When I was growing up in the South, almost every event and family gathering would include a large bowl of banana pudding: homemade custard, sliced bananas, Nilla wafers and a mountain of freshly whipped cream. The sweet, gooey dessert was one of my favorites, and I often asked for a side of extra wafers to dip into the layered pudding. With those delicious memories, I set out to create a lightened-up, tropical spin on my beloved banana pudding.
Cornstarch-thickened pudding, also known as cheater’s pudding, creates the same thick, luscious texture as homemade custard, with almost none of the fat. For the pudding base, I subbed coconut-milk beverage in place of regular milk for a subtle tropical flavor. While you can use canned coconut milk for more prominent flavor, I prefer the watered-down beverage option for a light, coconut taste.
Once the pudding is cool, the assembly begins: sliced bananas, pineapple chunks, coconut pudding and a thick layer of whipped cream. I stayed true to the original by using homemade whipped cream instead of the nonfat, packaged variety. Though the latter is lower in both calories and fat than the homemade version, it lacks the depth and body of fresh whipping cream. The hardest part is waiting eight hours for the pudding to set, allowing time for the wafers to soften and the flavors to come together. With half the calories of my mother’s banana pudding, this is one dessert you’ll want to make — and share — over and over again.
Light Tropical Banana Pudding
2 cups coconut-milk beverage
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 medium bananas, sliced
1 cup chopped pineapple chunks
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
15 vanilla wafers
Toasted coconut flakes, for garnish
Make the pudding. Place the milk and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring gently to melt the butter and heat the milk.
Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water in a separate bowl to create a thick paste. Gently whisk into the milk and increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until thick and bubbly, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic is touching the pudding, then place in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours, until set.
Once the pudding is set, beat the whipping cream with an electric hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer until stiff peaks form.
Create the first layer of sliced bananas on the bottom of a pie dish. Then add a layer of chopped pineapple, followed by the coconut pudding and a layer of wafers. Top with whipped cream.
Repeat to make a second layer. Top with whipped cream and toasted coconut flakes, for garnish. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight before serving.
Per serving: Calories 16; Fat 7 g; Cholesterol 18 mg; Sodium 38 mg; Potassium 144 mg; Carbohydrate 25 g; Fiber 2; Sugars 16 g; Protein 1 g
Alex Caspero MA, RD, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher. She is the founder of Delish Knowledge (delishknowledge.com), a resource for healthy, whole-food vegetarian recipes. In her private coaching practice, she helps individuals find their “Happy Weight.”