you do with your pudding. A little dollop of whipped cream is always a great topper!
- Add cut up fruit like sliced berries, bananas, peaches, or whatever else you have around
- Top with granola or crushed cookies like Oreos, Nutter Butters, or Vanilla Wafers
- Layer it between graham crackers
- Add it to a pie
- Add candy bits, like chopped Reeses or Snickers, I’m definitely thinking Halloween time
- For a salty twist, chopped nuts of choice or crushed pretzels
- Try adding items along a theme. For example, mini chocolate chips, crushed graham crackers, and marshmallow creme for “s’mores,” or cherry topping and crushed graham crackers for “cherry cheesecake.”
Can dogs have vanilla pudding?
Okay okay, hear me out. My sister Laura helps me find out what people are googling about recipe topics, so that we can be sure to address any common questions in a new post. She found out that apparently one of the TOP questions asked about vanilla pudding is whether or not dogs can eat it. What even?? How is this the top question about vanilla pudding??
I’m picturing like the Fanciest of All Lap Dogs, sitting with an old lady, wearing a plaid vest and probably a tiara, lapping up homemade vanilla pudding in a crystal bowl.
Guys. Don’t be like that. Most dogs are lactose intolerant. Are you going to make me talk about doggie diarrhea on my pudding post?? HEAD FULL O’ PUDDING!
Here’s how I love my pudding. In a lil bowl with some fresh whipped cream stirred right in. YUM.
I will tell you a secret, the reason I went down the rabbit hole learning about and making pudding was because I was researching pastry cream, which is very similar to pudding but thicker. I needed pastry cream to stuff the homemade donuts I made, WHAT yes really I’m so excited! Look forward to those recipes coming in a couple weeks!
Frequently Asked Questions
The ones that are about pudding, not your dog.
Well, if you’re trying to make pudding, you can skip the mix and make this homemade version! It has only 8 ingredients, takes about 10 minutes total to make (okay fine, plus chill time), and tastes about 100 times better than the box mix. Trust me on this, guys.
Vanilla pudding from scratch is much more simple than you may think. There are only a few ingredients! Sugar, salt, milk, vanilla, butter, egg yolks, and cornstarch. Things you probably already have in your house right this minute. Go go!
The main thickening agent in both vanilla pudding from scratch and box mix pudding is cornstarch. The cornstarch binds to the proteins in the milk when heated, which thickens the whole mixture. Homemade pudding is extra thick and creamy compared to box mix because it has the addition of egg yolks, which not only add to the binding mentioned above but also add richness from the additional fat.
Not quite. They are very similar, but custard is a bit thicker and richer than pudding due to extra egg yolks in the recipe. Both are delicious, and what you want to make just totally depends on the thickness level you’re going for!
Head full of pudding? Try these pudding recipes!
- Layered Pudding Dessert with Golden Oreos >> easy, feeds a crowd, no bake, and AMAZING
- Lemon Lush Dessert >> basically this is smooth, tart, lemony heaven in a pan
- My Favorite Homemade Chocolate Cream Pie >> the only chocolate pie you’ll ever need!
- Butterscotch Pudding with Roasted Banana Whipped Cream >> as rich and delicious as it sounds, it’s one of my FAVORITE puddings ever – until I figured out today’s recipe actually! Make today’s recipe but use all brown sugar! And try the bananas, it’s so legit.
- Best Banana Cream Pie Recipe >> say goodbye to mushy pie. Say hello to dreamy, creamy perfection!
- Butterscotch Pie with Meringue Topping >> One of my favorite puddings, in pie form. What could be better?
- Banana Cream Pie Cookies >> like mini hand-held pies, with the pudding right on top of the cookie
- Vanilla Coconut Rice Pudding >> a very coconut-y twist on Arroz con Leche
- Scratch-Made Pistachio Pudding from Bigger Bolder Baking
- Easy Chocolate Pudding from Inside BruCrew Life
Homemade Vanilla Pudding Recipe
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed (you can replace this with granulated sugar)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup whole milk, cold
- 2 cups whole milk, warm
- 1 vanilla bean, or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Add 4 large egg yolks to a 3-quart saucepan that is not on the stove. (We're just using it like a bowl for now.) Save those egg whites for your next omelette.
- Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (or use all granulated sugar for a stronger vanilla-only flavor), 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 3 tablespoons cornstarch.
- Add 1 cup milk and use a hand mixer to beat on high speed for at least 1 minute, until the mixture is completely smooth.
- In a glass measuring cup (or bowl with a spout), add 2 more cups whole milk. If you are using a vanilla bean, slice the bean in half and use the back of your knife to scrape the seeds into the milk. Stick the now-empty pod into the milk. Microwave for 2-3 minutes, until the milk starts to bubble and foam at the edges. Once it bubbles (keep an eye on it!), take it out of the microwave right away. Discard the pod.
- Working quickly, turn your hand mixer on medium speed and beat the eggs again. Carefully pour the hot milk into the pot with the egg mixture, with the hand mixer running the whole time. There will be a film on top of the milk that will likely stick to the bowl as you pour – just leave it, don't scrape it in. Do try to scrape in as much of the vanilla bean as you can. You can see in the photos that I poured my hot milk in through a strainer, this was to keep out any larger bits of the vanilla pod.
- Continue beating the now-hot egg mixture until it is foamy. Move the pot to the burner on your stove and set the heat to medium.
- Use a whisk (I prefer a flat whisk) to stir the edges and corners of your pot. Do not walk away. Stir constantly until the mixture starts to bubble, it should only take 2-3 minutes. Once it bubbles, whisk vigorously for about 15-45 seconds.
- Remove from the stove. Use your hand mixer one more time to beat the hot mixture very well. This whips a bunch of air into our pudding, making it light and fluffy.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons butter, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract if you did not use a vanilla bean.
- If a smooth texture is very important to you, strain your pudding through a fine sieve into a new bowl.
- Cover your hot pudding immediately with plastic wrap. Press it right onto the pudding itself, trying to get any air bubbles out. This will prevent a film from forming on top of the pudding (and then if you were to stir in the film, it makes your pudding lumpy, no thank you.)
- Refrigerate the pudding for at least 2-4 hours. I cheat and put mine in the freezer for the first 30 minutes to speed things up, but you cannot forget to transfer it to the fridge after about 30 minutes! You can't freeze pudding (it ruins the texture. freezing weakens the bond between the starch and the liquid, so it will thaw out all watery. ew.), so move it to the fridge before any freezing happens. I like to live life on the edge, what can I say.
- When you are ready to serve the pudding, take off the plastic wrap and lick it when no one is looking. Give your pudding a good whisk to make it smooth again.Serve the pudding cold with whipped cream! Add in some Nilla wafers or crumbled graham crackers for a real treat!