Off to a Smooth Start

Pudding is luscious by itself, but it also can be the base for many comforting desserts

February 07, 2007|By Elinor Klivans | Elinor Klivans,Special to The Sun

On its own, homemade pudding is certain to soothe and comfort. With a few twists - whipped cream, a dash of spice, fresh fruit, bits of candy - pudding can quickly turn into something both fancy and fast.

Making vanilla pastry cream, which is simply good, old-fashioned vanilla pudding, takes less than 10 minutes and can become the jumping-off point for a variety of flavors. Think dark or white chocolate, coffee, rum, liqueurs, citrus zest, cinnamon, coconut (plain or toasted) or crushed toffee. Or go with fresh bananas or sliced strawberries.

Chocolate, coconut and banana cream pie are simply flavored vanilla pudding in a piecrust. The simplest of options is to spoon pudding and fresh fruit into goblets and dig into pudding parfaits.

Small changes can make classic puddings new. Fold whipped cream into pudding and it becomes a soft mousseline cream. This super-smooth pudding is best served in bowls or as part of a trifle. It is not firm enough to slice as a pie.

A different take on banana pudding is to add pieces of graham-cracker crust drizzled with chocolate. Layers of chocolate and vanilla pudding produce a double-flavored cream pie. Other pudding-pie pairs could be chocolate and banana, cinnamon and coffee or toffee and chocolate.

Preparing vanilla pudding is stove-top cooking. Begin by heating milk in a pan to about 150 degrees, while keeping the milk below the boiling point to avoid forming a skin on top. If a skin does form, remove it with a spoon and discard it. It is best to use whole milk for a rich and creamy texture.

While the milk is heating, whisk egg yolks, sugar and flour in a bowl until they are smooth. Then whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture. The hot milk gently tempers the egg yolks by heating them slowly so the mixture remains smooth.

Return the uncooked pudding to the pan to cook until it boils and thickens. Stir constantly to ensure that the pudding cooks evenly. To prevent scorching, be sure to stir the pudding often where the bottom and sides of the pan meet. Because the mixture includes starch in the form of flour or cornstarch, it can boil without curdling.

Strain the cooked pudding into a bowl to remove any stray lumps that might form. At this point, vanilla extract and any other flavorings should be added. Pieces of chocolate will melt right into the hot pudding. The pudding should be stored in the refrigerator and used within three days to prevent spoilage.

When you add flavorings to a pudding, start with a small quantity, taste it and adjust to your preference. Begin by adding one teaspoon of citrus zest, one tablespoon of liqueur, one-half teaspoon ground cinnamon or one teaspoon of dissolved instant espresso or coffee for each recipe of pudding. One half-teaspoon of dissolved instant coffee is also good when added to chocolate or white-chocolate pudding.

When it comes to adding chocolate flavoring, more is often better. Generally 4 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chopped chocolate or chocolate chips will give a rich chocolate flavor to one recipe of vanilla pudding. For milder white chocolate, 6 to 8 ounces of good-quality white chocolate should be sufficient.

Chocolate thickens pudding, so in a two-layer pie, it is a good idea to spread the heavier chocolate layer on the bottom.

Black-and-White Cream Pie

Serves 8

CRUMB CRUST:

1 1/2 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

FILLING:

1 recipe warm vanilla pudding (see left)

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (chopped) or chocolate chips

1 1/2 teaspoons rum

1 cup cold heavy cream, whipped to firm peaks with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons rum and 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

shaved chocolate for sprinkling over the top (optional)

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie pan. In a medium bowl, stir the cookie crumbs and melted butter together. Press the crumbs evenly into the pan. Bake 6 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the filling: Remove 1 cup of the warm pudding to a medium bowl. Stir in the chocolate until it melts smoothly into the pudding. Stir in the rum. Carefully spread the chocolate pudding into the crumb crust.

Press plastic wrap onto the top of the pie and poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to let steam escape. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. Press plastic wrap onto the top of the remaining vanilla pudding, poke a few holes in the wrap and refrigerate, about 2 hours.

Carefully spread the cold vanilla pudding over the chocolate layer. Spread the whipped cream over the filling. Sprinkle with shaved chocolate, if desired.

Elinor Klivans

Per serving: 426 calories, 7 grams protein, 26 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat, 44 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 187 milligrams cholesterol, 163 milligrams sodium

Vanilla Pudding

Makes about five 1/2 -cup servings

2 cups whole milk

2/3 cup sugar

5 large egg yolks

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

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