Monday, February 2, 2009

Chocolate Pudding

I've stated many times on this blog that I don't do recipes. And I don't. Usually. But when it comes to desserts, I break my own rule.

In professional cooking, there's a clear divide between the sweet and savory sides of the kitchen. It's a completely different mindset. Line cooks and chefs cook by feel, smell, sight, sound, and intuition, grounded solidly in classic technique. But they generally don't utilize recipes, because the products are not always exactly the same, and adaptations have to be made on the fly.

In contrast, pastry chefs almost always use recipes, and not only do they use them religiously, but they scale everything, weighing their flour and sugar on a digital scale to account for slight atmospheric and product variations that might throw off their precise formulas. Cooking pastry is like science whereas cooking on the savory side is like, or improv jazz, maybe? or...I don't know. Something.

Anyway, my point is that when I make desserts, I usually use recipes. Here's one that I've made a few times recently and is very good.

Chocolate Pudding

1 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup cornstarch
pinch salt
8 ounces Baker's semi-sweet chocolate
3 Cups whole milk or half and half
2 egg yolks
2 T. butter (unsalted)
vanilla bean

Mix the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a heavy saucepan.
Chop the chocolate and add it to the mixture in the pot.
In a bowl, mix the milk and egg yolks together and then add them to the mixture.
Split and scrape the vanilla bean and add the pods and the bean to the mix as well.
Put the pan on the heat, over medium-low heat and bring gently to a boil, whisking constantly.
Allow to boil for about a minute, until mixture thickens, continuing to whisk.
Pull off the heat, remove vanilla bean, add butter, stirring to incorporate.
Divide into ramekins. Allow to cool before covering with plastic and refrigerating.
Serve cold topped with whipped cream.

This recipe was adapted (yes, I copped it) from one I found on The Food Network's website, credited to Sara Moulton of Gourmet Magazine. I made a couple minor changes, but it's essentially the same recipe.

The technique is kind of interesting. Usually pudding involves heating the dairy and flavorings, and then adding the starch and tempered eggs to the hot mixture, much like making pastry cream. This can be kind of dicey, as there's always that question about whether your mixture is too hot, whether your starch has thickened as much as it should have, and you have to be careful not to scramble your eggs.

This recipe avoids all that by simply dumping everything into the same pot and bringing it all up to temp at the same time. The eggs warm slowly so there's no danger of scrambling, and once the mixture boils for a moment, the starch thickens and it's done. No muss, no fuss. Plus, less clean-up. I love it.

Even better, this recipe employs a pretty large quantity of high-quality chocolate, rather than using cocoa powder, as many pudding recipes call for. I've detailed my disdain for the choice of cocoa powder over real chocolate in the past. Suffice to say that I strongly dislike the 'dusty' taste that using cocoa powder in lieu of chocolate imparts. Frankly, I'm not sure I understand why anyone would choose it if using chocolate is an option.

So, thanks, Sara! Good recipe.

As a gossipy aside, the fact that Sara Moulton isn't on the Food Network any more speaks to the demise of quality and the embrace of lowest-common-denominator pandering that the network has recently employed. Moulton was famously told that the network wouldn't be renewing her show, Cooking Live, as part of a still on-going effort the network was making to move away from using professional/classically-trained chefs as hosts of their shows in favor of more camera-genic, cleavage-sporting "personalities" like Rachel Ray, Giada Giganto-mouth, and--feh--Sandra Lee. This whole deal is well-chronicled all over the web. You can read more about it here, here, here, and here.

I'll stop here in order to ensure that this post doesn't devolve into an all-out rant about The Food Network and how much it sucks, save for a few decent shows. That topic really deserves its own separate entry. [This space reserved for link to future blog post]

Suffice to say that while Sara and her pudding recipe may not have been the direction that The Food Network was going, I like her--she's got a show on PBS, a network where the focus is on cooking instruction rather than catch phrases and cleavage (if any proof of that is needed, this guy is the host of what appears to be their most popular show right now)--and I like her pudding recipe. 'Nuff said. Let's make some pudding!

Dry ingredients go into the saucepan.

Everything in the pan, applying heat.

Color gets darker, milk begins to froth. Keep whisking!

Mixture thickens very quickly.

Presto! I now pronounce it to be pudding. Portion into ramekins.

After the portioned pudding cools down to room temp, cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Opinions vary, of course, on the appeal, or lack thereof, of pudding skin, which forms on the top of the pudding when it's allowed to be in contact with the air. In our house, we hate pudding skin, so I place the plastic wrap over the ramekins and then gently press it down so it's in direct contact with the surface of the pudding, ensuring no disgusting skin forms.

And that's that, really. It's a deceptively easy recipe. It is a bit thicker and denser than your average pudding recipe--almost like a pot de creme. But that's a good thing in my book.

Top it with whipped cream and enjoy it--it's a classic comfort food indulgence, which, even though it's served cold, somehow seems appropriate for cold winter weather.


Brilynn said...

I made chocolate pudding yesterday, it's definitely a winter comfort food!

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