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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Perfect pudding calls for a little TLC, fine ingredients

 •  Fish cake: It's a staple in many Island kitchens

By The Culinary Institute of America
Associated Press

Make milk-chocolate pudding, arguably one of the ultimate comfort foods, from scratch at home with the right technique.

The Culinary Institute of America via Associated Press

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If any food warrants a place on the ultimate list of comfort foods, it's pudding.

Yet "pudding" can be difficult to define. The name refers to dishes that are both sweet and savory, soft and firm, spoonable and sliceable.

For many Americans, it is the custard-style dessert mom prepared on the stove from a few basic ingredients that most readily comes to mind. This simplicity a combination of eggs, starch, sugar and milk cooked in a pot is what makes pudding special.

The perfect custard-style pudding begins with the right combination of eggs and starch to thicken the base, provide structure and add flavor and texture. Starches can include cornstarch, flour, cornmeal, rice, tapioca and bread.

For dessert puddings in particular, sugar is essential. Not only does it provide sweetness, it also helps keep the eggs from overcooking.

Milk or cream, as well as butter, extracts and chocolate, also are key, providing the pudding's flavor and mouth-feel.

And don't overlook the importance of quality ingredients and proper equipment (including a heavy-bottomed pot, metal whisk, wooden spoon and rubber spatula) to create a smooth and velvety pudding.

Technique matters, too. Because eggs cook at a relatively low temperature (whites around 140 F, yolks 165 F), cooking speed and temperature must be carefully controlled to keep them from overcooking or curdling. This is where the sugar comes in.

When you blend sugar into eggs, they don't solidify until about 185 F, giving you more temperature flexibility.

The eggs also could be tempered, explains Peter Greweling, a baking and pastry professor at The Culinary Institute of America. This technique allows eggs to be introduced to a hot liquid without solidifying.

This helps with the final stage of cooking a pudding, which involves bringing it to a boil. This stage is important because heat is necessary for the starch to thicken and to cook away any undesirable flavors from uncooked starches.

Stirring constantly also helps prevent the eggs from overcooking and the starches from sticking to the pan. Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to reach into the pan's corners.

The rest of the process is a cinch. Add additional ingredients, portion into individual servings, and serve warm or chilled. Be sure to place a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.

Milk Chocolate Pudding

  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided

  • 1/3 cup cornstarch

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 3 cups whole or low-fat milk, divided

  • 2 large eggs

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • 4 ounces milk chocolate, melted (see note)

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Whipped cream, for garnish (optional)

  • Chocolate shavings, for garnish (optional)

    In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of the sugar with the cornstarch and cocoa powder, breaking up any lumps. Stir in 1/2 cup of the milk, the eggs and egg yolks. Whisk until smooth. Set aside.

    Combine the remaining 2 1/2 cups milk with the remaining sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Temper the egg mixture by gradually adding about a third of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the tempered egg mixture into the pan with the remaining milk mixture.

    Cook the pudding base over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches a boil and is quite thick and smooth, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

    Temper the chocolate by adding about 1/2 cup of the pudding base and stirring until very smooth. Pour the tempered chocolate into the base, add the butter and vanilla extract, then stir until well blended.

    Pour the pudding into eight 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups. Place a piece of parchment or waxed paper directly on the surface of each pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Pierce the paper in two or three places to let the heat escape. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. If desired, garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and chocolate curls.

    Makes 8 servings.

    Per serving (made with whole milk, not counting garnishes): 290 calories, 7 g protein, 12 g total fat, 38 g carbohydrates, 115 mg cholesterol, 70 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

    Recipe from institute's "Baking At Home With The Culinary Institute of America" (Wiley 2004, $40).

    CHOCOLATE NOTE: Semisweet, bittersweet or white chocolate can be substituted for the milk chocolate. It is best to use bar chocolate, as it melts better than chips. To melt chocolate, place it in a double boiler over barely simmering water and stir constantly. Or place them in a glass bowl or measuring cup and microwave on low 15 to 20 seconds at a time, stirring between increments, until melted.