Learn how to successfully make banana pudding the day before without ending up with brown bananas and soggy cookies. Get smart tips and techniques to prevent problems before they happen.
What if I told you, that you could make banana pudding 24 to 36 hours before you serve it? Maybe even 48 hours early. With no brown bananas and the cookie layer intact.
I experimented to figure out specific tricks to keep every layer of the pudding the perfect texture.
How early can you make banana pudding? You can make banana pudding the day before and even earlier. But only if you take steps to prevent banana browning, use the right cookie, and cover the pudding with plastic wrap before refrigerating in an airtight container.
This article will explore what causes banana pudding to go wrong and specific steps you can take to keep the pudding fresh for as long as possible.
Table of contents
- The Key to Fresh Banana Pudding
- What Makes Sliced Bananas Turn Brown?
- How Can I Prevent Sliced Bananas from Turning Brown?
- Use This Cookie if You are Making Banana Pudding the Day Before
- How to Store Banana Pudding to Keep it Fresh
- How to Serve
- Other things to Consider When Making Banana Pudding Early
- Make Ahead Banana Pudding With No Fear
- Craving More Pudding Recipes?
Banana pudding is a layered recipe, like the English dessert, trifle. A layer of wafer cookies, followed by banana slices, and covered with vanilla pudding. Garnish with crumbled cookies, dollops of whipped cream, or FRESH banana slices just before serving.
The Key to Fresh Banana Pudding
The bananas are the key to fresh banana pudding. When bananas turn brown or black, they make the pudding unappealing. Even if the banana itself still tastes fine.
Vanilla pudding alone will be good for up to 4 or 5 days before it is layered with bananas and cookies.
The best cookies will remain soft and intact in the pudding for up to 3 days.
However, if your banana is unappealing, the pudding is unappealing.
Fortunately, with a little planning, you can keep your bananas from turning brown and you can make banana pudding the day before you plan to serve it. Or even earlier.
What Makes Sliced Bananas Turn Brown?
When a banana is peeled or sliced, it starts to turn brown. The browning on a banana is like rust forming on metal.
Rust forms on iron when it is exposed to water and oxygen. Rust forms on banana flesh when it is exposed to oxygen.
The flesh of bananas has the antioxidant dopamine and a protein enzyme called polyphenol oxidase. When a banana is cut and the flesh is exposed to oxygen, the polyphenol oxidase causes the enzymatic oxidation of dopamine. The result – banana browning.
Just because a cut banana gets brown spots doesn’t mean it is bad. You can still eat it.
However, a slice of brown banana is unsightly and unappealing in banana pudding.
How Can I Prevent Sliced Bananas from Turning Brown?
Remember that you can make banana pudding as early as 24 to 36 hours before serving it if you keep the bananas from turning brown.
To keep bananas from turning brown in banana pudding, try a few of these cool tricks!
The Perfect Time to Slice a Banana
The minute the banana is exposed to oxygen, browning starts. To minimize browning, prepare the vanilla pudding and gather everything else before you slice the bananas.
Wait until the last minute to slice the bananas so they will have less time exposed to oxygen.
Use the peel to protect the flesh from oxygen. This is easiest if you peel the front side of the banana peel off the banana and then slice it while it is still in the rest of the peel. Then fold the front peel back in place on top of the banana slices until you are ready to use them.
However, if you plan to make the banana pudding the day before and garnish the top with sliced bananas, DO NOT SLICE THE BANANA UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO SERVE THE PUDDING.
Yes, that is an important enough instruction to be in all caps.
The Power of an Acid
Acids, such as citrus juices or vinegar, slow the banana browning process. If you think you need an extra boost of protection, try an acid.
Use diluted lemon, orange, pineapple, lime, or grapefruit juice. You can also use vinegar.
Dilute the juice or vinegar with water. This minimizes the taste of the juice or vinegar from seeping into the banana. Which in turn could change the flavor of the banana pudding.
Use a ratio of 1 cup of water to 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid acid.
Keep the bananas in the acid solution for the shortest amount of time possible or they might get mushy.
- Prepare one cup of cold water and mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of citrus juice or vinegar into the water.
- Slice the banana.
- Place the banana slices into the liquid for 15 seconds.
- Pull the banana slices out of the citrus water. Shake excess liquid off. Pat dry with a paper towel, if necessary.
- Use the bananas as soon as possible.
The Important Role of Your Knife
You may be surprised that a knife makes a difference in the rate of banana browning. Weird, but true.
Kitchen knives are usually made of a steel alloy. An alloy is a mixture of metals.
Carbon added to steel makes carbon steel or chromium added to carbon steel makes stainless steel. These mixtures of metals help prevent the knife from rusting.
A steel knife, particularly a lower-quality knife or one that has some corrosion (rust) on it, can increase the rate of browning if it is used to slice the banana.
One way to slow banana browning is to cut the banana with a ceramic or plastic knife instead of a steel alloy knife.
Add Some Heat
Polyphenol oxidase (the enzyme that causes the browning reaction) is heat-sensitive. So, heating bananas is another method to slow down browning.
BEWARE: Cooking bananas changes the taste and texture of the banana.
Many banana pudding recipes call for raw bananas. However, caramelizing the bananas can prevent the oxidation browning you are trying to avoid.
Directions to Caramelize Bananas
- Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium low heat.
- Add ⅓ cup light brown sugar and stir constantly until the sugar melts.
- Slice 4 bananas into ½ inch thick slices.
- Add bananas to the pan and stir to coat.
- Cook 1 to 2 minutes. Flip the bananas and cook 1 more minute. The banana slices should still be firm.
- Remove from heat and chill before making the pudding.
Caramelized bananas are a caramel color, but not because of enzymatic browning.
Try a Barrier
The best way to limit the exposure of the banana to oxygen is to keep the oxygen from reaching the banana.
The pudding makes an excellent barrier, so do not skimp on the pudding layer. Make sure the sliced bananas are completely covered with the pudding.
Some people mix the banana slices into a small amount of pudding before layering them over the cookies. If this works for you, go for it. Make sure to follow the banana layer up with a thick layer of pudding.
I find this method challenging because it is difficult to get an even layer of banana. With an uneven layer, the edges of the banana slices might stick up through the pudding.
If even a little bit of a banana slice pokes up out of the pudding, it will brown quickly. Ask me how I know!
The Right Kind of Container
Just as vanilla pudding creates a barrier between the banana and the air, an airtight container serves the same function. Storing the pudding in an airtight container will help keep oxygen away from the banana.
Choose a serving dish with a secure lid if you plan to make banana pudding early.
In a pinch, place plastic wrap flat on the pudding and then cover the whole dish in two layers of aluminum foil. This is not the best method, but it is adequate.
It is best to eat the pudding within 12 hours if you do not have an airtight container.
The cool, dry climate of the refrigerator slows the browning process down.
When bananas are picked, they are green and unripe. To keep them from ripening before they reach grocery stores, they are shipped in refrigerated cargo holds.
Refrigeration is just as effective at slowing the ripening and browning process after bananas are sliced.
Directions for most banana pudding recipes call for refrigeration after the layers are set in the serving dish. As the pudding chills, the cookies soften, the flavors blend, and the banana browning slows.
Now that you have a plan to keep the bananas fresh, let’s move on to the ideal cookie for make-ahead banana pudding.
Use This Cookie if You are Making Banana Pudding the Day Before
I did an experiment to find out what cookie is best to use in banana pudding. During the study, I figured out which cookie is best to use if you are making the pudding ahead of time.
Vanilla wafers (Nilla wafers) and butter cookies (Chessman butter cookies) are the best cookies to use when serving traditional banana pudding within 4 to 24 hours.
After 24 hours, the pudding absorbed the cookie, and it was hard to distinguish the cookie layer. And I love the cookie layer.
When making banana pudding 24 to 36 hours early, consider Keebler Sandies shortbread cookies. These cookies are thick and stand up to longer refrigeration time without disintegrating into the pudding.
How to Store Banana Pudding to Keep it Fresh
When making banana pudding the day before, choose a serving dish with an airtight lid.
But first, place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the finished, but ungarnished pudding. This prevents a skin from forming on the pudding.
Do not garnish the top of the pudding yet. Wait until you are ready to serve it before adding crumbled cookies, banana slices, or whipped cream.
After covering the pudding with plastic wrap, secure the lid.
How to Serve
Fifteen to twenty minutes before serving, remove the banana pudding from the refrigerator. Pudding needs to lose some of its refrigerator chill for best taste.
It should still be cold though. How early you remove it from the refrigerator depends on your kitchen temperature.
If you are transporting it to a party, keep it in the refrigerator until travel time.
After removal from the refrigerator, take off the airtight lid and remove the plastic wrap.
Prepare any garnishes, except for any banana slices. Crumble cookies (or leave them intact). Whip the cream.
Garnish with cookies or whipped cream, if desired. Immediately before serving, slice bananas and garnish the top.
Interested in more creative ways to serve banana pudding? Check out the post on all the cool ways to serve banana pudding.
Other things to Consider When Making Banana Pudding Early
Ripeness of the Banana Matters
If you will be serving the banana pudding 24 to 36 hours after you make it, choose bananas that are just ripe, but not too ripe. In my banana pudding cookie observation, I discovered that as time passed, the bananas ripened in the refrigerator and tasted sweeter.
However, after 48 hours they became too ripe and mushy and started tasting like they should be in banana bread instead of banana pudding.
To prevent this problem, start with ripe, but not too ripe bananas. Choose bananas with a yellow peel. A few brown spots are ok.
If the banana peel has lots of brown spots, it is not the best choice for banana pudding that will be served a day or two after it is prepared.
Pudding Consistency will Diminish Over Time
After about 36 to 48 hours, the pudding can start to break down and become runny. To keep the best pudding consistency, eat within 24 to 36 hours.
Enjoy my homemade from scratch banana pudding recipe. Make it the day before and eat within 36 hours.
If you prefer using boxed pudding, see the banana pudding recipe included at the end of my banana pudding cookie test post.
Banana pudding should not be left out overnight. If you accidentally leave it out overnight, be safe and throw it out.
Banana pudding contains dairy products, which should always be refrigerated.
According to the National Dairy Council, milk products should not be out of the refrigerator for longer than two hours or longer than one hour in hot weather. If dairy products are out of the refrigerator for longer than this, bacteria can start to grow.
Refrigeration also slows banana browning. Chances are, if you left the pudding out overnight, the bananas will be brown.
Be safe. Throw it out.
The party is over and you still have leftover banana pudding. Store it the same way you stored it when you made it early.
Place a fresh piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. Then place the lid on the airtight container. Place the container in the refrigerator.
Keep leftover pudding in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours. Remember the pudding is only as fresh as the bananas.
It may be tempting to freeze leftover banana pudding if you don’t think you will eat it right away. Freezing the pudding is not the problem. However, thawing it is the challenge.
Pudding is made up of dairy and dairy does not freeze well. Or rather, it does not thaw well.
The pudding texture will break down and get runny after it has been frozen and then thawed.
Browning is a problem for bananas when they thaw. With the pudding breaking down, the bananas do not get adequate coverage and protection against oxygen.
I would only recommend freezing banana pudding in two situations.
First, if you have a specific recipe for frozen banana pudding, then freeze away.
Second, freeze in individual serving sizes. Pull out single serving sizes from the freezer and allow them to slightly thaw (30 minutes to an hour) and eat the pudding when it is still slightly frozen.
Make Ahead Banana Pudding With No Fear
You have solutions to all the issues that may arise when making banana pudding early.
Make your banana pudding the day before with confidence!
Old-Fashioned Banana Pudding (from scratch)
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 1 + ½ cup heavy whipping cream separated
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar separated
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 2 egg yolks room temperature, whisked slightly with a fork
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 11 oz. package of 'Nilla wafers OR Keebler Sandies shortbread cookies (if making earlier than 24 hours before serving)
- 3 to 4 medium just ripe bananas
- POUR 2 cups of milk and ½ cup cream into a 4 quart sauce pan.
- STIR in ¼ cup granulated sugar and the salt. Stir briefly to combine.
- WARM over medium heat until the liquid gets steamy and the sugar has dissolved. Stir occasionally. The liquid should not boil, but should reach between 180° and 190°F.
- PREPARE a cornstarch slurry. Slowly whisk the cornstarch into the cold water. Stir until it is a thick slurry. Set aside until the milk/cream mixture is ready.
- SEPARATE the yolks from two room temperature eggs. Use the egg whites in another recipe. Gently whisk the yolks with a fork. Set aside.
- When the milk/cream mixture is steamy, SLOWLY DRIZZLE the cornstarch slurry into the hot liquid, whisking constantly. It will start to thicken immediately.
- Continue to WHISK constantly over medium heat until the mixture is thickened and starts to bubble. Be patient. Depending on your stove it may take between 15 and 30 minutes. (Gas stove tops are quicker and electric stove tops take longer. Sauce pan quality also plays a role.)
- After it begins to bubble, STIR for one more minute. Then remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool for 1 minute.
- TEMPER the egg yolks. Spoon a small amount (1 or 2 teaspoons) of hot pudding into the yolks and whisk with the fork. Continue to add the hot pudding in small amounts, whisking constantly until half of the pudding is in the yolks.
- WHISK the egg yolk/pudding mixture back into the pan (that is still off heat) until it is completely incorporated.
- RETURN the pan to medium heat and whisk constantly until the pudding begins to bubble again. Cook for 1 minute.
- REMOVE the pudding from the heat and turn off the stove.
- POUR the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer in to a bowl with an airtight lid (even if you do not see lumps).
- STIR in the butter and vanilla.
- COOL the pudding, stirring every few minutes. The pudding will continue to thicken as it cools.
- When the pudding has cooled (20 or 30 minutes), COVER pudding with a piece of plastic wrap by pressing the plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. This prevents a skin from forming on the pudding as it cools.
- SECURE the lid to the top of the container and place it in the refrigerator until completely chilled, about 2 hours.
- WHIP the cream. Place 1 cup of heavy cream in a chilled bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Using a hand or stand mixer with a wire whip, whip the cream until it forms medium peaks.
- REMOVE the pudding from the refrigerator and use a hand mixer to mix until smooth. It will be slightly thick.
- BLEND in the sour cream with a hand mixer.
- FOLD in the whipped cream. Do not overmix.
- LAYER the cookies on the bottom of a container with an airtight lid. Reserve a few cookies to use as a garnish, if desired.
- SLICE a banana in ¼ inch disks and layer the disks on top of the cookies. (Slice the bananas as needed as you work.)
- SMOOTH a thick layer of banana pudding over the banana slices, covering them completely.
- REPEAT layering cookies, banana slices, and pudding until the container is ¾ of the way full, ending with the pudding layer.
- COVER with plastic wrap and secure the lid. Chill overnight, and up to 36 hours.
- TO SERVE, remove the pudding from the refrigerator. Let it sit on the counter for 5 minutes.
- REMOVE the lid and the plastic wrap. Crush the extra cookies or add several fresh banana slices to garnish.
- SERVE immediately.
Craving More Pudding Recipes?
- Strawberry Banana Pudding: Try classic, throwback, or modern strawberry banana pudding. Change the strawberries, change the recipe. Another perfect potluck dish.
- Cream Cheese Banana Pudding with Chessmen Cookies: Make the best banana pudding with Chessmen cookies recipe (cream cheese, pudding, bananas, cookies). Firm no-bake dessert holds its shape.