Saturday, January 8, 2011

vanilla bean pudding

vanilla bean pudding

A year ago, I would have told you that any pudding that includes eggs (or butter, cream and various other indulgences unnecessary to yield excellent pudding) is a sham. I have strong feelings about foods that I grew up with, and pudding is one of them. Pudding is thrown together quickly on a stove, thickened with cornstarch, and is the perfect January food, comforting, homey and not especially harmful to those of us still living down December’s butter-fest. And so I make cornstarch puddings; there’s a chocolate one (and a pie) and last year I mentioned briefly making a vanilla pudding but then decided to toast the sugar instead and share with you a caramel pudding.

vanilla bean pulp
stuff you'll need

You would not believe how many people have emailed me in the last year asking for that vanilla pudding. But here’s the thing, vanilla pudding thickened with strictly cornstarch and flavored with vanilla extract is a tasty thing, but not especially dynamic. We liked it, and you might too, but I didn’t want to spend any great amount of time discussing it until I figured out how to make it more enchanting. And I realized, over revisiting the recipe this week, that I actually prefer it with just a single little egg in there for a richer flavor, and that using vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract really really turned the humdrum into the best thing to eat while watching giant, feathery snowflakes twist and twirl outside the window.

heating the milk

We’re heading into that time of year when everyone hibernates. The days are short, there’s always something inconvenient on the ground (snow, sleet, ice or the curious sooty snow-like piles in NYC that remain through early spring), the boots-scarf-hat-gloves-coat (times two) routine becomes tiresome when you’re doing it for the third time that day and we often decide to just stay inside, instead. I’m always torn about whether to embrace it — perhaps finish writing some cookbook or another before the days get warmer and I cannot bear to be in the kitchen? — or fight it. Yesterday, I’d had enough of indoor adventures and fought it; packed the kid up in the stroller, went to the market, tried not to bite it on the .0001 inch of snow that had fallen, shivered, sniffled and probably did nothing for the cough I’ve had for two weeks. Today, I’m making more pudding.

vanilla bean pudding six-pack
puddles of pudding

One year ago: Caramel Pudding and Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens
Two years ago: Fig and Walnut Biscotti and Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew
Three years ago: Goulash and Lemon Bars
Four years ago: Cream of Mushroom Soup and World Peace Cookies

Vanilla Bean Pudding

To create this vanilla pudding, I crunched together two pretty standard recipes, using 4/5 of a cornstarch pudding and 2/5 of a very egg-heavy one. Yeah, I just admitted that. What can I say? I love math.

This is absolutely delicious as written but there are ways you can dress it up. You can add a tablespoon of butter at the end, right before letting it chill. You can finish it with a teaspoon of rum, which, trust me, is amazing against the vanilla bean. You can top it with softly whipped cream or a fruit compote or some combination of the two.

The amount of cornstarch below should yield you a vanilla pudding that leaves a spoon impression. If you prefer that your pudding is more wobbly and a little slump-ish, use 3 tablespoons instead. This is not an excessively sweet pudding, but if you like puddings just mildly sweet, use 1/3 cup sugar instead.

Makes 6 half-cup servings

2 2/3 cups whole milk, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)
1 large egg

Bring 2 cups of the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. While it is heating, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla bean (if you’re replacing it with extract, don’t add it yet; if you’d like to toss the leftover vanilla bean pods in the pot with the simmering milk for an extra vanilla boost, go for it) in the bottom of a medium, heatproof bowl. Gradually whisk in the remaining 2/3 cup whole milk, a little at a time so lumps do not form, then whisk in the egg. Once milk is boiling, very gradually add it to the cornstarch mixture in the bowl, whisking the whole time.

Return the mixture back to the saucepan, stirring constantly with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon. Once it comes to a simmer, cook it for one minute longer (which will cook the cornstarch and egg fully). Stir in vanilla extract, if you’re using it and divide pudding among 6 dishes. Chill in refrigerator until fully set, about 2 hours.

[If you don’t like pudding skin, we can’t be friends just press a piece of plastic wrap against the top of the pudding before you chill it.]


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