When I’m having a terrible, no good, very bad day, the only thing I really want to eat is chocolate pudding. Just pudding. No whipped cream on top, no shaved chocolate garnish, no fancy layering of mousse, no fresh fruit artfully scattered on top. Your basic, utilitarian chocolate pudding.
I think it’s because I associate it so strongly with childhood. When I was a young thing, we had a massive cast iron stove that we’d salvaged out of someone’s back yard; properly restored, it would probably be worth a mint now. To us, it was just a stove, although one of the burners didn’t work.
Sometimes we would make chocolate pudding as a special treat, and there was a whole ritual with the preparing of the ingredients and the cooking and the stirring and the pouring it off into the random cups we used as ramekins. Then we’d wait impatiently for it to cool so we could eat it.
I remember one time in my high school years when I’d been gone for a couple of days, and I came home late at night, and I cracked open the fridge to see what was inside, and there was a lonely cup of pudding, waiting for me. I ate it there in the kitchen, leaning against the stove with the fridge door open, letting the light wash over me.
So pudding has a sort of special meaning for me, as it were; I associate pork chops with NPR (long story) and pudding with feeling comfortable and at home, like someone is looking out for me. When all is dark, at least there is pudding.
Pudding of nostalgia, adapted from “The Joy of Cooking”
This is a recipe for a cornstarch-based pudding; it’s quite easy to make, and I think it’s rather delicious. There are also a number of modifications you can make, should you feel so inclined. You can even dress it up with whipped cream or whatever, if that is how you roll.
I find it helpful to lay out everything I need before I start, because pudding comes together very fast at the end and it kind of sucks to be scrabbling for a tool/ingredient at the last minute.
- A heavy saucepan (I use a fantastic one that my father got on the occasion of his first wedding -- the wife didn’t last but the pan did). Heavy really is better because it will prevent burning, but if you don’t have a heavy pan, uh, just be careful.
- A whisk and spatula (whisk is optional, but it helps)
- Cup and spoon measures
- Ramekins, cups, wineglasses, whatever
- Squares of plastic wrap to cover the ramekins(optional)
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- A heaping 1/3 cup cocoa powder, the darker the better (in my opinion). Do not use hot chocolate mix, because it is sweetened!
- Pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup boiling water
- 1 ounce grated chocolate (optional)
- 2 cups half and half (more on this in a moment)
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
Start by whisking the cocoa, sugar, salt, and hot water to make a paste. Add the grated chocolate; I use basic baking chocolate, but you can totally toss in chocolate chips or whatever kind of chocolate you want. Sometimes I like Mexican chocolate, for example. If you add sweetened chocolate, back off on the sugar a tad unless you want a sugarbomb. The chocolate will add a little more depth and texture.
Put the cornstarch in a little dish and add some of the half and half. Stir to make a runny paste.
You can also use plain milk, although the pudding will be a little watery, or you can use whole cream, in which case you will have a very rich final result. Since I don’t use half and half for anything other than pudding, I usually buy milk and cream separately and measure out a cup of each. I have also successfully made this recipe with coconut milk for vegans and people with lactose intolerance.
Pour the half and half (or whatever), followed by the cornstarch mixture, into the saucepan and cook on medium, stirring constantly but gently. Use a spatula to really scrape down the sides and bottom and turn the heat down if it starts to burn. Pudding comes together really quickly, so it will go from looking like hot chocolate to a gloppy mess in the blink of an eye. Let it cook for about another minute, and then remove from the heat, dump in the vanilla, and stir it briskly to integrate.
Immediately pour the pudding into ramekins and cover with squares of plastic wrap if you don’t want it to form a skin. Then slide it into the fridge and don’t disturb it. This is very important: It needs several hours to set up, and if you mess with it, it can turn all liquidy on you. Then you will have ramekins of sadness, not ramekins of nostalgia, and that would never do.
In addition to the dairy tweaks and grated chocolate options listed above, you can also play around with some other modifications. Sometimes I add chili powder to the cocoa for a spicy chocolate pudding, and I’ve been known to toss in nutmeg, which adds a really interesting flavor. You can use almond extract instead of vanilla, or add a hint of ground cardamom. Or something else entirely; the world is your oyster, my friends.