Cheater pie

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I cheat. Often. I learned it from my grandmother, who is a star at turning semiprepared foods into something to crave. Her “eclair pudding” is little more than graham crackers and chocolate syrup layered with Cool Whip and vanilla pudding mix.

It was with that in mind, I began serving guests upside-down banana and chocolate cream pies. Something a touch playful, but on a quarter-per-person dessert budget.

It’s simple enough, but are two essentials to pulling it off without guests thinking you’re being lame:

• You must use homemade whipped cream or nondairy whipped topping, like Cool Whip. Squirt-can whipped cream loses its bubbles too quickly and will turn milky.

• You have to serve it in some kind of clear bowl so guests can see the effect. I use 9-ounce tumblers which otherwise would sit next to a punch bowl.

Bottom: Whipped cream or topping. Prepare more than you think you’ll need. You can also apply a tad of chocolate syrup.

Middle: Packaged pudding mix, prepared with 25 percent less milk so it stiffens, then folded with some of the whipped cream or whipped topping. Streaks are OK.

Top: Graham crackers, melted butter and brown sugar pulsed in a food processor until coarse.

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