Thursday, May 19, 2011

Polyvalent Pudding

The term 'pudding' is one that usually brings a thick, sweet dessert to mind, one that can take on a variety of forms - unfortunately the most common form is now a powder that you pour out of a box, mix with milk, and heat.  Possibly, it even brings little plastic cups to mind, as these seem even more ubiquitous than the powdered variety with the kids these days.

However, a 'pudding' can be savory as well as sweet, and early 'puddings' were actually something more like a sausage, often being boiled or steamed in something like a sheep's stomach.  Or take the oft misquoted quotable "The proof (aka 'test') of the pudding (usually truncated here and quoted as 'the proof is in the pudding)"  it should have "is in the eating" tacked on the end - meaning that one can only fully test something if one experiences it*.  I include this quotable partly because I didn't know what it meant up until two hours ago, but also because I think you should take it literally when it comes to your puddings. Learn to make a pudding that is not from a box, and even one that is not thickened with cornstarch and you will prove your pudding and yourself.

Polyvalent Pudding
- 4 parts milk (at a minimum, use whole milk, but half & half or heavy cream is even better!)
- 2 parts sugar 
- 1 part cocoa powder (easier to blend, and be sure it is unsweetened - don't use hot cocoa mix)
- 0.5 part flour
- 8 parts egg yolk
- Additional flavorings (Vanilla, cinnamon, be creative!)
As you can see, I have adopted a ratio-based ingredient list here - I find that easier than doing all the metric/standard conversions, and it actually makes things much easier for you if you want to reduce or enlarge the process.  So, in case it looks a bit confusing, for you users of standard measurings, think of the ingredients in terms of cups first - 4 cups of milk, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of cocoa power, 1/2 cup of flour, 8 egg yolks.  This will make about 10 servings, but halving is really easy now!  2 cups of milk, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, 1/4 cup of flour, 4 egg yolks.  A little math, but so much easier.

Also, you'll note that this is a sweet, chocolate pudding.  For a vanilla pudding (or another flavour that does not involve chocolate) up the flour to 1 part, and be a bit more liberal with your sugar.  In the future, I may do a savory pudding (maybe in another entire animal post - you can make a great blood pudding!).

So, to start things off, add your dry ingredients to a bowl and either sift or gently whisk to combine them thoroughly, then slowly add the milk while whisking, being sure that no clumps are left to surprise you when you eat it later (nothing can wreck a polyvalent pudding like a little uncooked flour bomb!).  Save a small amount of your milk or cream for later, and separate your eggs now - they need to be a bit on the warm side.

Set up a double boiler, or simply a metal bowl set over a gently simmering pot.  Don't try to do this without this kind of setup, you will do an excellent job of scorching your pudding instead of proving yourself and your pudding.  Be sure that the water is only gently boiling, and add your mixture from before to the bowl or the top of the double boiler.  Heat gently, stirring almost constantly until the mixture is hot, test it by touching it to your lips, it should be just at the point where you would need to wait a second before eating, it will take somewhere around 12-15 minutes. Don't let it boil!

Now, whisk your egg yolks with a bit of the leftover cream or milk and bring them over near your hot mixture.  Using the skills you have cultivated from your previous emulsions, very slowly add a bit of the hot mixture to your egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Continue adding your hot mixture until the egg yolks are blended, and they feel relatively warm to the touch.  You can now pour this mixture back into the mixture on the top of the double boiler.  You need to be careful during this step, for if you add the hot mixture too quickly, or don't whisk enough, you will have scrambled egg yolks on your hands.  

At this point, heat the blended mixture thoroughly, stirring constantly for something close to 45 minutes (You may want to snag a small glass of grappa to sip on during this time to keep yourself from growing too unsteady).  Keep an eye on things, as it should start to thicken.  You don't want things too gloppy, so pull it off the heat earlier if it looks thick in a satisfactory kind of way.  You can add a small knob of butter during this time  if you would like - it gives your pudding a wonderful richness.  You can also add some shaved chocolate bar during this time to add more chocolate flavor and thickness.  When the perfect thickness is achieved remove it from the heat, add any flavorings you would like,  decant your pudding into serving bowls** and chill it for 1 to 24 hours, depending on how cold you like your pudding.

I would suggest starting with this chocolate pudding before trying another flavor.  You can also just take the cheater's way out and use a mixture of equal parts cornstarch and water, with no flour or egg yolks.  Your pudding will be far less demanding, and will get thick after only a few minutes of cooking, but ask yourself, "Do I really want to be that kind of person?"***

If you make it this far, you will understand that true pudding is a test, it requires you to prove yourself at a few junctures, and once you have you can truly say "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" while you enjoy it topped with some crème fraîche.

* You know, like when you tell someone that they shouldn't take Ambien while operating an industrial drill press and they say "Dude, don't knock it until you've tried it."

** If you like skin on top of your pudding, cover them with plastic wrap while chilling them.  

*** No, you do not.

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