There is nothing better than Southern-style Nilla Wafer Banana Pudding. It’s a classic dessert for good reason! With creamy vanilla pudding, sweet bananas, cheesecake filling, and vanilla wafers, it’s a gorgeous dessert that tastes even better than it looks.
(For a different spin on classic banana pudding, check out my famous Not Yo Mama’s Banana Pudding. It uses chessmen cookies and sweetened condensed milk – talk about decadent!)
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Easy, Homestyle Recipe: While some banana pudding recipes have a ton of bells and whistles, chances are this is a lot like the one you remember from childhood – vanilla wafers, whipped cream, and pudding.
- Cheesecake Layer: Now one thing I do that’s not quite traditional is a layer of cheesecake filling. It is just Cool Whip, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla, all beat together in a mixing bowl, but it adds a lovely flavor! If you don’t want to add this layer, that’s fine too – just double up on the pudding and call it a day.
- Perfect for Potlucks: Is there a barbecue in your future, or a covered-dish dinner (AKA potluck)? Let me tell you, not only is this the easiest dish to bring, it’s also guaranteed to be eaten up.
- Refreshing: While you can make banana pudding anytime, I especially recommend it for hot weather. It’s a cool, creamy treat that’s perfect for summer.
The Best Nilla Wafer Banana Pudding
If you are looking for a special recipe that is super easy to pull off and doesn’t require heating up your oven, this is it! Nilla wafer banana pudding is my all-time-favorite no-bake dessert, perfect for hot summer days. Take this to your next Fourth of July party, or just serve it as a kid-pleasing Sunday afternoon treat. Either way, it is sure to be a hit.
This is a straightforward, retro recipe that uses basic ingredients: bananas, instant pudding mix, vanilla wafer cookies, and a couple of other odds and ends. But when you put them all together? Bam! You’ve got a dessert that will knock the socks off of anyone who tries a bowl. It’s pure, creamy goodness, my friends.
What You’ll Need
Here’s the list of ingredients for Nilla wafer banana pudding. You can see that this one won’t cost a whole lot, and won’t be hard to whip up. You will need…
- Instant Vanilla Pudding: This makes the smooth, cold pudding layer, when combined with the milk. If you want to make homemade pudding instead, feel free! Just cool it down before layering it in the baking dish.
- Milk: For making the pudding. You can use whole milk, or go with reduced fat. Non-dairy milk doesn’t always work with instant pudding mix, so I don’t recommend using it unless the instructions tell you what ratio to use.
- Cream Cheese: For the smoothest mixture, let the cream cheese soften a bit at room temperature before making the filling mixture.
- Powdered Sugar: To sweeten the cream cheese. Do not use granulated sugar, because it won’t dissolve
- Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract, and again this is for the cream cheese layer.
- Whipped Topping: Store-bought whipped topping, such as Cool Whip, is easy to use and holds up well. But if you would rather use homemade whipped cream, that’s fine too!
- Vanilla Wafer Cookies: Other types of butter cookies can be used as well, such as chessmen.
- Bananas: Slice the bananas into half-inch slices.
How to Make Nilla Wafer Banana Pudding
To make this dish, you will need to whip up the cream cheese mixture and the pudding, and then layer everything in a baking dish. It’s really easy, and honestly kind of fun. Kids love to help with this!
- Make the Cheesecake Filling. To do this, put the cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and most of the whipped topping in a bowl. (Reserve 3/4 cup of whipped topping to garnish the top of the dessert.) Beat with a hand mixer or whisk to make a smooth, creamy mixture.
- Make the Pudding. Follow the package directions to make the vanilla pudding, and place it in the fridge for a few minutes to set.
- Start with a Layer of Cookies. You will start assembling the banana pudding with a layer of vanilla wafers. Just lay them right in the bottom of your dish.
- Add Pudding. Dollop pudding all over the cookies, and gently spread it out with a spatula.
- Place Sliced Bananas on Top. Cover the top of the pudding with rows of banana slices.
- Add Cheesecake Filling. Dollop the cheesecake mixture over the bananas, and spread gently with a spatula to make an even layer.
- More Cookies. A second layer of cookies goes over the cheesecake.
- Decorate the Banana Pudding. Spoon the remaining whipped topping into a piping bag (or a zip-top bag with one of the bottom corners cut off). Pipe the whipped topping to decorate the top of the banana pudding.
- Chill. Not you, the pudding! Place the dish in your refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap or a lid, so that it can chill and the cookies can soften a bit before serving.
Tips for Success
So there you have it – classic Nilla wafer banana pudding, so easy and so decadent. If you are planning to try this recipe, definitely check out these helpful tips for success!
- Bananas: The bananas should not be over-ripe. You want an ever-so-slight tartness to them, to cut the sweetness of the other ingredients and enhance the flavor. Firm, yellow bananas without too many brown spots.
- The Lemon Juice Trick: As everyone knows, bananas (and apples, and other fruits) tend to discolor a bit once they are cut and exposed to air. The best way to keep bananas from turning brown in your banana pudding is to coat them completely in the pudding or cream cheese mixture. But you can also use the lemon juice trick, if you like: toss the banana slices gently in a tablespoon or so of lemon juice before adding them to the dish. The lemon juice helps prevent browning.
- Trifle Dish: For a pretty presentation, you can also make this recipe in a trifle dish. A trifle dish usually holds the same amount as a 9×13 dish, but it is deeper, so you will make the layers twice.
How to Store Banana Pudding
To store this dessert, just cover it well with plastic wrap, or with a lid if your baking dish has one. Then keep it in your refrigerator. It will last for 2 – 4 days, depending on how ripe your bananas are. Enjoy!
Can You Freeze Banana Pudding?
We do not recommend freezing because freezing causes moisture to crystallize, the consistency of the pudding will become very different after it’s been defrosted.
Place the bananas in a paper bag that is loosely folded down at the top. You can also add a ripe banana or an apple. This creates additional ethylene gas that ripens the green bananas.
Substitute any light, crisp, butter or vanilla cookie – preferably on the thin side. Chessmen, Lorna Doone, Maria cookies, or even Golden Oreos would work. Graham crackers would take it in a different direction, but still be amazing, as would thin slices of pound cake.
Different cooks have different opinions about this, and some of them have very strong opinions! But in general, you should chill banana pudding for around two hours to soften the cookies. I think it’s even better if you chill it overnight.
Nilla Wafer Banana Pudding
- 2 3.4 ounces instant vanilla pudding
- 4 cups cold milk
- 8 ounces cream cheese softened
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8- ounce whipped topping thawed
- 11- ounce vanilla wafer cookies
- 4 large bananas
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the instant vanilla pudding and milk. Cover and refrigerate until thickened.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese together with the powdered sugar and vanilla extract until smooth. Reserve ¾ cup of the whipped topping and set aside. Beat the remaining whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture until smooth and creamy.
- Line a 3-quart 9×13 inch glass dish with a single layer of the vanilla wafer cookies. Pour the prepared vanilla pudding over the cookies and gently spread out evenly with a spatula.
- Peel the bananas and slice into ½ inch thick rounds. Add the bananas to the dish over the vanilla layer.
- Dollop the “cheesecake” mixture over top of the bananas and use a spatula to very gently spread until the dollops meet and the cheesecake layer is evenly spread over all of the bananas.
- Top the cheesecake layer with an even layer of the vanilla wafer cookies.
- Scoop the reserved whipped topping into a small zip top bag and cut off the corner to create a piping bag. Decorate the top of the dessert with the whipped topping.
- Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate before serving to allow the cookies to soften.