Four-Layer Surprise Recipe (2024)

By Lisa Donovan

Updated March 6, 2024

Four-Layer Surprise Recipe (1)

Total Time
6 hours 20 minutes
Prep Time
20 minutes
Cook Time
1 hour, plus at least 5 hours’ chilling
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Is there anything more evocative of childhood than chocolate pudding? When dressed up with a salty pecan crust and a fluffy cream cheese layer, that nostalgic lunchbox treat becomes the kind of dessert that is an absolute pleasure to eat and to share. It is great for a crowd, it is fun and easy in its presentation and it is absolutely delicious. Originally made with store-bought whipped cream and chocolate pudding mix, this dessert (sometimes called delight or four-layer delight) deserves to be resurrected from scratch, using freshly whipped cream, rich dark chocolate and toasty nuts, for a new generation to enjoy.

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Yield:8 to 10 servings (one 9-by-13-inch dessert)

    For the Pudding

    • ½cup/65 grams cornstarch
    • ¼cup/25 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 2medium to large eggs, lightly beaten
    • 1cup/200 grams granulated sugar
    • 3cups/720 milliliters whole milk
    • 1cup/240 milliliters heavy whipping cream
    • 2teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
    • ½teaspoon kosher salt (or ¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt)
    • 2ounces/60 grams bittersweet chocolate (about 65 percent cacao), finely chopped

    For the Crust

    • cups/188 grams all-purpose flour
    • ¾cup/90 grams toasted and finely chopped pecans
    • ¾cup/173 grams melted unsalted butter
    • 3tablespoons granulated sugar
    • teaspoons kosher salt (or ¾ teaspoon coarse kosher salt)

    For the Whipped Cream

    • 2cups/480 milliliters heavy whipping cream
    • ¾cup/95 grams confectioners’ sugar
    • 1teaspoon vanilla extract

    For the Cream Cheese Filling

    • 8ounces/225 grams cream cheese, softened
    • 1cup/125 grams confectioners’ sugar

    For Serving

    • ½cup/60 grams toasted and roughly chopped pecans

Ingredient Substitution Guide

Nutritional analysis per serving (10 servings)

921 calories; 64 grams fat; 34 grams saturated fat; 1 gram trans fat; 20 grams monounsaturated fat; 6 grams polyunsaturated fat; 80 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams dietary fiber; 56 grams sugars; 11 grams protein; 518 milligrams sodium

Note: The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Four-Layer Surprise Recipe (2)


  1. Step


    Prepare the pudding: In a large heatproof bowl, using a fork, mix together the cornstarch and cocoa powder. Add the eggs and mix until well combined. (The mixture will form a thick paste.)

  2. Step


    In a medium saucepan, heat the granulated sugar, milk and cream over medium until sugar has dissolved, stirring frequently.

  3. Step


    Slowly and gradually whisk a ladleful of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking until combined, then whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, a ladleful at a time. Pour the milk-egg mixture back into the saucepan and place it over low to medium heat.

  4. Step


    Cook the mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk, heatproof spatula or flat wooden spoon until thick and bubbly (it should resemble pudding at this stage and register between 165 and 170 degrees on a thermometer, if using), 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in vanilla and salt and remove from heat. If the mixture feels lumpy, pass through a fine-mesh sieve, if you’d like.

  5. Whisk in chocolate until combined. Transfer the warm pudding to a bowl and place plastic film directly on top to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until completely cooled, about 3 hours.

  6. Step


    Meanwhile, prepare the crust: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, using your hands, combine the flour, pecans, melted butter, granulated sugar and salt until well incorporated. Press the crumb mixture evenly into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Chill in the refrigerator or freezer for 10 minutes and then bake until pale golden and firm when pressed, 20 to 25 minutes. Place on a wire rack; let cool completely at room temperature.

  7. Step


    When ready to assemble, prepare the whipped cream: In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the cream to soft peaks. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat to firm peaks, starting on low speed then increasing to high, scraping the side of the bowl as needed. If using the stand mixer, transfer the whipped cream to a separate bowl.

  8. Step


    Prepare the cream cheese filling: In the same stand-mixer bowl (no need to clean) using the paddle attachment or in a second bowl using the hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until creamy, then beat in the confectioners’ sugar on medium speed, scraping the side of the bowl as needed. Add 2 cups of the whipped cream and beat on low until combined.

  9. Step


    To assemble: Evenly spread the cream cheese filling on the cooled crust. Spread chocolate pudding on the cream cheese layer, then top with the remaining whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate until everything is cold throughout and set, at least 3 hours and up to overnight.

  10. Step


    To serve, sprinkle with ½ cup toasted chopped pecans. Enjoy cold.



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Cooking Notes


the version i learned how to make was called "Better Than Robert Redford." Melt 1 stick margarine, pour into an 7x11 pan (probably originally 9x13, but the smaller pan produces thicker layers), add 1 and a half cups graham cracker crumbs and freeze for 5 minutes. Blend 8 oz room-temp cream cheese with 1 cup confectioners' sugar, add 4 oz of thawed Cool Whip. Spread this over crust.Prepare 2 packages of instant chocolate pudding using 3 cups milk, spread this over cream cheese. Top with nuts.

KJ Dude

This was a Christmas Get-Together special around our Michigan family. However it was chopped Snickers Bars on the top rather than the Pecans. Because if you're going all out, don't stop yourself.


Could you share the original recipe?

Kate Jensen

If you over whip the cream don’t despair! Add a little (2 tbsps at most) unwhipped cream (or milk) and stir gently, this will take the cream back to the perfectly whipped stage.


This is even better with pistachios and pistachio pudding


I remember my mom doing a graham cracker crust variation--pulverized graham crackers mixed with nuts and melted butter and pressed into the bottom of the pan. She would also sometimes add a layer of cherry pie filling between the cream cheese and chocolate pudding. Thanks for the nostalgia!


Big smiles reading the article and recipe! My mother called the dessert "Chocolate Torte". Years ago, I developed basically the same 'from scratch' dessert using organic ingredients. We call it 'Supreme Organic Junk Food' and it is as beloved in my family as the original junk food recipe. Side by side, the scratch version is 100% tastier. If chocolate isn't your thing, a butterscotch version is as easy and delicious. I hope everyone who fondly remembers the dessert will try this version.

Tom B.

I completely understand the desire to make a "real" version of this and ditching the store-bought convenience versions of the layers. But...for those of us who won't be able to finish this in a day, or maybe like having leftovers after putting a certain amount of effort into cooking something, not using stabilized whipped cream will most likely result in a watery mess after a day in the fridge. I hate to think I am making a pitch to use something like Cool Whip, but maybe a stabilizer?

Richard X

Since the whipped cream goes on last, why not whip the cream as needed and add it at serving time?


Did anyone else call this dessert Robert Redford?


This is my all-time favorite dessert, I mean all-time. I had this for every birthday party in elementary school instead of birthday cake. This is the fancy version, which is fantastic, but you can certainly include or omit convenience ingredients. The original recipe uses Jell-o instant pudding and Cool Whip; I don't have a problem with the Jell-o-it's just sugar and cornstarch which go into pudding anyway-but Cool Whip is icky. Use real whipped cream. Thank you!


This is to gc: Now you're talking! Thanks for the "real deal," which is with the store bought puddings and what not. (I will always love the cakes my 1950s/60s mom and aunts made using mixes and embellishing them. I don't want to do that everyday, but now and again I do.)

Barbara From Atlanta

Excluding the nuts, this recipe sounds like a dessert my aunt made for decades that she called "Chocolate Delight." She's been gone for years. I miss her and her dessert. I may have to try this recipe in her honor ----excluding the nuts, of course.

Lisa Morrison

My coworker makes his mom’s version, Pistachio Lush. I feel no shame in begging him to bring it whenever there is an office potluck.

Ken Adams

My sister provided the recipe [ from the inside of the pistaccio pudding box ] to my wife and she made it for over 40 years for special occasions . We like it both ways . Also like it better with a nutty crust rather than graham cracker !


Why is there so much butter in the crust? I thought it was going to be like a press-in crust, but the dough is very wet. It bakes to a fine texture, but still tastes very buttery.


Love this! My mom always called it Robert Redford, lol.

Melissat T

A nightmare🤯. Butter in crust separated when it baked and ended up with half on top, melted, and a thin layer of toffee. Triple checked and measurements were right. Ugh!

Kristen W

If you are weighing the ingredients, the amounts are off.

Jay from SF

Use a little gelatin to stabilize whipped cream (from The New All Purpose Joy of Cooking). Sprinkle 1/2 tsp. gelatin over 1 Tbsp. cold water in a heatproof custard cup. Let stand 5 minutes to soften. Set custard cup with gelatin in a small pan with a little hot water; heat until gelatin dissolves. Beat 1 cup minus 2 Tbsp. heavy cream, with 1 Tbsp. sugar & 1/2 tsp. vanilla using electric mixer. Stir reserved 2 Tbsp. heavy cream into gelatin mixture & continue beating until stiff enough. Chill.


Ok to switch out the all purpose flour for a gluten free type?


I did and it was fine.


Moving to the South as a young bride in the 70's, my mother-in-law made this often, it was called Million Dollar Dessert, made with baked crust, instant Jell-o Pudding, Cool Whip and lots of pecans. Wonderful memories!


My mom made the “store bought” version and called it “Holy Smokr.”


I've made pudding from scratch for years, but this one didn't set even though I followed the recipe, reached the temp range, etc. Ate a bit anyway to check the flavors, and it seems good, especially the cream cheese layer on the crust. Agree with the comment that you should top it with fresh whipped cream as the remainder used in the cream cheese layer is likely to break while the pan chills overnight.


Mine sat overnight and the cream cheese layer did not break. Some people are making up problems without trying the recipe.

Kristen W

I had the same problem with the pudding. Also, the volume/weight is off on most of the ingredients. 1 1/2 cups of flour weighs 180 grams.

Kristen W

Lee-Lee, I think what people are pointing out is that the top layer of whipping cream, which is leftover from making the cream cheese layer is breaking when left overnight.


As many people have noted, this is the more labor-intensive version of a popular dessert made with Cool Whip and jello pudding called Chocolate Delight (and other names). The point being, you can sub in any pudding mix (lemon, butterscotch, vanilla, pistachio). You can also swap out the pecans for pulverized oreos, shortbread cookies, pretzels, graham crackers, peanuts etc. If you aren't eating it all in one sitting, the Cool Whip layer lasts longer than homemade whipped cream.


I’ve made this twice and both times it was delicious, and sleep-inducing! It must be the pork.


My grandmother used to make this but with butterscotch pudding. She called it butterscotch torte, and it reminds me of my childhood. I like chocolate pudding better, and make it in the summer for my kids.


It reminds me of something we called "striped delight"

Caroline L

My mother in law makes this with lemon pudding and calls it Lemon Lush...its one of my Husband's favorites!!!


For me the surprise (and, to be honest, disappointment) is that what clearly appeared to me as a hot dog buried in the lower depths of this desert in the illustration photo, upon further examination and closer reading turns out to be merely chocolate pudding.


In the unlikely event that every crumb doesn’t disappear quickly, this amazing dessert can be frozen. I don’t make it often nowadays, or have leftovers when I do make it, but as I recall it’s best to serve the leftovers frozen (ideally with freshly made coffee) and eat as it thaws.

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Four-Layer Surprise Recipe (2024)


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