A shortcut I learned from my grandmother that I’m (almost) ashamed of.

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Some people are kind of snobby about their ingredients—I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m one of them. You’ll never find me pulling a premade piecrust from the freezer or taking a can of frosting from the baking aisle, and you definitely won’t see me reach for a pressurized canister of whipped cream or—dare we say—a tub of Cool Whip.

Watch: Banana Pudding Cheesecake

 

But banana pudding is a different story. If there’s a dessert that I wholeheartedly believe is just as delicious with some store-bought shortcuts, it’s this one. Emblematic of my family get togethers, I learned early on that banana pudding is wildly different depending on who makes it—great-aunt Mimi’s version (clearly made from scratch) sat in several shallow warm layers and was topped with delicate swirls of toasted meringue, while Maw Maw’s chilled banana pudding was as deep as it was wide and it was creamy, very creamy. Truth be told, I always preferred Maw Maw’s—and I have since learned that the secret to her unparalleled recipe is two ingredients that I will rarely use for anything else: sweetened condensed milk and banana cream instant pudding.

After whisking together a can of sweetened condensed milk and 1 ½ cups of ice cold water, she mixed in the contents of one (3.4-oz.) package of banana cream pudding mix. She then chilled this mixture for five minutes before folding it into a pint of cream that she already whipped to soft peaks. Making three deep layers of vanilla wafers, banana slices, and her creamy “cheat-pudding” mix, she wrapped it to let it chill for a couple of hours. Altogether her recipe takes no more than 15 minutes to put together, and (to me) it tastes better than the laborious scratch-made stuff. I can’t believe I’m confessing this, but even though I tend to turn my nose up to baking shortcuts, the evidence for this take on a Southern classic just can’t be denied.