Persnickety Pudding

Got a great pudding recipe? Scott wants YOU!

I spent this week at home with my youngest daughter, the poor thing a cuddly little ball of misery and sick. If childhood illness were a professional sport, she’d have been a lottery pick: ear ache, fever, gravelly cough, the inevitable avalanche of snot – like a highly regarded point guard, she had the complete package. The good news is, she’s feeling much better, and we spent lots of time together. Principally, this meant that I watched her, while she watched cartoons – I’m still trying to extract an ear worm from Dora the Explorer – but it also meant that we got to cook together. When you’re a sick kid, you need comfort, and what’s more comforting than pudding? Unfortunately, ours sucked like the Federal government at tax time, so we’re asking BiteClubbers for help.

But first, let’s talk about pudding. It may be unrepentantly trashy, but personally, I can’t get enough of the stuff, especially the old-fashioned, glossy, starch- and gelatin-based sort. Growing up, my absolute favorite treat was the original Snack Pack – are you old enough to remember those stubby little beer cans full of pudding, the ones with the highly questionable pop-top design? (Really, who puts metal pop-tops on a kid’s snack? The 1970s, that’s who.) For all I know, that pudding actually tasted like the synthetic, gelatinous goo it probably was, but get enough drinks in me, and I’ll still wax lyrical about a plastic vat of Kozy Shack to this very day.

In any case, the inimitable Miss M. and I decided to try our hand at home-made pudding, a sort of toddler-friendly version of chicken soup. It’s important that you know that I don’t, as a rule, do desserts; with the notable exception of my wife’s pies, I just don’t care for sweets, and more fundamentally, pastry, broadly construed, is ill-suited to my kitchen: I like to measure by handfuls and pinches, and I follow recipes like I drive, fast and with only the vaguest sense of direction, either of which would sink a pastry chef faster than a bag of rocks.

So, knowing the odds were against us, we dutifully cross-referenced the Joy of Cooking with American Cookery, we dropped by Wyeth Acres for fresh eggs and milk, we scraped seeds from whole vanilla beans, and we cobbled together a make-shift bain-Marie. We tempered our eggs; we stirred ceaselessly over a bare simmer. And for all of that, we ended up with a beautifully-flavored, but thoroughly inedible mess. As my wife succinctly noted, “it looks like Cream of Wheat”, and she was right: our sadsack pudding was a thick, grainy sludge, with a cloying sweetness and an oppressive texture, an entirely flawed and altogether disgusting dessert.

How could we take something so deceptively simple, follow the rules so seemingly carefully, using such good ingredients, and end up with such swill? If you have a tried-and-true recipe for old-fashioned pudding, please send it in, my daughter and I will cook it, and I’ll post the results right here on Bite Club.


10 thoughts on “Persnickety Pudding

  1. I’m posting this on behalf of Crissi @ SR Mom ( ) who is suffering from IT aggravation:

    Aw! Poor sick girl! My daughter just got over this, reaching a high of 105. And now my son is lying on the couch with warm cheeks. We also found the magic in vanilla pudding, being that it was the only thing my daughter could think of c…onsuming. We tried the Cook n Serve from Jello, and that got a big thumb’s down. But when she tried the one from Trader Joe’s, she ate the whole entire bowl full.

    Sadly, I do not have a fancy recipe for vanilla pudding. The only one I have ever attempted is the one from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, my old faithful for tried and true simple recipes. I’m sure there are plenty out there that are way fancier than mine. However, when feverish kids also have sick taste buds, sometimes simpler is better…..

    BHG Vanilla Pudding

    3/4 cup sugar
    3 tablespoons cornstarch
    3 cups milk
    4 beaten egg yolks
    1 tablespoon butter
    1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

    1. In a medium heavy saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove pan from heat. Gradually stir 1 cup of the milk mixture into egg yolks.
    2. Add egg mixture to milk mixture in saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil; reduce heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove pan from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Pour pudding into a bowl. Cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap. Serve warm or cold (do not stir during chilling). Makes 4 servings.

  2. Okay – here is the butterscotch pudding from my grandmother’s cook book. You just have to handle the eggs and dairy VERY carefully. This wins with the addition of butter at the end – decadent and YUM!

    Combine in the top of a double boiler:
    3.5 T corn starch or 5T flour (not my favorite)
    1 cup dark br sugar
    1/2 t salt
    Stir in:
    2.5 cups cold milk (sometimes a substitute half with half & half)
    Cook over boiling water until thickened – STIRRING CONSTANTLY; cover and cook 10 minutes longer – very gently – I like to just turn off the burner and let sit, stirring occasionally
    Stir a little of the hot mixture into:
    3 beaten egg yolks
    Add to remaining hot mixture and cook CAREFULLY over hot but not boiling water for 2 minutes, then
    Stir in:
    1 t vanilla
    3 T good butter
    and let cool!
    I love this with gobs of whipping cream on top and caramelized pecans

      1. @kate – thanks for the recipe! I’m with Heather, this sounds fantastic, and will have to give it a go.

  3. Okay, my suggestion is to try NOT a pudding, but a BUDINO. Cornstarch sucks. Cream and egg yolks rule.

    This one is from Mary Bergin, quite possibly the most talented chef in Sonoma County. She is a chef/manager at Sur La Table in Santa Rosa and knows how to make everyting…I started writing an article about puddings a few months ago and then forgot. Mary sent this one (which I made) and it is INSANE!

    Chocolate Budino

    2 cups whole milk
    2 cups heavy cream
    6 egg yolks
    100 g. granulated sugar
    400 g. 72% or 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
    Pinch of sea salt

    In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and cream. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar. Bring the milk/cream to a boil and temper the yolks with a small amount of the hot liquid. Return everything to the saucepan, add the chocolate and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it JUST starts to bubble. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a large glass measuring cup. Fill ramekins to the top and tap out any excess air bubbles. Allow to set up in the refrigerator and serve with freshly whipped cream if desired.

    1. Heather is, of course, correct – starch thickeners will never achieve the stature of a custard (budino sits squarely in the custard family). I love love LOVE custards of all sorts, but I. want. my. PUDDING!

      I accept that I may have to abandon starches and use gelatin – although then you’ll correctly accuse me of PANNA COTTA – but not until I’ve crowdsourced the heck outta BiteClub!

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