Homemade vanilla pudding is easy to make, using only 6 ingredients and no eggs. Serve with whipped cream and berries, or use in a classic banana pudding recipe or a trifle. Banish instant pudding from a box and make vanilla pudding from scratch!
Why this recipe works
- Homemade vanilla pudding has pure vanilla flavor, not artificial tasting
- Only needs 6 ingredients and 10 minutes of active work on the stove
- Can be served solo or as an ingredient for banana pudding or trifle
Vanilla pudding is one of those desserts that I don't generally think of at first. But when I taste it, I wonder why I don't have it more often.
Vanilla is a simple and pure flavor, and pudding is perfect to showcase its taste and texture.
Notice I said pure vanilla flavor. Vanilla instant pudding mix just doesn't cut it, with all its artificial ingredients, stabilizers, and preservatives. When you make vanilla pudding from scratch, you know what that you'll get will be better than anything from a box.
What you need
Pudding recipes with milk have no fancy ingredients (and nothing artificial): a milk product, sugar, cornstarch (thickens the pudding), vanilla, butter (adds richness), and salt.
Here I'm using half & half for rich flavor, but you can substitute whole milk for the half & half for a less rich pudding. If you prefer a dairy-free pudding, use your favorite non-dairy cream product for the half & half and a non-dairy butter substitute for the butter.
How to make vanilla pudding from scratch
Step 1: Combine the dry ingredients
In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together (photo 1).
Step 2: Cook the pudding
In a medium saucepan, heat the half & half over medium heat until small bubbles form and it starts to steam, about 5 minutes. Slowly add the sugar mixture into the hot half & half, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, making sure the pudding doesn't boil (photo 2).
Step 3: Test for doneness
Cook until thickened, stirring constantly, about 4 to 6 minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon and leave a trail when you draw your finger through it (photo 3).
Step 4: Add the vanilla and butter
Remove the pudding from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and butter (photo 4).
Step 5: Cool the pudding
Strain the pudding through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl.
Put the bowl in an ice bath (half ice/half water). Stir occasionally until just warm to the touch, about 95°F on an infrared temperature gun or digital thermometer (photo 5). An ice bath cools the pudding quickly so there's no chance of potential bacteria for food-born illness contaminating it.
Place plastic wrap directly onto pudding (to prevent skin from forming), and refrigerate until the pudding is completely chilled, about 2 to 3 hours (photo 6).
This pudding will keep in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for 3 to 5 days.
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions you might have...
The method for making both pudding and custard (and also flan) is similar, basically cooking a sweetened dairy product until it has thickened. The main difference is which thickening ingredient is used.
Pudding is thickened by cooking cornstarch, tapioca, or arrowroot in the heated milk mixture, like in a chocolate pudding recipe. With custard recipes, like for egg nog or the base for vanilla ice cream, egg yolks are whisked in slowly into the heated cream. Using eggs for thickening provides the silky texture that custards are known for.
Pastry cream (aka crème pâtissière if you want to get fancy), is a hybrid between vanilla custard and pudding. The base is made like a standard custard recipe using eggs, then thickened further with cornstarch. The reason is that pastry cream needs to have a bit more body to be used in éclairs or as the filling for cakes, like Boston Cream Pie.
Pro Tip: Ways to use pudding
Vanilla pudding is a delicious stand-alone dessert, especially when it's garnished with whipped cream and fruit or chocolate sauce. You can also use it in homemade banana pudding recipes.
Another idea is to layer it in a trifle. Pictured here is my Orange Cinnamon Pecan Trifle, made with my homemade vanilla pudding, pound cake and a cinnamon streusel crumb topping. It's absolutely delicious!
Creamy vanilla goodness
This vanilla pudding has a clean, pure vanilla flavor that doesn't taste artificial, and a smooth creamy texture that just glides over the tongue.
For even more vanilla flavor, substitute a scraped whole vanilla bean for the extract. Put the seeds and the scraped bean in the half & half while it’s heating, then strain out the spent vanilla bean after the pudding has thickened. You’ll have those wonderful specks of vanilla bean seeds in addition to rich vanilla flavor!
Banish the box mix and make your vanilla pudding from scratch. You'll be glad you did!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Custards come in many forms, but the method is similar across the board. Luckily, the technique is easy to master, and you'll be able to make a whole range of treats!
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Creamy Homemade Vanilla Pudding (no eggs)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 cups half and half, see Recipe Notes
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract, see Recipe Notes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, see Recipe Notes
- In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the half & half over medium heat until small bubbles form and it starts to steam, about 5 minutes. Slowly add the sugar mixture into the hot half & half, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, making sure the pudding doesn't boil.
- Cook until thickened, stirring constantly, about 4 to 6 minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon and leave a trail when you draw your finger through it.
- Remove the pudding from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and butter.
- Strain the pudding through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Put the bowl in an ice bath (½ ice and ½ water). Stir occasionally until just warm, about 95 °F on an infrared temperature gun or digital thermometer.
- Place plastic wrap directly onto pudding (to prevent a skin from forming), and refrigerate until the pudding is completely chilled, about 2 to 3 hours.
- Pudding will keep in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for 3 to 5 days.