Simple Vanilla Custard (Pudding)

Everyone should have a simple stirred custard recipe handy. In America we call this sort of cornstarch-thickened mixture “pudding.” It’s terrific for eating just as it is, but it can also be used as a thick sauce for, well, whatever. This recipe is sort of a “pastry cream light.” It’s not as sweet as most pastry creams, nor as rich in cream or egg yolks, but it does have a dab of butter for sheen.

It’s quick, it’s easy and it tastes great when you have a cold (as I do today). The ingredients are:

1.75 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar
1.25 ounces (2 tablespoons, 2 teaspoons) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 ounces (2 cups) whole milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Start by combining the dry ingredients in a small saucepan. Whisk them together. The littler the whisk, the better.

Pour in the milk…

…whisk it all together thoroughly, checking the corners of the pan to make sure there’s no clumped-up starch hiding there. Put the pan over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil for about 20-30 seconds. It’ll thicken noticeably.

Pour about a third of the mixture over your egg yolks to temper them (i.e. gently bring them up to temperature)…

…whisk, and pour the whole mess back into the saucepan.

Bring the mixture back to a simmer for about twenty seconds, then remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the butter…

…pour in a little vanilla extract…

…and you’re done! Pour the custard (pudding) into serving cups if that’s how you intend to present it.

Otherwise transfer the custard to a bowl and let it cool down for at least half an hour, stirring every so often to keep it smooth. Chill it and serve to eager children (of all ages).

113 thoughts on “Simple Vanilla Custard (Pudding)”

  1. Love love vanilla custard. Making it from scratch is so easy and those packaged and powdered ones are so gross!

  2. Hi Joe – Love your site – very inspirational. Just want to confirm the cornstarch amt. Is that 2 tablespoons AND two teaspoons?

    Thanks ,

  3. Hi Joe,
    Can this recipe be used to fill cream puffs or eclairs or it should be eaten only as dessert? Thank you!

    1. Hey again Silvia!

      It will make a somewhat wet cream puff filling. I suggest either pastry cream or a simple Chantilly cream.

      – Joe

  4. Happy Dad’s Day!

    I just made this for my husband and it turned out great. I actually used milk that was right on the verge of going sour (I figured it’s going to be cooked, so no harm, no foul) and it was a great way to use it up. I sprinkled a little cinnamon/sugar on top. Thanks for the easy to follow recipe.

    1. Wow I bet that was good. A little tang was probably an outstanding addition. I must remember to add a little buttermilk next time! Cheers and thanks!

      – Joe

  5. I came here looking for proportions of milk to cornstarch to egg yolks and that sort of thing, and this recipe is spot on! I used it for a trifle pudding. Of course it is terrific on its own.

  6. Joe,

    I was craving custard. I did a search and clicked on your link. While dinner was resting I made this, so after dinner the custard was ready to eat.I followed the recipe exactly, my husband & I loved it. My nephew never had custard and enjoyed it.

    This is a keeper.
    Thank You

  7. Hello Joe,
    My household is a big custard pudding loving bunch lol. The pictures here are making my mouth water and I am going to go directly into the kitchen to whip this recipe up as soon as I say Thank you for you’re time in putting this up! So thank you and I can not WAIT to try this!

      1. It was PERFECT lol everyone loved it, I pretty much inhaled mine while it was hot, my husband and roommate waited until it was chilled, Im going to make it again in a few minutes haha. So fast and simple to make, and not a messy project, only a few dishes to clean afterwards, what more could you ask for! :)

  8. Wonderful! First time flawless! Tastes just like mom used to make back home in Canada, which is something considering I now live in Japan and will introduce my kids to it tonight! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey Travis!

      For some reason I only got this comment today! Cheers and hope you’re still enjoying the custard!

      – Joe

  9. I’ve wanted to make a simple vanilla pudding for a very long time and I had no idea where to start. Tried this recipe and it came out perfect. Just the way I wanted it. My husband cannot stop raving about my new found skills! Thanks Joe!!!

    1. Great, Rini!

      Very happy to help you look good for your spouse! We all need a little of that sort of help, I think. I know I do — and on a constant basis! 😉


      – Joe

  10. Can I add lemon juice instead of vanilla? Do I add more or less?(lemon juice to extract) .Also, can I pour this on a cake kinda of like a tres leches cake but with only this custard?

    Sorry for so many questions, thank you.

    1. Sorry I missed this comment, Sarah!

      Use lemon zest or extract rather than juice which has acid and might curdle the custard!

      It’s too thick for a tres leeches cake, but that’s a god idea!


      – Joe

    1. Hi Ana! Yes you can, though you won’t want to hold the cake for very long since the moisture from the pudding will start to weep into the cake after a couple of hours. Pastry cream behaves much the same way in cake, which is why you generally don’t see custard-filled cakes in pastry cases.

      Have fun!

      – Joe

  11. Hi Joe.
    I made this with lemon extract, since I was out of vanilla, and poured it over Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Cookies in a shallow hand-made bowl. It was yummy & lovely. (I also prefer to use the whole egg, and whipped them well prior to tempering). A sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg on top finished it off. Delicious! Thanks for the easy recipe. -m

    1. Glad to hear that, Allwin! There’s something about pudding that makes the trials day-to-day life a little easier to bear. I’ll look forward to reading your blog!

      – Joe

  12. The custard was fantastic! I was wondering if I could add left over spaghetti to make a spaghetti custard? Or is there another recipe for spaghetti custard/pudding! I really hate to constantly throw away all of those leftovers. Thanks for any ideas!

    1. Thanks, Karen!

      I’ve never heard of that, but it sounds like fun! You can certainly pour the finished custard over the cooked spaghetti and let it set up that way. My guess, however, is that a dish like that is probably better made in the style of a rice pudding which you can find right here: Just swap cooked spaghetti for the rice!

      I’m going to have to try that! Thanks, Karen!

      – Joe

      1. This is a great base add in all the extra white rice left over when you order Chinese food. Add a little cinnamon and some raisins and voila, instant rice pudding.

  13. My custard did not set, even after a night in the fridge it’s still very runny. I used fat free milk. Is that the problem?

    1. Hey Deborah!

      That shouldn’t affect it. Indeed the on on the site I actually made with skim milk. Can you think of anything else you might have done differently from the recipe as written?

      – Joe

  14. I made this with coconut sugar instead of white sugar, and coconut oil instead of butter, which increase it’s nutritional value. Wonderful mild toffee taste!

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  16. I had been looking for a custard for a burnt almond cake filling. I just now made Joe’ custard pudding. Easy to make,yum, still
    cooling. Thank You! Roxanne

  17. Hi Joe!
    I made this for the first time from scratch, and it turned out just wonderful. I am a teenager so this is a great recipe for me when I have a sweet craving but I don’t have much time! Thank you for posting this!

    1. It’s my very great pleasure! I love pudding, especially when it’s made from scratch. This is almost as easy as a box mix, and tastes so much better. Glad it worked out so well for you.


      – Joe

  18. Thanks so much, Joe. This was the PERFECT recipe to satisfy those college nights when you have an immense dessert craving. The best part is that it only has a few ingredients that almost everyone has in their pantry.

    1. It’s great how that works, isn’t it? There’s so much you can do without fancy chocolates or gourmet salts!

      Thanks for the comment and best of luck with your semester!

      – Joe

  19. I’m surprised so many people have had success with this recipe. I tried to make it tonight and it didn’t set up at all. I followed the directions exactly, and it looked thick and pudding like when i poured out into a bowl. But as it cooled it gradually turned to soup. I tried to salvage it, but it will probably have to be thrown out. What a waste of ingredients.

    1. I’m very sorry to hear that, Amy! Did it simmer very long? A long simmer could have caused it to thin back out again.

      – Joe

  20. I made this tonight to mix with some wild rice I had left over, slivered almonds and dried cherries. I also drizzled in just a bit of maples syrup. It was fabulous!

  21. My Mom used to make a pudding like this and I forgot the recipe was so glad to find this. She would put just the egg yolks in. When cooled she would add oranges and fold in the whipped egg whites. It was my and my brothers favorite…Thanks for helping us bring a little of Mom back for the holiday.


    1. That comment made me feel warm all over on a cold day, Heather! Thanks very much for writing in with it. Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

      – Joe

  22. I need to make this recipe dairy free for my nephew, could I use soya milk instead of whole milk ?


  23. found this recipe this morning as I was looking for a nice bread pudding recipe, I just moved an I have missed placed all my recipes. What a wonderful pudding. So fast and easy to make. I used milk that is about to expire. The taste is like my mom’s… creamy. Thank-you for sharing.

    – Lynn

    1. Hey Lynn! Your comment warms my heart on a cold day!

      Thanks very much, please come back! Cheers,

      – Joe

  24. Hi Joe, I made this a few times and it always turns out great. Thanks so much for posting it. Can I turn it into a chocolate custard by adding some cocoa powder to the dry ingredients and using chocolate extract?


    1. Hi Tami!

      Thanks so much for the kind comment! You can do that indeed. You can whisk some cocoa powder into the milk. Alternately you can whisk a few ounces of finely chopped bar chocolate into the pudding when it’s finished but still hot. Either way!


      – Joe

    1. Hi Gina!

      You can though I’d suggest using one of the pastry creams in the Pastry Components menu instead since they’ll be firmer and will also weep less as they sit. They are also very easy to make!


      – Joe

  25. This custard was so delicious and easy to prepare. I made fish sticks and custard for a Dr. Who party and it was a huge hit! The fish sticks were actually from scratch shortbread cookies rolled in crushed graham crackers that everyone dipped in the custard. Thank you for the recipe!

  26. Making this recipe as I type this, sounds delicious. I do have one question though, what are the amount of servings am I making? I scrolled up and down but did not see it posted.

    1. Hey Caitlin!

      It makes about 3 cups which could be anywhere from 4-6 servings depending on how much you spoon around! As a spread it serves many more than that of course, probably twelve.


      – Joe

  27. We used to use a pudding powder mix many years ago, but I could’t find any in the store, so I’m thrilled by this easy recipe. Only cooked pudding for me. Instant is nasty, to me. Anyway, I’m going to use this custard in a great summertime dessert. Using a loaf pan layer in pieces of angelfood cake and fresh(or frozen) strawberries. Pour cooling custard over and refrigerate. You can either slice pieces or spoon out of pan, when set. Add your favorite whipped topping or don’t. Enjoy.

  28. I’ve alway used canned milk for my puddings and custards it has alway seemed to give it that little extra zing. If I’m making chocolate, I’ll use cocoa adding extra butter and sugar. Sometimes I’ll add a couple heaping tablespoons of peanut butter and serve it warm.

    1. Wonderful news, Connie!

      Thanks for taking the time to write me. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you incorporate the bananas?

      – Joe

  29. This is very like the cornstarch pudding my mom used to make us for breakfast. She served it over buttered toast and with a sprinkle of nutmeg on the top. I have been craving it for a while and will have to try this!

  30. I wish I had read the comments section prior to making this easy custard recipe. with other recipes I’ve used I needed to boil for approximately 3 minutes prior to tempering the yolks. unfortunately for this recipe 3 minutes is too long so when it cooled mine broke. maybe you could put a note in that section that says it only needs to come to a boil and not for any length of time.
    that being said I love your website and will come back often to find quality recipes for when I’m cooking for my family and also when I’m cooking with all of my nieces, great-nieces and Godchildren.
    thanks so much for your website Joe I’m looking forward to many visits!!

    1. Hey Auntie!

      I’m so sorry to hear about that! I shall make the appropriate note. Cheers and thanks for the very kind compliment, please do some back soon!

      – Joe

  31. can I pour it into bread and oven it again being bread puding? Will the bread and puding set?

  32. Is there any way to substitute the cornstarch for gelatin? If so, do you know how much to add?

    1. Hi Amy!

      You can, though you’ll have a more panna cotta-type product. You’ll need about 1 1/4 teaspoons of gelatin. Also you’ll need to add it in a little differently. The best way to go is to combine it with about 2 teaspoons of ice water and let it hydrate. It’ll turn into a rubbery substance…don’t let that worry you. Just whisk that into the mixture in the very last step after you temper the egg yolks to melt it. Pour the pudding into individual cups and let it set. Let me know how it goes!


      – Joe

      1. Thanks Joe, I will let you know how it goes. Do you think it will be more creamy if I use less gelatin? I am planning to make a tart filling with this (to top with berries). So if I double the recipe and do the same amount of gelatin (1 1/4 tsp) do you think it will be more like a very thick pudding? I don’t want it to be like panna cotta.

  33. I have been cooking for over 48 years. The last time I went to the grocery store, I picked up a little box of vanilla pudding mix and looked at the ingredients (or maybe I should say, chemicals!). I put the box back on the shelf. I just made your recipe, and could hardly believe how amazingly quick and simple it was. If the pot weren’t so hot, I would have licked it out already. Bet it’s cool enough to do that now. 😉 Thank you so much, and Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Thanks so much, Adrienne!

      I’m very gratified this worked so well for you. You just reminded me that I need to make some of this myself soon!


      – Joe

    1. Hello Simran!

      Yes you may eliminate it. It won’t affect the way the recipe performs.


      – Joe

  34. This sounds like a great recipe,, but can I use whole eggs instead of yolks. I hate to waste the whites and I have nothing else I would want to do with them

    1. Hi Annie!

      Unfortunately no, only yolks. Whites will give you an end product like sweet scrambles eggs…they’re simply too thick. What about some meringue cookies? 😉

      – Joe

  35. Great recipe.. its Sunday evening and I suddenly wanted to make a trifle for dessert tonight, and I was looking for a good homemade custard recipe to use and came across this. I had only 2% milk so used that. It came out scrumptious… Thank you for sharing an easy delicious recipe !

    1. Hi Monica!

      Glad it worked so well for you, and yes 2% milks still makes great pudding!

      Thanks very much for the note!

      – Joe

  36. well, I followed instructions and it was going well, but my custard remained liquidy and I tossed it. *I had used a stainless steel pot (don’t own anything else) and worried that the milk would burn and I constantly stirred the mixture – I saw the bottom of the pot began to brown so before it burned I removed it from the heat and poured into a large bowl. 1) What did I do wrong ? 2) I used 2 egg yolks but the egg I used had to yolks, did this cause the problem? I’m a pretty good cook/baker. Please help. Also I want to make a Boston Cream Pie (which I will need a recipe for the filling between the 2 layers of cake, can you also help me with this (I need to make it for Feb 4th Birthday). Thanks, your help is muchly appreciated. joanie do you have a recipe that I could microwave for custards and fillings ? thanx

  37. Thanks for the recipe for vanilla custard. “Wow” this took me back a good number of years. My grandmother used to sprinkle nutmeg on the top of little dessert dishes of it and let it cool in the fridge. I had to be fast to beat my mother to eat what was left in the pot. Nobody does this any more right ? “ah well . enjoyed reading other folks comments as well. I will use canned milk and sweet butter. Into a large bowl I’ll place a wire strainer,I’ll pour in 1/2 bag small marshmallows,pour over them 1 can each of pineapple tidbits and Royal Ann White cherries I discard the juice ,cut the cherries in half . Then place half into a Trifle Glass Dish,pour over half the custard. I might add a layer of fresh blueberries and then repeat with remaining marshmallow fruit mixture, then custard. I could line the sides of the dish with Ladyfingers; more like a true trifle.Let it set a day ahead in the fridge ” very important” Before serving, top with whipped cream,1 pint home made,add a little sugar & vanilla. You can sprinkle colored sprinkles for garnish.I will make 1 plus 1/2 custard recipe for this ,you could double it to serve 8-10 small dessert servings. This all started with a my friend Rita Collins telling me what she was making for Easter Dinner. I couldn’t remember how to prepare a custard. So thanks again JoePastry’

    1. Holy cow, what a dish!

      Thanks very much for that, Linda. I’m a pudding lover from way back, so while it isn’t “pastry” exactly I couldn’t help adding it to the blog. I’m going to try that single cup chilling method. My grandmother used to do something like that…I forgot all about it!

      Cheers and have a terrific Easter!

      – Joe

  38. Incredible! I used coconut oil instead of butter, My husband who has always loved custard thought it was an absolutely amazing pudding. I topped it with fresh raspberries and whipped topping.

  39. JoePastry- thank you for a lovely old-fashioned recipe! My aunts and grandmother used to make this on cold nights, up north at the family farm. ‘Fond memories of being little, smelling the sweet vanilla scent on the air and clambering out of bed to tiptoe down the icy cold staircase to beg for “just a wee bit”… which was always ladled into a collection of mismatched but lovely china teacups my Aunt collected at various auctions.

    I too have that cold this week, and this is just the thing.

    I did ad-lib a bit: slit half a vanilla bean down the centre, scraped out the seeds and tossed pod and scrapings into the milk for the full boil/ simmer…

    I then slid a teaspoon of Disaronno liqueur (to sub for the vanilla extract) in with the butter for the finale. Dropped a few frozen black cherries into the bottom of the small mason jar I wanted to serve in and am enjoying it warm as a mid-movie nosh: Divine!

    1. Invite me next time, Corine! That sounds fabulous. So glad you the recipe worked so well for you. It brings back a lot of memories for me as well.

      Cheers and get well soon!

      – Joe

  40. Thanks for the recipe! As a child, I loved Gerber Vanilla Custard. Gerber only makes it with banana now and has a tart taste to it. I don’t like that tart taste so I don’t buy it anymore. I was really happy to come across this simple recipe on your site. I love it! Thanks for the recipe.

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