Today's recipe is a twist on a classic Southern banana pudding. The flavors are traditional, only with a hint of bourbon for pizzazz. It's the presentation that's updated. Turning a pudding into a trifle is like taking a plain Jane and putting her in a debutant dress. Everything shines brighter in buttons and bows.

A classic glass trifle dish lets the lovely alternating layers of vanilla wafers, pudding and bananas show through but any clear glass dish will do. Add banana slices and dollops of cream for a last-minute garnish. It tastes as good as it looks.

Banana pudding is interwoven into our heritage growing up in the South, and it's popular still. This dessert is highly likely to show up at a Fourth of July barbecue, at a church supper or at an impromptu potluck. Our version is the no-bake, cold variety, so the assembly is a snap, and the ingredients are easy to keep on hand for effortless summer entertaining.

Your guests will love this dressed-up dessert, and so will you!


Start to finish: 25 minutes preparation, plus 4 to 6 hours unattended chilling time

2 packages (3.4 ounces each) instant vanilla pudding (see Cook's note)

3 cups skim or low-fat milk

5 large ripe bananas

1 tablespoon bourbon (see Cook's note)

1 tablespoon apple juice (see Cook's note)

1 box reduced-fat vanilla wafers (see Cook's note)

1 carton (12 ounces) reduced-fat nondairy whipped topping, such as Cool Whip

Cook's note: Be sure to buy instant pudding (the no-cook variety) that serves four, and do not make it according to the package directions. (You'll be using less milk for this recipe.) French-vanilla flavor also works.

You'll use only about 3/4 of the box of vanilla wafers. The exact number of wafers doesn't matter for this recipe. Regular vanilla wafers can be used.

You can omit the bourbon and use 2 tablespoons of apple juice for an alcohol-free version. Also, if you don't have apple juice, you can mix the bourbon with 1 tablespoon water.

Place the pudding mix from both packages and 3 cups of milk into a 2-quart mixing bowl. (Do not mix according to the package directions. You're using less milk than the package indicates.) Whisk for 1 minute until all of the powdered mix disappears. Set aside. (The pudding will be thin. It will thicken as it stands.) Peel one banana, and cut it into slices about 1/4-inch thick, and set aside. Mix the bourbon and apple juice together in a small cup or dish and set aside.

Pour about 1/4 cup pudding into the bottom of a trifle bowl (or any glass bowl with a 16-cup capacity) and spread it very thinly around the bottom of the bowl. Place enough vanilla wafers lying flat over the pudding to cover the bottom of the bowl.

Then, against the side of the bowl, place an alternating ring of banana slices and wafers, with the rounded side of the wafers and the flat side of the bananas pressed against the outside of the bowl to show through the glass. Press them into the pudding to help them stay upright.

Using a spoon, drizzle about half of the bourbon-and-apple-juice mixture over the wafers to moisten them slightly. Place the remaining banana slices that you've cut so far over the wafers. Pour half of the remaining pudding over the bananas, and spread it as evenly as possible, making sure that some of the pudding reaches the edges of the bowl so it will show through the glass. Spread about half of the whipped topping over the pudding layer, making sure that some of it reaches the edges of the bowl.

Place another layer of vanilla wafers over the whipped topping, and drizzle on remaining bourbon mixture. Peel and slice two more bananas. Place another alternating ring of banana slices and wafers around the outside edge of the bowl, as before. Scatter the remaining banana slices over the wafers, as before.

Pour the remaining pudding over the banana layer, spreading it as before, and then the remaining whipped topping, spreading it over the top of the trifle. Use a damp paper towel to clean any splatters from the rim of the trifle bowl. Peel and slice one banana. Place another alternating ring of banana slices and wafers around the edge of the bowl as a garnish, pressing the cookies about halfway into the whipped toping. (Do not peel the remaining banana. It will be used as a garnish.)

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours. Just before serving, unwrap the trifle and peel and slice the remaining banana. Arrange the slices over the whipped topping. To serve, present the trifle whole (at its most beautiful), then spoon into individual dessert bowls.

Serves 15 generously.

Approximate values per serving: 218 calories (15 percent from fat), 4 g fat (3 g saturated), 98 mg cholesterol, 3 g protein, 45 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, 265 mg sodium.

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap.Fast.Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at © United Feature Syndicate Inc.