Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pudding power

You might think that my absence from this blog means my absence from the kitchen. You'd be wrong, but I have a secret shame: I haven't been making cookies. I've been making puddings. And it's not so much shame as deliciousness. And it's secret no longer.

I started out with the idea that I would make a maple pudding, but I'd never made pudding from scratch before at all. So I first picked a very simple recipe:

4 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
2 cups milk or soymilk
pinch of salt
1/2 cup dark maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put the arrowroot or cornstarch into a heavy-bottomed pot, or a microwaveable dish. Slowly stir in the cold milk or soymilk until the starch is completely blended in. Stir in the salt and maple syrup.

2. Cook the pudding over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Alternately, cook it for 3 minutes on high in the microwave, then stir it. Continue cooking it for a minute or two, stirring each time, until thickened.

3. Once the pudding is thick, stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool and chill, in a large bowl or individual serving dishes if preferred.
Unfortunately, here in L.A., the best I could find was grade B maple syrup, which is darker than grade A and recommended for baking, but it didn't give the pudding the real maple kick I was hoping for, although it was still yummy. So then I stepped it up with a more complicated recipe:
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 cups whole milk
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 quart pure maple syrup, cooked down to 1 cup
6 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, salt, milk, & brown sugar until smooth. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. As it starts to get close to a boil, start whisking constantly. Remove the pan from the heat.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks until smooth. Quickly whisk about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, and then quickly whisk this egg mixture into the saucepan of hot milk.

3. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Continue to boil, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter pieces until completely melted. Whisk in the vanilla & maple syrup.

4. Pour into ramekins and let cool to room temperature before covering and chilling.

5. Before chilling, place plastic directly on top of the pudding to avoid a pellicle from forming (tough skin surface). Chill overnight.
This pudding was much richer and had a more interesting flavor, without being particularly difficult to make. I didn't boil down a quart of syrup, however, and I probably should have, because the grade B syrup didn't really cut it here either. If you're going to make a maple pudding, I recommend this one, with the darkest syrup you can find if you don't do the boiling, and also double the cinnamon. Maple extract might also work here.

I then turned my attention to a coffee pudding. I chose this recipe, but ended up making some changes even before my first batch.
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon plus additional for sprinkling
2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
1 tablespoon Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

1. Whisk first 3 ingredients and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in heavy medium saucepan. Whisk in milk and 1 cup cream. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Boil 1 minute, whisking constantly. Divide among 6 small bowls. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours.

2. Whisk 1/4 cup cream and Kahlúa in small bowl until peaks form. Spoon atop puddings; sprinkle with cinnamon.
I wasn't attached to the Mexican aspect of this recipe, so I used Bailey's Irish Cream instead of Kahlúa. Also, having been disappointed by the lack of flavor in the maple puddings, I used half again as much espresso powder (4 1/2 tablespoons). This resulted in what can only be described as espresso pudding. It has a very intense coffee flavor and isn't too sweet, which we love in this household but might not be great for all occasions (like for kids).

The second time I made it I added some more sugar to offset the extra coffee, about an extra 1/3 cup, but I might increase that next time. I also doubled the cinnamon in this recipe as well since that flavor got a little lost. Finally, some extra cornstarch will help this recipe set a little better. This is now the favored pudding in my household and I'll probably make some more this weekend.

(By the way, I love the pellicle. I would eat a whole bowl of pudding skin. But my husband isn't a fan, so I just put plastic wrap on half of the ramekins and leave the rest to develop their skins. Also I think pudding just looks nicer with the skin on it, but here's a picture for you to decide for yourself.)