I have virtually no culinary skills; but this recipe has some fooled into thinking I inherited some of my Southern family's skills (I haven't).
I've made this many times over the last 4 years and the leftovers never go home with all begging for the recipe.
My suggestions for success (based on some of my failures) are:
1. Make sure the cream cheese is soft, I've dunked the intact package in a bowl of warm water for a quick soften and it's worked fine.
2. Make sure to thoroughly mix the cream cheese and condensed milk otherwise the pudding will be lumpy. Very important in my family as some members "hate" cream cheese and wouldn't eat it otherwise, as it stands they gobble up this recipe none the wiser.
3. Make sure to use the instant pudding otherwise you will have vanilla soup.
As for substitutions, I've replaced many of the ingredients with lower fat/sugar options all with great pudding. Low fat cream cheese (can't spell the real name), fat-free condensed milk, diet vanilla pudding, lite whipped topping. The recipe works fine with any and all of the above.
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I have virtually no culinary skills; but this recipe has some fooled into thinking I inherited...