Friday, September 02, 2011


I wish I had fallen in love with a dessert that’s a little more photogenic…

It’s puddingmania over here right now. I’ve made four kinds of pudding in the past month (one of which will be posted shortly; the other I forgot to photograph and will be forced to make again—poor me!), one of them twice. I can’t get enough! All the recipes are similar in terms of ingredients and basic procedure (heat milk, add egg, heat again until thick), but it’s interesting to see how much the methods vary—more so than, say, your basic cookie or cake recipes. Some have you heat the milk with the cornstarch and sugar, others have you add them to the egg mixture. I sense that pudding is a lot more forgiving than I expected. Even if you mess up and it turns out lumpy, you can always just strain it. And if it’s too thin: it’s creme anglaise!

Of all the recipes I’ve tried so far, this one has been, rather surprisingly, my favorite. I say “surprisingly” because even though I love vanilla more with each passing year, I still tend to think of it as a plain favor on its own, something I would rarely choose over, say, pistachio or butterscotch. I don’t know if this recipe was just the best of the bunch (which wouldn’t be a shock, considering it’s from the Smitten Kitchen) or if I just really nailed the execution, but it came out wonderfully. Part of what I loved about it was that it is really custardy, by far the thickest pudding I’ve made so far (even though I used 1% instead of whole), so thick it pulls away slightly from the sides of the ramekin when you stick your spoon into it, and it turns out I love thick pudding. It also seems that I love pudding skin, which I’d never encountered before because I’d never had homemade pudding, except my mom’s (skinless) rice and tapioca puddings when I was a kid. It’s often maligned and I’d always thought it sounded gross—I mean, “skin”?—but in fact, the way I’m encountering it in my own puddings, it’s just a slightly thicker top to the pudding, not something slimy and chewy that you can peel off in a big sheet, as I had always envisioned it.

I am also learning that the full flavor of pudding doesn’t tend to come through when it’s still warm. The vanilla bean I was using was rather elderly, and once I’d finished making the pudding, I kept tasting it and it seemed sort of bland, so I added some vanilla extract (about a teaspoon, I think) just in case. Then I saw that Deb had mentioned that you could add a teaspoon of rum if you wanted, and I had a tiny bottle in the cupboard left over from some baking project, so I went for it. I wasn’t sure I could taste any difference in the hot pudding, but into the fridge it went. A few hours later I spooned a bite of chilled pudding into my mouth and—zowie! It probably would have been fine if I’d left it as written, but the extra vanilla and rum pushed it over the top into amazing. (You couldn’t identify the rum and rum per se—it just seemed to enhance the vanilla even more.) Not too sweet, slightly eggy, intensely creamy without being especially rich, and super-vanilla-flavored, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

2⅔ cups milk (the original recipe calls for whole milk, but I used 1% with no ill effects), divided
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
½ vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract) (or ½ vanilla bean plus 1 teaspoon extract, if you’re me)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon rum (optional)

1. Bring 2 cups of the milk just barely to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

2. While the milk is heating, if you are using a vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds into the bottom of a medium, heatproof bowl (I recommend adding the scraped-out pod to the pot of simmering milk for an extra vanilla boost). Add sugar, cornstarch, and salt, and whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in the remaining ⅔ cup milk, a little at a time so lumps do not form, then whisk in the egg.

3. Once the rest of the milk is boiling, remove the vanilla pod if you used it, then very gradually add the milk to the cornstarch mixture in the bowl, whisking the whole time.

4. Return the mixture to the saucepan, stirring constantly with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon. Once it comes to a full simmer, cook it for one minute longer. Stir in vanilla extract if you’re using it and the rum if desired. Divide pudding among 4 to 6 dishes (cover the surface of each pudding with plastic wrap if you don’t like pudding skin). Chill in refrigerator until fully set, about 2 hours.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; will last a few days in the fridge.

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