17 November 2011

The perfect pudding

Tell me, why did it take me a month to put my pudding craving to rest?

caramel pudding

To be honest, I think I just made it worse, but still. Pudding is so simple to make—as long as you're patient enough to keep it from curdling, it takes little more than pantry ingredients and time—but for some reason, I eat the vast majority of my custards frozen or baked in a tart crust.

After weeks of complaining about the lack of pudding in my life, last weekend the desire to procrastinate on some unrelated work got me into the kitchen. Thank you, procrastination! After reading through several cookbooks and blogs, discarding the overly fussy methods, and washing enough dishes to be able to see the bottom of the sink (oops), I was ready to get started.

"Pudding" can be a confusing term depending on who you're talking to. There are steamed puddings (often called "English puddings), which I have never eaten and rarely seen, and so won't talk about here. There are bread puddings, which are the happiest death bread could hope for: like french bread in many ways, a custard of some sort is mixed into stale chunks of bread (and often other stuff, my favorite being spiced apples), and the whole shebang is baked until creamy, fluffy, and will-you-marry-me delicious. Then there are the things that most people in the U.S. think of when they hear the term.

Well, frankly, most people probably think of either a cardboard box or a little plastic cup, but bear with me. In Europe, they are most often baked in a water bath (these are your pots de crème, or cup custards), and thickened with nothing but egg yolks. Alternatively, you can add some starch and cook it on the stovetop, and they are even quicker and almost as good (my dad would say better).

My life is, sadly, without custard cups and very short on oven-proof pudding-sized ramekins, so I decided to make a stovetop pudding. I was thinking about a chocolate pudding—how could I go wrong—but then as I saw a recipe for vanilla pudding in my trusty Dorie Greenspan cookbook, I had a brainwave. Caramel. The only sweet that I crave as often as I do custard. If it makes the most divine ice cream, why not make a pudding?

with whipped cream, of course

As I got to work, I quickly dismantled Dorie's method. Food processors may make the silkiest pudding, but I wouldn't know, because pouring several cups of scalding milk into a running food processor isn't an exciting thought for me. I can say that without food processor (I did use it to unclump the cornstarch and mix it with the eggs) or sieve, I had perfectly smooth, lump-free pudding.

The vanilla pudding recipe that I adapted has little puddles of chocolate ganache at the bottom, and that probably would be fantastic with the caramel, too. I could also see serving this dressed up with a poached pear or down with some spice cookies, but it was heavenly by it self, and a dollop of whipped cream was more than enough to keep us happy.

the perfect pudding

Salted Caramel Pudding
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Split-Level Pudding in Baking: From My Home to Yours
For a fantastic how-to on caramel, go to—who else?—David Lebovitz.

2.5 ounces sugar (about 5 tablespoons)
2¼ cups whole milk
scant 1 ounce cornstarch (about 3 tablespoons)
½ teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt or kosher salt
3 large egg yolks (reserve whites for another use)
1 ounce butter (2 tablespoons), at room temperature and cut into a few chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Have six small (4 ounce) or three larger (8 ounce) ramekins or cups at hand.

Put the sugar in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan and set the heat to medium-high. Watch the sugar carefully, and when it begins to melt, use a spatula or wooden spoon to very gently stir from time to time, allowing the unmelted sugar to melt and keeping any hot spots from burning the sugar. When the sugar is mostly melted, swirl the pan from time to time, cooking until the sugar is a deep coppery amber color but not burnt (trust me, you can tell when sugar burns!).

When the sugar first starts heating, you should have ample time to get your other ingredients together. Measure the milk into a measuring cup or bowl and set near the sugar so that you have it handy. If you'd like to use a food processor, put the cornstarch and salt in the basin and pulse a few times—leave the lid on for a few seconds to let the dust settle before transferring to a plate or piece of waxed paper. Add the egg yolks and process for a minute, until lightened a bit. Alternatively, sift the cornstarch into a small bowl; if your cornstarch is lumpy, you may want to sift it twice. Then beat the egg yolks thoroughly in a large bowl; set aside.

Returning to the caramel: as soon as it's reached that amber color, begin stirring and carefully but quickly pour the milk in—it will bubble and steam furiously, so keep your face away and cover your arm with a towel if desired. The caramel will seize into candy immediately, but keep stirring and it will melt in a few minutes. Let heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is nearly boiling, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, if your eggs are in the food processor, give them another quick pulse and then add the cornstarch mixture and pulse to combine, then transfer to a large bowl. If you're not using a processor, whisk the cornstarch mixture into the eggs. While whisking, slowly pour about a quarter of the hot milk into the egg mixture to temper the eggs. Transfer the mixture back to the pot and whisk constantly until the mixture has thickened and is just barely beginning to bubble, about 5-7 minutes (if you let the milk mixture come to a boil, it will take less time).

If you are worried about lumps, set a sieve over a medium bowl and pour the pudding through. Otherwise, pour the pudding into the reserved cups. If you like skin, stretch plastic wrap over the cups; if you don't, press it against the pudding. Chill until cooled, at least one hour. Serve with whipped cream or ganache (or both). These keep in the fridge for several days (if, for some reason, you don't eat them).

Serves 6 Note: I will try to check this post carefully, but if there's anything wonky in it, I apologize—Blogger is being anything but cooperative right now.


  1. I know I'd LOVE that, Margie. Salted caramel is a wonderful flavour combination, and in a pudding - what's not to like???