Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Butterscotch Pudding

I didn’t go with a chocolate dessert this year for Valentine’s Day (although I did bake some Mint Chocolate Cookies late last week). It isn’t that I didn’t want something rich and creamy and decadent. I just had my rich and creamy and decadent in the form of butterscotch pudding instead.

I decided it was kind of sad that I didn’t really know how to make pudding from scratch. I’ve made more bread pudding than that creamy, gooey puddle of sweet dessert that Americans usually think of when someone says “pudding.” The few attempts I can remember trying were not very interesting, and I had come to feel like maybe there was a reason that pudding mixes in a box are as popular as they are. Heck, I like them, but I’m determined to master homemade recipes whenever possible.

I think some of my disappointments had their roots in recipes that weren’t all that great to begin with, or were compromised by a reduced-calorie philosophy. While my body type requires such a philosophy, I decided to start at the beginning and make real butterscotch pudding with whole ingredients (plus refined sugar). I think Pablo Picasso said something about having to master the rules before you can begin to break them, and I am, as yet, no master.

I reviewed several recipes and chose the one in The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated magazine. (The one in The Joy of Cooking is similar, and probably great as well, and maybe I’ll try it someday, too.) These recipes are meticulously tested, so I figured it was likely to go well, and I was right. There’s no skimping in this recipe, which is loaded with butter, whole milk, heavy cream and egg yolks and flavored with a generous amount of dark brown sugar. And it’s just as rich and creamy and deliciously flavorful as it sounds.

There’s always a bit of delicacy in cooking eggs and dairy, and my milk mixture did separate a little as it cooked, giving the pudding a texture that was just a tad short of perfectly creamy. I think this may have been because I used a locally produced cream-line whole milk, which is wonderful, but perhaps prone to separation. I’m just guessing here, and I could have done something else that caused the tiny particles to separate out of the colloid. I don’t really care, because the pudding was wonderful: caramel-y sweet, super rich and thick. Definitely something I would serve in small bowls and eat slowly, savoring every delicious spoonful.

Butterscotch Pudding
Adapted from The New Best Recipe from the editors of Cooks Illustrated

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar, gently packed into the measuring cup
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3 egg yolks (from large eggs)
¼ cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Place the butter in a medium-size, heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add the dark brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is bubbly.

2. Gradually whisk in the heavy cream and continue whisking until very well combined and all the sugar is dissolved.

3. Gradually whisk in the milk. Heat the mixture just until it begins to boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan. When the mixture begins to boil, remove it from the heat.

4. In a medium-size bowl, beat the egg yolks together with a whisk. Gradually whisk about ½ cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks. Whisk in the cornstarch until completely combined. Gradually mix the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the hot milk mixture. Stir well to combine.

5. Return the mixture to medium heat and cook, stirring slowly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a few bubbles reach and burst through the surface, just a few minutes. The mixture should be smooth, thick and glossy. Stir in the vanilla extract.

6. Strain the pudding mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Divide the pudding between about 6 small dessert bowls or ramekins if desired. Cover with plastic wrap. Place the plastic wrap directly on the pudding surface to prevent a skin from forming, if desired. Chill for 3 hours or more before serving. Serve cold.

Makes about 6 servings. Keep leftovers chilled for up to a few days.

Another recipe like this one: Butterscotch Pumpkin Fudge 

One year ago: Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies with Black Walnuts and Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust

Two years ago: Stout Bread with Chocolate and Dried Cherries

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