Better than cheesecake (and faster and easier to make!), these treats are true crowd-pleasers. Perfect for parties since you make them ahead and hold them in the fridge, these vanilla puddings with a salty-sweet pretzel crust are great topped with fruit (a fresh or cooked compote) or chocolate shavings or pearls.

The puddings take well to flavor variations, too; be sure to read Baking Together #24: Vanilla Cheesecake Puddings to Make Ahead for those variations and lots of tips before you start the recipe. The recipe calls for 6 ounce ramekins, but small heat-proof jars can be used, too.

Susie Middleton

Makes 6 servings.

For the crust

1/2 cup (1 7/8 ounces) finely ground pretzel crumbs
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons (1 1/4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

For the pudding

6 tablespoons (2 5/8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) cornstarch
Pinch of table salt
4 yolks from large eggs
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) whole milk
8 ounces cream cheese (block-style), cut into small pieces and softened to room temperature
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


Make the crust

1. Lightly grease six, 6-ounce ramekins (or 6-ounce heatproof glass jars) and make room in the fridge for them to lay flat.

2. Put the crumbs, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and stir until blended. Pour the melted butter over the crumbs. Using a rubber or silicone spatula, stir and smear the crumbs until the butter is evenly incorporated and the crumbs are evenly moist. It should have a distinct sweet/salty flavor so give it a taste and add a pinch more salt if needed. Evenly divide the crumbs (about 2 rounded tablespoons) between the ramekins. Using the back of a large tablespoon, gently press the crumbs evenly into the bottom of the ramekins and refrigerate until the pudding is ready.


Make the pudding

1. Put the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan and whisk until well blended. Add the yolks and whisk until well blended (tilt the pan in several directions so the edges are exposed and get in there with the tip of the whisk as necessary) and lighter in color. Add the milk and whisk until well blended. Make sure to scrape the bottom edges of the pan (just like the above directions) to incorporate all the sugar-cornstarch-egg mixture.

2. Cook, whisking constantly, over medium-low heat until the mixture comes to a boil. The foam and bubbles will slowly dissipate as the mixture thickens. Boil, whisking constantly (don’t forget to get into the bottom edges – see above), for one minute more. Slide the pan off the heat, add the cream cheese and gently whisk until the cream cheese is melted. If the cream cheese is stubborn to melt, set the pan over low and cook, whisking constantly, until it’s melted and the pudding is smooth, about one to two minutes. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla extract.

3. If you would like to eliminate any stray bits of cream cheese, strain the pudding (*see note). Evenly ladle or pour the hot pudding over the crusts. Press pieces of plastic wrap directly on the puddings’ surface to prevent a skin from forming. (If you like the skin, cover only the top of the ramekins with plastic and not the surface of the pudding.) Refrigerate until chilled, about four hours or up to two days.

For serving:  Remove the plastic wrap and top with fruit compote or chocolate curls or shards.