I’ve been on a pudding tear this week. I feel pudding does not get the respect it deserves. Some milk, some flavoring, some cornstarch, you’ve got a wonderful dessert that takes about ten minutes to put together. It’s refreshing on a hot day, comforting on a cold night, and anyone with any sense likes it.
Pudding gets short shrift; you don’t see it on dessert menus in restaurants, and if you do, it’s presented in fancier forms: mousses or chocolate pots de creme. Which are fine, don’t get me wrong. But they’re not pudding. No one serves pudding at dinner parties, and they should.
So this week, I had guests for Shabbat dinner, and I decided to take a strong stand on the matter and serve pudding for dessert. Why else do I have all these ramekins anyhow, right? I made two kinds of pudding: butterscotch and chocolate. I think all the children wound up with chocolate and all the adults wound up with butterscotch but no one seemed to feel they were missing out. At least, if they did, they played nice and I wasn’t aware of anyone feeling sad.
My husband whipped up some cream a la minute — causing one guest to express great awe that such a thing could be done by hand — and we had enough left over that I said this morning, “Well, it looks like I have to make more pudding.” So today, this afternoon, while it was raining and my daughter was rushing around the house giggling and screeching with a little pal, I went into the kitchen and made another batch of pudding.
This time, to use up the cup of coffee leftover from this morning, I made a mocha pudding. This is a trick Peg Bracken suggests but admits that if you did it too often you’d never want to eat pudding ever again. It’s true. On the other hand, tonight, it was absolutely delicious, and my daughter requested that mocha pudding and corn pudding be the only dishes served at Thanksgiving this week.
This is basically a riff on the “best chocolate pudding” recipe as presented at Smitten Kitchen. However, it’s sufficiently different that I’m going to call it my own.
1/4 cup (30 grams) cornstarch
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar plus maybe a tablespoon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream: get the best you can, ideally with no weird gums or additives
1 cup leftover coffee mixed with 1 cup of water and 3 tablespoons dry milk
1/8 cup regular cocoa powder; 1/8 cup Dutched/ Dutched blend cocoa powder: yes, I mean BOTH COCOAS, not just one
4 oz. milk chocolate (I had a Ghirardelli bar sitting around; you could use chocolate chips, whatever, I don’t care)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
Put the first three ingredients into a medium heavy pot and whisk them together. In a measuring cup, combine the coffee with the water and dry milk; whisk together, and add the heavy cream. Pour about a cup of this mixture slowly into the pot and start to cook the cornstarch/sugar/salt sludge on low heat. When there aren’t any more cornstarch lumps and things are starting to look smooth, add the cocoa powders, and keep whisking. Get all the lumps out! OUT! OUT DAMNED LUMPS! There must be no secret pockets of cocoa powder in this. Slowly add the rest of the liquid (careful not to splash) and whisk constantly. You will get annoyed because it’ll look like nothing is happening and you’re just making some sad somewhat greyed hot chocolate. Trust me, this is not just sad hot chocolate.
Turn up the heat to medium — not too high, though: you want to be sure the cornstarch is cooking gently. It will take a few minutes for this to thicken, but the thing about cooking with cornstarch is, it seems like nothing is happening nothing is happening nothing is happening and then SUDDENLY EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING, so be Johnny on the spot. As soon as the pudding starts to thicken, add the milk chocolate and whisk whisk whisk to melt it into the pudding. Remove the pot from the stove entirely before the pudding thickens too much. It takes no time for a pudding to overcook disastrously. A pudding that is cooked past “coats the back of a spoon” is a pudding that, once chilled and set, feels like rubber in your mouth. Trust me, it’s a bad thing. No one’s happy when dessert tastes like chocolate dog-chew toy.
Having removed the pot from the heat, whisk in about a tablespoon of vanilla. Using a nice big serving spoon or a ladle or something other than the whisk, dole the pudding out into ramekins — it takes up six of the ramekins I have, not sure how many ounces per ramekin that is, but it’s a nice hefty little serving — and put them in the fridge for a few hours. Serve with whipped cream if that’s your kind of thing. It would be good plain too.
Some people will think this is too sweet. Deb Perelman at SK has revised her pudding, which started out with 1/2 cup sugar, down to 1/3 cup of sugar. If that’s how you feel about it fine, but I’m sticking with my slightly-overloaded-1/2 cup version.
And there you have it. Perfect mocha pudding. To have this be a straightforward chocolate pudding, leave out the coffee, and just use water instead to reconstitute the dry milk. You could also use evaporated milk instead of the heavy cream, or in addition to the heavy cream, or whatever. My point is that you don’t have to necessarily worry about having a whole fresh carton of milk in the fridge to get away with making this. I devised this recipe because I was making do, having run dangerously low on milk (since I’d just made pudding for 11 the other day). But this is why I keep powdered milk around. The “you never know” theory makes for astonishingly good puddings.
Just keep whisking.
Then go read Daniel Pinkwater’s essay about the time a pudding company wanted him to be their spokesman. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Pudding pudding pudding.