As comfort foods go, you can't get much simpler than pudding. Read on to learn how to make homemade pudding.

bowl of chocolate pudding with whipped cream heart
Credit: Meredith

What is Pudding?

Pudding, as we know it in the United States, is a cooked, sweet dessert with a soft, creamy, silky texture. It typically contains milk or cream, although there are non-dairy puddings made with plant-based "milk." Pudding is similar to custard in that they both can contain eggs and milk, but pudding is usually thickened with a starch, whereas custard is thickened by the eggs.

Tapioca pudding is made with tapioca starch, which both thickens the pudding and can give it a distinctive texture from the tiny, glutenous tapioca spheres.

Rice pudding is made with rice, which, like tapioca, both thickens the pudding and gives it texture from the cooked rice.

How to Make Pudding

Try this recipe for Homemade Vanilla Pudding

Pudding is usually made on the stovetop by gently cooking the ingredients together until they thicken. The warm pudding is then spooned into individual bowls, covered, and chilled until serving, or it can be used as an ingredient in a dessert that calls for pudding, as in this Kentucky Banana Pudding:

bowl of banana pudding decorated with banana slices and vanilla cookies
Credit: P.

Try this recipe: Kentucky Banana Pudding

Tips for Making Pudding

The ingredients that go into pudding can be very simple, but there are a few tips and tricks that will help you achieve the silky smooth pudding texture you crave.

Thickening the Pudding

Puddings are thickened in several ways:

  • Using starch: In order for the starch granules to open up and actively absorb liquid, the mixture needs to come to a boil (1-3 minutes, until it starts to thicken). Stir constantly to prevent the mixture from burning.
  • Using eggs: Eggs add richness to puddings, whether or not the recipe includes additional thickeners. To add eggs to a hot liquid, you need to "temper" them (see Tempering Eggs below) so they don't end up as scrambled eggs.
  • Rice and tapioca also act as thickeners.

How to Temper Eggs for Pudding

tempering beaten eggs with hot milk
pouring tempered eggs into homemade pudding mixture
whisking homemade pudding mixture in a pot
Left: Credit: Meredith
Center: Credit: Meredith
Right: Credit: Meredith

If your pudding recipe includes eggs, you need to "temper" them to avoid ending up with bits of cooked scrambled egg in your pudding. Tempering gently raises the temperature of the eggs before adding them to the hot milk mixture.

  1. While the milk and sugar are heating, lightly beat the eggs in a medium mixing bowl.
  2. When the milk comes to a boil, remove it from the heat, and gradually pour about a cup or so of hot milk into the bowl of beaten eggs in a slow, steady stream while whisking the mixture constantly.
  3. Pour the hot milk-and-egg mixture back into the pot, and return it to the stove.
  4. Cook over medium heat, using a wooden spoon to stir.
  5. Unlike with cornstarch puddings, you don't need the egg mixture to boil.
  6. The mixture will thicken slightly, so it looks like very heavy cream. It will coat the back of the spoon; test it by running your finger down the spoon. You should wipe a clear, clean line through the custard.
  7. Remove from heat. The pudding will thicken more as it cools.

Chilling the Pudding

three dessert glasses filled with chocolate pudding
Credit: lutzflcat

Many homemade puddings, like rice pudding and tapioca pudding, are delightful served warm, but many need time to fully set up and thicken. To prevent a skin from forming on the surface while the pudding rests, cover the bowl or ramekins of pudding with plastic wrap or waxed paper. Some cooks like to press the covering down onto the surface of the pudding.