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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vanilla Pudding

Peaches and Cream:

So it wasn't exactly what I set out to make but honestly I didn't expect a pudding recipe to put up any resistance. It did of course, even though the whole ordeal was the simplest thing in the world. I mean, anyone can make pudding from scratch; even hungry, penniless college students. After all, pudding is only milk, sugar and cornstarch with the addition of egg yolks in some particularly decadent recipes (see below). In fact, homemade pudding is so simple I made it dozens of times in college. One recipe in particular, Emily Luchetti's Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding, was a favorite among my roommates. It was so rich and easy to make, without even a stitch of cornstarch, who could blame us for craving it? It was chocolate and we were hungry, stressed college girls. But the mellow days preceding autumn call for vanilla, not chocolate. Logically, I thought omitting the bittersweet chips was the simplest, most natural substitution in the world: (chocolate pudding - chocolate = vanilla pudding). I should have known. Math has never been my forte. But, in the slow hours of afternoon a tiny voice inside me, the same one that makes me order the double scoop of french vanilla instead of chocolate-peanut butter cup, told me the vanilla version would be fine, even better than fine it would be great. And maybe it was; but sin of sins, without the cocao solids my milk and cream came out more like a creme anglaise than a friendly American pudding. Even after a turn in the refrigerator it was too soft-set be be called "pudding" and too utterly sumptuous to be called a disaster. So, I spooned it into the most adorable dessert glasses (over-sized square shot glasses) and slipped a few slivers of fresh peach into it after dinner. Voila, a miracle... just not the miracle I was hoping for.

After all, there is something miraculous about an ultra-thick, ultra-fragrant vanilla pudding. After fail-boating the first attempt I scoured my cookbook and dug up a recipe by someone with better natural talent for proportions and substitutions. Why didn't I go to this, the thickest, creamiest vanilla pudding, recipe first I don't know. Hubris, I guess. The corn starch is what sets a pudding apart from a custard and exactly what was missing in my chocolate-free attempt yesterday. Custards are egg based and the sort of thing you find grilled fruits swimming in (see photo), layered in a trifle or filling up the sticky interior of a Boston cream donut. The addition of corn starch, a natural thickening agent, allows the milk and sugar to turn a creamy base into a homely, put-on-your-sweats sort of dessert that begs to be eaten gluttonously with the biggest spoon you can find. The catch? Corn starch must be used carefully and reverently and should always be added while the liquid is cold; otherwise your pudding will have big starchy lumps. In case, despite your vigorous whisking, your pudding has a less than baby-smooth texture running it through a sieve ensures a silky finish.

Notes: This recipe is from Everyday Food and it is in a single word: decadent. It is sinfully thick and rich and while the original recipe says it serves four I think cutting down the portion size and spooning some homemade whipped cream on top would be a great idea. If there is ever a time to use whole milk it is now but if you only have 1 or 2% on-hand the pudding should still set up just fine. The full-fat milk will add an extra depth of flavor. The hardest part about making pudding is that it requires patience. Take your time at the stove and keep the pudding at a low temperature so it doesn't scorch the milk. Do NOT cook the cornstarch for more than 1 minute; really 60 seconds is all it takes! The good news? It is d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s!

*Reserve your egg whites in a small bowl covered in the refrigerator to use later this week in some mini frittatas.

Grocery List:
1 dozen eggs
1 gallon milk
corn starch

Vanilla Pudding by Everyday Foods, serves 4

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/1 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Separate four eggs, reserving the yolks. Set aside. Set your sieve over a heat-proof bowl (something that can go in the microwave or dishwasher).
2. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan, removed from the heat. Slowly whisk in your milk a few tablespoons at a time and continue whisking until the corn starch is totally dissolved. Then, add your yolks and whisk again.
3. Return the saucepan to the stove and, whisking constantly, cook the pudding over medium-low heat. As the mixture heats up it will begin to thicken. When the first big bubble forms turn the heat down to low and whisk vigorously for 1 minute and then immediately remove from the heat.
4. Pour the pudding through the sieve, stirring gently to help work it through the mesh. Stir in the butter and vanilla into the strained pudding until totally incorporated. Cover the pudding with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface (this keeps a skin from forming). Refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours, or up to 3 days. Let warm up slightly and whisk it generously to remove any lumps before serving.

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