Every child grows up loving pudding. It is one of the first foods we can eat, you don’t need to chew it, and it tastes great. What more can a kid ask for? When we grow up, many people think that we have to eat fancy desserts all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fancy ones as much as anyone, but occasionally I like to go back to the basics and the comforting foods of childhood. Silky, satiny, luxurious chocolate pudding is one of my favorites.
While you can always use the boxed mixes for pudding, once you make your own and see how simple it really is, I think you will forgo the boxes entirely. There will always be times when the convenience factor outweighs everything else, and that is fine. But when you want a real treat, one without a lot of additives and preservatives, make it from scratch.
Pudding is really easy to make. Combine ingredients and heat them, temper your eggs, stir it all together and wait for it to thicken over the heat! A couple of things to watch out for and you will have a perfect pudding every time. Make sure you use a whisk. Nothing mixes dry ingredients into fluids better. If you are using a non-stick saucepan, buy a nylon whisk that won’t scratch the pan. Keeping the liquid moving helps it from scorching on the bottom and getting lumpy. The other thing to be careful of is introducing eggs into the hot liquid. Add a little of the hot liquid to the eggs first to warm them slightly before adding to the remaining hot liquid. This is called tempering.
When I moved into my first apartment and couldn’t afford much, I bought inexpensive pots and pans. These worked for years until I could afford better quality ones. I wish I had invested in them earlier. They heat up and cook more evenly. You don’t have to watch your food as carefully and you can control the heat more easily. There are many good quality products on the market right now that are reasonably priced. I believe you should buy the best that you can afford, one piece at a time, and eventually you’ll have a whole kitchen of top-notch equipment!
When I was growing up my mother always told me that anything tastes better when it is served in pretty glasses – just ask my nieces! Dessert can be treated the same way. I love to pour pudding into pretty glass containers – wine glasses, martini glasses, old-fashioned champagne glasses – to make it seem like an extra special treat. Making the effort to put a little whipped cream on top and a sprig of mint makes even the most mundane desserts look like they came from the finest restaurant.
While we’re on the subject of making things from scratch, I’ll tell you a secret. Nothing pre-made can compare to freshly whipped cream! Without the preservatives and additives to give it a long shelf life, you taste all the nuances of the cream itself. I like to add a little confectioner’s sugar to sweeten it slightly and depending on the dessert, sometimes a bit of vanilla extract or other flavoring.
Enjoy this walk down memory lane and dive into a big bowl of chocolate pudding. You’ll love every minute!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the quality of your ingredients changes everything. If you use high quality chocolate in this recipe you will be rewarded with an unbelievable depth of chocolate flavor and creaminess. Once you experience the difference, you will find it hard to go back!
Kitchen Skill: Tempering Eggs
Why: To add eggs to a hot environment without scrambling them
How: Whisk the eggs until completely blended. Add a couple of tablespoons of the hot liquid to the eggs, stirring constantly. Add two more tablespoons, stir, another 1/4 cup, and stir. The eggs should be warmed by now and you can safely whisk them into the hot mixture. If you do not do this, you will no doubt wind up with tiny pieces of cooked egg in your final product.
- Put 1-1/2 cups of the milk, the sugar, and the cocoa in a nonreactive saucepan. Bring to just below a boil (there will be tiny bubbles at the edges of the pan), stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1/2-cup of the milk, cornstarch, salt, egg yolks, and vanilla in a bowl. Gradually whisk some of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Return to the saucepan and cook over medium to medium-high heat whisking constantly, until the pudding comes to a full boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and continue whisking until thick, about 2 or 3 minutes more.
- Pour the pudding into 6 small cups or other containers. Cover with plastic wrap (place wrap directly on the surface so it won’t form a skin) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or ideally overnight, until set.
- Just before serving pour the cream into a chilled bowl. Whip the cream with a whisk or a hand held mixer. When it is starting to thicken add the sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Take care not to over-beat the cream or it will be grainy. Serve each pudding with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Alternately you can cover the top with chocolate curls. Garnish with a sprig of mint.