Saturday, May 1, 2010

Home-Made Pudding

A few days ago I wrote about Lemon Sponge Pudding. It's great because it requires nothing more exotic than a lemon to make.

But there's another pudding I should share with you. Its ingredients are downright humble. Its name is equally plain and blunt: Cornstarch Pudding. (Cornstarch and egg yolks makes the pudding thicken.) This is the ultimate comfort food: creamy, sweet, warm, thick, and soft.

Home-made pudding it is nothing like pudding made from those little cardboard packages filled with powdered chemicals and dehydrated eggs. And it's a world away from those cups in the dairy case.

Why does anybody eat that stuff when pudding is so easy to make?

Maybe folks just don't know that pudding can be made from scratch? After all, Jell-O introduced packages of powdered chocolate pudding mix in back in 1936. So, it's possible that if you're old enough to read this, even your great-grandma made pudding from mixes.

So, allow me to right a wrong. Let me show you how to make pudding, the right way.

Cornstarch Pudding is simple to make. I mean, REALLY simple. All it takes is one pot. All the ingredients you need are probably already in your kitchen. And with one recipe, you can create three or four flavor variations--maybe more!

Begin by mixing sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart sauce pot and stir until it's all incorporated.

Separate two eggs:

and plop the yolks into the pot. (Save the whites in the fridge for another recipe. More on that in another post!)

Stir the mixture together. Halfway through, it'll look kind of awkward:

Keep at it! A moment or two longer, and it's all incorporated. It will feel a little gritty:

Pour the milk into the pan, just a teensy bit at a time at first, mixing thoroughly between additions. The first few additions should be just a teaspoon of milk or less:

Stir, stir, stir as you slowly add the milk:

When you get to the point where the stuff in the pot is the consistency of a cream soup, you can add the rest of the milk all at once:

Put the pot over a medium flame and stir. I recommend a wooden spoon for this; metal is just too darn grating to listen to.

As you stir, the pudding will begin to thicken. But this happens slowly, so be patient. It may take 10 minutes. Maybe 12. Maybe more.

Keep at it; pudding does NOT respond well to being pushed too fast on an overly-hot flame.

You'll know it's coming along when you feel a little drag on the spoon. If you tilt the pan, you'll see it's beginning to thicken at the bottom of the pan:

As the pudding thickens, it gets to the stage where you can run your finger over the back of the spoon and the path you make will stay put:

In a moment more, it'll get definitely thick:

You're almost there at this point. Stirring continuously, keep going until the pudding starts to bubble and make wonderfully primeval, gloopy sounds:

Take it off the flame and add the extracts: vanilla, lemon, and almond.

It takes all three to create this wonderfulness.

Stir the extracts all in:

The next step is critical: Strain the pudding through a sieve into a bowl or pitcher. This removes any little bits or clots that may be hiding in the pot. You want pudding to be utterly silky smooth, so this step is worth the extra minute it takes.

Stir the pudding gently in the sieve:

It will fall into the bowl very nicely:

When all the pudding is through, the sieve may look something like this:

Don't forget the pudding clinging to the outside of the sieve!:

Pour the pudding into little bowls, or even coffee cups or teacups:

Place the cups in the fridge if you want your pudding chilled and stiffer. Or eat immediately if you like it soft and warm:

Pudding this good deserves to be eaten with a sterling spoon:

The only thing left is to enjoy licking the pan!

Below is the basic recipe for pudding. I've also included a variation to make Chocolate Pudding, Mocha Pudding, Cafe-au-Lait Pudding, and a sauce for fresh fruit.

Cornstarch Pudding
In a 2-quart sauce pan, place:
1/3 C. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt

Stir until blended and add:
2 eggs yolks

Stir until completely incorporated, then slowly add:
2 C. milk

Cook the pudding over a medium flame until it bubbles (10 - 15 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in:
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Pour pudding into a sieve placed over a serving bowl or wide-mouth pitcher and gently stir to remove any lumps. Pour sieved pudding into three or four little bowls or cups. Chill, or serve warm.

Yields 4 modest portions or 3 more generous ones.

For Chocolate Pudding, increase sugar from 1/3 C. to 1/2 C., stir in 3 or 4 ozs. of melted bittersweet chocolate along with the vanilla extract, and omit the almond and lemon extracts.

For Mocha Pudding, follow the chocolate pudding variation (above) and add two teaspoons of instant espresso powder to the milk.

For Cafe-au-Lait Pudding, add two teaspoons of instant espresso powder to the milk, and omit the lemon and almond extracts.

For a lovely fruit sauce to serve with fresh fruit, add an extra cup of milk to the basic recipe.

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