I've been having deep thoughts about pudding lately. It all started when I was watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with my daughters. Twice in the movie, Luna Lovegood refers to eating pudding at a Hogwart's feast. Every time I heard the word "pudding," my mouth watered and I knew I had to make some soon.
But what type of pudding? Although Harry Potter takes place in the United Kingdom, land of the bread pudding and baked pudding, I imagined Luna sitting down to a lovely bowl of rich chocolate pudding. I mean, what kid dreams of bread pudding? Well, forget about Luna -- I have pudding dreams of my own and they are all creamy and chocolaty.
Once I decided to make pudding, I had a lot of questions. Whole milk or heavy cream? Eggs or no eggs? Nonfat or super fat? The options are endless and I began to feel a little like a puddin' head thinking about it all. The one thing I knew for sure was that I was going to make it from scratch.
Now before you scoff and say that you don't have time to make pudding from scratch, let me wag my digital finger at you. Making homemade pudding takes only about five minutes longer than mixing together a box of the instant stuff. Years of watching Jell-O commercials may have convinced you otherwise, but it's true. Not one of the three recipes I made took more than twelve minutes to cook. Honest. Plus, unlike the boxed variety, you can pronounce all the ingredients, which is always a plus.
I started my pudding adventure wondering if I could make a pudding with nonfat milk that tasted creamy and rich. I made one from the Cooking Light web site and was sadly disappointed. The pudding was flat in both texture and taste. The wonderful creaminess you get from milk fat was missing and although I used a nice bittersweet chocolate, its nuances were drowned out. After a few bites, my husband and I agreed it wasn't worth eating so we threw the whole thing out and made ice cream sundaes. If you're interested in trying this nonfat milk pudding, here's the recipe, and I wish you better luck.
Whole Milk Pudding Made with Cornstarch
The next night I made a chocolate pudding using a recipe on the New York Times web site by Mark Bittman. I am quite a fan of Mr. Bittman's and so wanted to try his version. The recipe called for whole milk, sugar, cornstarch, chocolate, and not much else. I used a nice Michel Cluizel Mangaro Lait milk chocolate, because I thought my daughters would like it. When I make this pudding again, however, I will use a bittersweet chocolate instead as the milk chocolate lost its character once it was added to milk and sugar. Don't get me wrong; it was still lovely with a nice caramel undertone. It just wasn't chocolaty enough for my tastes. The recipe itself was smooth and rich, although with the occasional gelatinous blob of cornstarch even though I tried to thoroughly whisk it into the cold milk. Here's the recipe. If you'd like to make a first-rate pudding and don't want to deal with eggs, this is the one for you.
The final pudding would actually be considered a custard by some, although for me it had the best flavor of the bunch and seemed the most pudding-like. I used egg yolks, whole milk, cornstarch, bittersweet chocolate, and a few other minor ingredients. After looking at about fifteen custard and pudding recipes, I ended up cobbling this one together on my own as the others seemed to use either too many egg yolks or called for heavy cream, while I wanted to use milk. Others required a double boiler, which seemed like a lot of work for what is supposed to be a simple dessert. This pudding was the most time intensive, but it still took under 12 minutes to make from start to finish. The texture was velvety; the taste complex yet balanced. I used a combination of cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate, melting them in at different times to give the pudding a fuller chocolaty flavor. I used a nice cocoa powder along with some Grenada Organic Dark Chocolate. This one definitely hit the spot.
I asked some friends over for a blind taste test and all agreed that although the New York Times recipe was quite good, the custard pudding was superior. We felt the Times recipe was a great choice for parents who wanted to make good and fast pudding for kids, but that the custard pudding had better consistency and flavor. One of my friends called it a pudding for grownups, which seemed to sum it up nicely.
So, please, get rid of the Jell-O box and try some homemade pudding. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how easy and fast it is to make, and much happier with the results.
Velvety Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding
Makes 2 - 4 servings
2 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
3 Tbsp corn starch
Dash of salt
2 Tbsp good cocoa powder
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp butter
3 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1. Heat the milk on medium-low heat until it starts to steam with small bubbles around the edge. Turn off the heat.
2. Whisk egg yolks with sugar in a bowl until the mixture is a light yellow color.
3. Add the sugar, corn starch, cocoa, and salt to the egg mixture and whisk thoroughly, making sure there are no lumps.
4. Add about a half cup of the warmed milk to the egg mixture, whisking vigorously to temper the eggs.
5. Add the egg mixture to the milk and incorporate thoroughly.
6. Cook on medium-low just until the mixture starts to bubble. Be sure to frequently stir or the pudding will start to burn at the bottom.
7. Lower the heat to simmer and cook for five minutes, stirring often.
8. Once the pudding is thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.
9. After the butter has melted, add in the chopped chocolate and stir until it is thoroughly melted and incorporated.
10. Divide into serving bowls, or place in one large bowl.
11. Cover with plastic wrap, being sure to let it sit directly on top of the pudding to avoid a skin forming.
12. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
13.Serve with whipped cream.