Wednesday, September 05, 2012

chocolate custard pudding

Modern food has suffered in the name of convenience. Ease of preparation and a demand for longer shelf-life has rendered our foods bland, textureless and devoid of nutrients.

One simple but sterling example is the simple custard. What we Americans call "pudding"--which generally comes packaged in single-serve plastic cups, full of corn syrup and starches--is the bastard cousin of what the Victorians called custard: a simple, elegant food of milk, dairy fat, and eggs, with a little sugar and flavoring; simple food for children and invalids, a mild dessert or nourishing, easy-to-eat meal. 

Creme brulée is the nearest thing most Americans have tasted to a classic custard, but even in fancy restaurants those desserts tend to be grainy and full of cornstarch, because real cream is perishable, expensive, and delicate to cook.

I have a basic chocolate pudding recipe, in a reprint of a vintage Hershey's cookbook from the 40's. It, too, uses cornstarch as thickener, but I've been playing with it, and I came up with something much yummier.

This custard tastes like gourmet ice cream. The egg and the use of half & half, rather than milk, make the difference. It is not very sweet; I like my chocolate desserts on the bitter side.

2 cups half-and-half, divided
1 large or jumbo egg
1/4 cup unsweeted cocoa powder
1/3-1/2 cup granulated sugar, to taste
2 Tbs cornstarch
pinch salt
2 Tbs butter
1 tbs vanilla
Optional: 2-3 Tbs of chopped bittersweet chocolate melted along with the cream will add extra richness and silky texture.

Whisk the egg with the cornstarch and about 1/2 cup of the half-and-half in a small bowl.

Place the remainder of the half-and-half in a medium saucepan, with the cocoa, sugar, and salt. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until very warm. Spoon out a 1/4 cup or so of the warm liquid into the egg mixture and whisk it together to temper the egg.

Whisk the egg mixture into the saucepan; keep stirring and cooking until it begins to boil. It will thicken very quickly after that. Pour off into a bowl; stir in the butter and vanilla.

Let cool slightly, press plastic over the top, and refrigerate. It will thicken further as it chills, but I like it while still slightly warm, especially on a cold night.


Shirley, surely said...

Dammit... I may have to go to the store to get half-and-half.

Freyalyn Close-Hainsworth said...

And this is one of those weird divergences between the UK and the US - we would never eat custard on its own as a dessert or pudding, but as a sauce on a pudding! Except creme brulee, or creme caramel.

Holly said...

I know, right? And then there's the whole subdivision of steamed puddings--like Christmas plum pudding--which most Americans have never tried and would look at with suspicion...

The Victorians of course used to mold everything, and come up with these weird/interesting semi-solid foods in combinations of sweet and meaty. Ironically, all that suet and gelatin was a lot healthier than the food additives we eat now.