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Everybody’s favorite summer potluck Chocolate Delight!
Layered chocolate pudding dessert
Growing up we always called this pan of deliciousness a 4-Layered Chocolate Dessert. Today most people refer to this recipe as Chocolate Delight, Chocolate Lasagna or Chocolate Layered Dessert.
Somewhere in there are a million variations to this recipe and most families have a favorite. Some add instant vanilla pudding mixed in with the cream cheese layer, others use a little less whipped topping.
However, after about 50 years of enjoying this summer potluck favorite, I guarantee our version is one of the best!
Mom always made this dessert with boxed instant chocolate pudding and everybody loved it. While I adore shortcuts (I really, really do) I also feel like we should have something super special when we splurge on dessert. After reading the words “artificial flavor” on the box of pudding, I knew we were ready for an update!
With this in mind I’ve tested and tweaked this heirloom recipe into a more homemade version. Our recipe is made with a rich homemade chocolate pudding layer, a little more cream cheese (Thanks Windy!) and more whipped topping.
Even though we wanted a completely homemade recipe, we kept the Cool Whip topping for stability. Homemade whipped cream won’t hold up as well on a hot summer day. Our favorite is the Extra-Creamy Cool Whip with the red label.
But don’t worry, we’ve included directions for the instant pudding shortcut too!
Ingredients needed to make Chocolate Delight:
For the bottom layer (pecan crust):
- all-purpose flour
- unsalted butter at room temperature
- chopped pecans
For the second layer (cream cheese):
- room temperature cream cheese
- powdered sugar
- Extra-Creamy Cool Whip topping
For the third layer (chocolate pudding):
- egg yolks
- granulated sugar
- all-purpose flour
- Dutch process cocoa powder
- whole milk
- good quality unsweetened bar chocolate (like Baker’s Unsweetened)
- unsalted butter
- vanilla extract
For the fourth layer (whipped cream):
- thawed Extra-Creamy Cool Whip
- grated pecans, mini-chocolate chips, chocolate curls or grated chocolate for topping
How to make Chocolate Delight:
First, make our homemade chocolate pudding for the third layer so it has time to chill before assembling.
Prepare the chocolate pudding:
- Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a saucepan then add milk and chopped chocolate.
- Cook until the mixture boils.
- Remove from the heat and temper the eggs with a little of the hot chocolate mixture.
- Pour the tempered eggs into the saucepan and continue cooking until the pudding is thick and smooth.
- Remove from the heat and add butter and vanilla.
- Cool slightly, then press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the pudding to prevent a film from forming. Refrigerate until cold before using.
NOTE: Homemade chocolate pudding can be made one day in advance and refrigerated until needed. If using instant cold pudding, there’s no need to make this layer ahead.
Prepare the bottom layer:
- Combine the crust ingredients and press into the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F until lightly browned. Cool completely before proceeding with the recipe.
Prepare the cream cheese (second) layer:
- In a medium bowl mix cream cheese and sugar together then fold in the whipped topping. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled crust.
Add the third layer:
- Scoop large dollops of pudding over the cream cheese layer. Spread to cover in an even layer. NOTE: Don’t stir the homemade pudding before layering.
Add the top (fourth) layer:
- Dollop Cool Whip over the pudding. Gently spread to cover then decorate with grated pecans (my favorite) or use mini-chocolate chips, chocolate curls or grated semi-sweet chocolate.
- Chill for 4 hours or overnight before serving.
Can you use other filling flavors instead of chocolate?
Yes indeed! Feel free to change it up and use other flavors in place of the chocolate pudding.
Flavor variation inspiration:
We have many cream filled pie recipes and puddings that are perfect for this layered dessert.
Make an Amaretto Lasagna using our filling for Amaretto Cream Pie in place of the chocolate pudding. Substitute almonds for the pecans in the crust and enjoy!
Another delicious option is to use rich, homemade Vanilla Pudding as the third layer. There’s nothing boring about our vanilla pudding! It’s loaded with flavor and beloved by all who try it.
Love Bailey’s Irish Cream? Yup, we do too. Use the filling recipe from our Baileys Irish Cream Pie for the third layer for a nice grownup layered dessert.
And finally, who doesn’t love butterscotch? Our Butterscotch Pie filling is perfect for layering in this dessert. Or try this Bourbon-Butterscotch Pudding for another grown-up option!
Chocolate Delight can be made ahead for easy entertaining.
The pudding layer can be made 24 hours in advance and refrigerated until needed. Once layered, this dessert will keep well refrigerated for another day before serving.
Leftovers are still good for 3 or 4 days so no worries if you want to hide a few pieces in the back of the fridge.
I don’t recommend freezing this dessert as a whole, but a slice or two will be fine frozen for up to a month. Cool Whip can be refrozen after being thawed, so there’s no issue there.
Optional crust ideas:
The unsweetened buttery pecan crust is my absolute favorite base for this dessert. The nuts have a wonderful toasted flavor and add a little nutty crunch which is the perfect compliment to the three creamy layers.
And, since the crust is unsweetened, there’s no sugar overload.
Some people enjoy a crushed chocolate cookie crust, too. If you’re looking for more, feel free to use our Oreo cookie crust recipe from this Chocolate Icebox Pie as a base.
This recipe is dreamy and memorable as written so try it first!
Sometimes it takes a village.
Years ago I lost many of my favorite family recipes in a recycling accident. Thank goodness for my sister-in-laws!
Both Windy and Briana still had mom’s original recipe and came to my rescue for the 50th time. They’re wonderful bakers and cooks and are always an inspiration.
Windy often makes this recipe for her hungry bunch and recommended increasing the cream cheese from the original recipe.
Mom’s recipe called for 11-ounces of cream cheese but Windy swears that by using 16-ounces instead, the compliments are through the roof!
Of course Windy was right, that little extra cream cheese seals the deal for us too! We also increased the Cool Whip on top for a thicker layer which makes for a prettier presentation.
Now we’ve shared our incredible homemade chocolate layer version with the world! I hope you’ll try this recipe soon.
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For the bottom layer:
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (196g)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (6oz or 170g) room temperature
- 1 ½ cups chopped pecans (150g or about 5 ½oz)
For the second layer:
- 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar (170g)
- 1 cup Cool Whip (80g) thawed
For the third layer:
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar (335g)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon Dutch process cocoa powder
- 3 cups whole milk (24oz)
- 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
For the fourth (top) layer:
- 8 ounces Cool Whip, thawed
- 1 cup grated pecans
Prepare the homemade chocolate pudding (third layer):
- Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside.
- In a deep saucepan combine the sugar, salt, cornstarch, flour and cocoa. Whisk in the milk and then add the chopped chocolate. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil for 1 minute then remove from the heat.
- While whisking the yolks constantly temper the eggs by slowly drizzling in one-third of the hot chocolate mixture. Pour the tempered egg and chocolate mixture back into the saucepan and return to the stovetop. Bring to a boil (it will be very thick) and continue boiling for 1 minute more, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla.
- Pour the hot pudding into a large bowl. Cool slightly then press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a film from forming. Leave out at room temperature until warm but not hot, then refrigerate until needed.
- The pudding can be prepared a day ahead before assembling the dessert.
Prepare the bottom layer:
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix the flour, salt, butter and pecans together and pour into a 13×9-inch pan. Gently press the mixture into an even layer using your hands or the flat bottom of a dry measuring cup. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and the pecans are fragrant. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Prepare the second layer:
- Beat the cream cheese and sugar together until blended. Using a spatula gently fold in 1 cup of Cool Whip. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled pecan crust.
Add the third layer:
- (Do not stir the pudding first) Scoop large dollops of cold pudding over the cream cheese layer. Using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon, gently spread into an even layer.
Add the fourth layer:
- Dollop large spoonfuls of Cool Whip over the pudding. Gently spread to cover. Top with grated pecans. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight before serving.
- Prepare the homemade chocolate pudding layer first so it has time to cool before assembling. Homemade pudding can be made one day in advance and refrigerated until needed.
- For an easy shortcut substitute two small (3.4oz) boxes Chocolate Instant Pudding for the homemade. Beat the pudding mix with 3 cups of cold milk for 5 minutes. If using instant pudding it can be assembled immediately after spreading the second cream cheese layer.
- Substitute walnuts or almonds for the pecans if desired
- Top with grated nuts, mini chocolate chips, grated chocolate or chocolate curls.
Since posting our Chocolate Delight recipe, I’ve received tons of comments from readers that make a similar dessert, but know it by a different name.
Many of these names are all new to me:
Chocolate Lush, Robert Redford Dessert, Robert Redford Cake, Next Best Thing to Robert Redford, Chocolate Yummy, Mississippi Mud Pie (in Louisiana), Chocolate Goo, Sex in a Pan, Chocolate Surprise, Next Best Thing to Sex, Ooey Gooey Pie, Oh God That’s Good (in a church recipe book), Chocolate Rush, Aunt Ruby’s Dessert, Chocolate Chip Cookie Delight (with a tube of cook dough as the base), Chocolate Sin and Yummy Dessert.
Many bakers wrote that lemon, butterscotch and pistachio are all great flavors, too. One said they add cherry pie filling, and another made it with vanilla pudding and added sliced bananas.
Several mentioned that they make it with real whipped cream and it holds up fine. For all those who don’t want to use Cool Whip, this is great news!
And finally, one baker mentioned adding a few tablespoons of dry milk powder to the whipped cream to help stabilize it. Brilliant trick I can’t wait to try!
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