All I wanted to give you for Valentine’s Day was some chocolate pudding. My logic was simple: decadent meals and rich desserts are dreamy things but, in my mind, not inherently romantic. More often than not, after such an evening I find myself too full for even a nightcap, quite tired and, while we are being honest, like I need to spend an hour on the treadmill. And I hate the treadmill.
But chocolate pudding is none of these things. The perfect recipe–the one I sifted through dozens and dozens to find–would be chocolaty but not overly heavy, indulgent but not too rich. In short, the kind of thing you’d want to eat with the love of your life without the risk of shortening the length of it. As a bonus, it would be a reasonable recipe to tackle on a weekday night.
This turned out to be a surprisingly complicated feat. You see, chocolate pudding has lost its way. Over the years, as chocolate desserts have gotten more and more decadent, so-called “puddings” have followed suit. Suddenly, the chocolate pudding that your grandmother made for your mother, or your mother made for you has been poshed up with cream and butter and egg yolks. They’re made in food processors, they’re hit up with immersion blenders, they’re lightened with whipped egg whites, they’re baked in ramekins in water baths covered with tented foil. While these desserts are many wonderful things–pot-de-cremes, pasty creams, souffles–puddings, they are not.
And this is the point where I can progress no further in this story without tell you how my mother feels about making chocolate pudding: she thinks it is pointless. As she has similar cooking proclivities, one day when my sister and I were young, she set out to replace the My-T-Fine stuff we knew and loved with one she made from scratch. In her words, it took forever and tasted exactly like the stuff from the box. She would never make it again. “Some things,” she says when I wax on, conspiring to make my own sourdough starter, yogurt or marshmallows, “are just not worth it.”
Of course, I didn’t listen and dove first into a recipe from someone I adore so much, it broke my heart that I hated the recipe. You started in a double-boiler, then a saucepan, then move over to the food processor, then the food processor a second time, then the saucepan again and then the food processor. No, I am not making this up. It had egg yolks, a whole egg, butter, cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate in it and I just don’t know what I was thinking. I was almost embarrassed to tell my mother that it was good–oh, and we did eat it with nary a complaint–but not even mindblowing. To her credit, she spared me the “I told you so.”
But I knew I had to spare you this recipe, truly more of a pastry cream than a pudding. I mean, you would have rightfully scoffed. For gosh sakes, it is pudding not salted butter caramel ice cream, evidence that not everything I have been saving in my recipe files for many years has earned its keep.
And this was when I remembered something, well, really quite mindless. Skimming down to item #43 in the “sweets” subsection of my Cook This list, there was the blissful, three-step (oh, and the third one is “chill”), egg-, butter-, cream-, food processor- and oven-free 22 minute chocolate pudding from John Scharffenberger of Scharffenberger Chocolate that Luisa had posted about over a year ago. You see, the best recipe was already out there, and now it is here too.
Perhaps if my mother had tried this recipe instead, I’d be getting my sourdough starter from her!
One year ago: Green Tea Cookie with White Chocolate Filling
Updated 10/22/13: It had been way too long since I’d made this (shame on me!) but when I did last night, I remembered how easy it was, and decided this recipe was overdue for some streamlining. As so many of you informed me, a double-boiler is not necessary and in fact makes the pudding take forever. When you remove that process, this becomes even more of a cinch (one pot, four ingredients plus vanilla and salt), and deserves to go in your regular rotation. For the “kids.” ;)
New note 12/1/13: Replacing one ounce of the semisweet chocolate with unsweetened chocolate gave this a fantastic extra chocolate oomph/slight extra bittersweet boost. We’re going to make it this way going forward. And another note 10/13/14 because I can’t stop fidgeting over this recipe: Dropping the sugar to 1/3 cup but using all semi- or bittersweet chocolate gives the pudding a real intense chocolate gravitas, too, plus more of a grownup-level sweetness.
Serves 6 to 7
1/4 cup (30 grams) cornstarch
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups (710 ml) whole milk
6 ounces (170 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 1 cup good chocolate chips)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan, Slowly whisk in the milk, in a thin steam at first so that lumps don’t form, then more quickly once the cornstarch mixture is smoothly incorporated. Place over medium-low heat and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides. Use a whisk as necessary should lumps begin to form. After 10 minutes or so (slower over lower heat is better, to give the cornstarch time to cook), before it starts to simmer, the mixture should begin to thicken, enough that it will coat the back of a spoon. Add the chocolate, and continue stirring for another 2 to 4 minutes, until chocolate is fully incorporated and mixture is quite thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
If you’re concerned about lumps: Run mixture through a fine-mesh strainer.
Distribute among individual pudding cups or one large serving bowl, and chill until it is cool and set, about 2 to 3 hours.
If you dislike pudding skin: Put plastic on top of the pudding and smooth it gently against the surface before refrigerating.
Do ahead: Pudding is good for 3 days in the fridge but nobody I know would allow it to last that long.