April 18, 2011

The rainy days of spring

I've been on a pudding quest recently. It all started with a desire for chocolate pudding that went downhill with one recipe. The book this recipe came from is a beautiful book, but the method for making the pudding did not work for me. After trying it twice with a slightly thickened liquid as a result both times, I gave up on chocolate (for the time being) and went with a different flavor and a different method: butterscotch. The process and results were much more satisfying, and I've made it twice more since then. Even right now I'd be tempted to make another batch if I wasn't out of brown sugar. A small bag of brown sugar goes fast when you make three batches of pudding (and some cookies and more cinnamon rolls) within a matter of weeks.

Pudding is a nice thing to eat during the weeks when winter turns into spring, when you have mildly rainy days and cool evenings that aren't too cold for a bowl of cold pudding. I don't know about you, but I like my pudding cold, not warm. Warm pudding just doesn't feel right going down. When the weather gets really hot, I'll be longing for ice cream instead, but for now pudding satisfies the urge for something that tastes rich without actually being rich. Pudding is typically made with milk. There's no need cream or half and half. Some recipes don't even require eggs or butter, nor do they need to. At that point, you're bordering on custard territory, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but pudding is not custard. For this recipe, though, to get the butterscotch flavor, you need the butter, and the eggs help to thicken, along with a little cornstarch, as well as add a touch more richness that's needed.

I have to warn you now, once the pudding has cooled and you stick a spoon into the bowl for taste testing purposes, you'll have another spoonful, then another and another until you realize you've just eaten a whole serving size and then wonder how you'll keep yourself from eating the rest of the pudding right then and there. It's dangerous like that because pudding doesn't feel heavy even after spooning down seconds. It might not look like much, but the pudding packs flavor. Butterscotch fans, beware.

Butterscotch Pudding
Adapted from David Lebovitz

4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
¾ tsp coarse sea salt
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 ½ cups whole milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the dark brown sugar and salt, and stir until the sugar is well-moistened. Remove mixture from heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with about ¼ cup of the milk until completely smooth, then whisk in the eggs.

Gradually pour the remaining milk into the melted brown sugar, whisking constantly, then whisk in the egg and cornstarch mixture as well.

Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. Once it begins to bubble, reduce the heat to a low simmer and continue to cook for one minute, whisking non-stop, until the pudding thickens to the consistency of hot fudge sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Strain pudding through a sieve into a glass bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface (if you don't like pudding skin), and chill thoroughly, at least four hours, before serving.

Serves about 6.

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