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.
Almost without fail, January — which is always too cold, too dull, and too overdue for an antidote for holiday excess — puts me in the mood for rice pudding and this year was no different. I played around with it all month. I made my standard. I made a “creamiest” version I found online that landed me with an undercooked eggy puddle and a wobbly belly. I made a baked version that never came together. And I caved to my husband’s repeated request for chocolate rice pudding which is something you will never see on this site because it was, hands down, the most revolting looking dish I’ve yet to ladle into a bowl. (I added 3 ounces of bittersweet chocolate added to my old favorite, and nixed the almond. See? Now I’ve saved myself a photography challenge!)
But it took me until February got me daydreaming of warmer climates to figure out what I’d really been looking for: arroz con leche. Now, here’s the thing — I did it wrong. I mean, it’s inevitable that it will seem wrong to someone who grew up eating it. There are as many versions of arroz con leche as there are Spanish-speaking grandmas who stir it up, and rarely are two versions alike. That’s the best part.
This all started simply: It’s January. I don’t believe in giving up anything one enjoys but I know, I know, that only minutes past Resolution Day isn’t the best time to bring up gloppy sticky buns, 7-layer cakes, gluttonous rubber band wrists and other thoughts that have been plaguing me nonstop. I’m not trying to spread the distraction, you know? So I decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to show you how easy it is to make really good vanilla pudding at home.
Pudding is one of those things that if you like to eat it, you should know how to make it. The home-cooked stuff couldn’t have less in common flavor-wise with that plastic-cupped horror show they brought me in the hospital post-baby. Real pudding takes only a little time to make, and if you do it my way (the old-school way, I like to think) there are no egg yolks or creams or custards or pats of butter. It practically runs on the treadmill for you, don’t you think?
Of all the things I had anticipated about being a new mama — the sleep deprivation, the fact that sometimes babies cry for no reason, whatsoever, that they look ridiculously cute things that are too big on them — at least one of the things that I hadn’t considered was, well, the Itch. The one you get at the end of your nose nearly the second after you start feeding the baby and have not a finger free to scratch it.
Did you hear? The Eighties are back. Right outside my very front door, people too young to have experienced the decade the first time around are parading down the sidewalks in leggings and high-top sneakers, shoulder padded blazers, thick belts and inadvisable doses of fluorescent clothing, without a stitch of irony. You couldn’t pay me to join them; I aim only make myself live down each fashion disaster once in a lifetime, but in the kitchen? Oh yes, bring it on.