I'm crazy about pudding. I know, I know. Granny food. Sludge from a packet. Bill Cosby.
Pudding tends to get a bad rap, but hear me out. When made from scratch, it is really, really, good stuff, even dinner party fare. It's the homiest of desserts—warm, and rich, and comforting. Especially when eaten out of a mug. And so easy to whip up, not much more complicated than making a powdered mix that comes in a box. I think chocolate pudding was the first recipe I memorized by heart from making it so many times. Although my version isn't quite Cooks Illustrated material.
Slapdash chocolate pudding
(Serves 1 person, give or take)
Grab a pot. Pour in two big spoonfuls of cocoa powder, two big spoonfuls of cornstarch, three or four big spoonfuls of sugar. Stir until combined. Pour in 1 cup or so of milk. Turn on the heat. Stir until the mixture comes to a boil, bubbles, and thickens. Throw in a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips and turn off the heat. Stir the chocolate and a splash of vanilla extract until it is combined. Eat your pudding out of the pot and scrape up any remaining traces of it with your fingers. Chocolate pudding smeared across your face is a nice look.
Last week I got my usual cool-weather hankering for pudding, but while rummaging through our cabinets for cocoa powder, I considered the idea that maybe my pudding could be a smidge better. My method, while somewhat unreliable (on the rare occasion it can be cloyingly sweet or too thin, but it's always edible), is mindless and fast when you just NEED dessert and there aren't any cookies in the house. And, between us, it's also an honest representation of the way I really cook. But maybe a proper recipe, with eggs, and a dab of butter, and, uh, actual measurements would be better? Worth a shot, anyway, right? I pulled out my Food & Wine 30th anniversary issue, which is full of great recipes (archived here), and found Richard Sax's double-chocolate pudding. The copy promised it had "intense flavor and a silky texture that’s still firm enough to stand a spoon in." Sold!
The addition of eggs makes this pudding thick and rich, as advertised. But be sure to whisk the cornstarch liquid as thoroughly as possible to avoid lumps—which mine had. Or maybe because I didn't bother to strain it? Whatever. When Dan asked what the lumps were, I just told him they were bits of unmelted chocolate. And he believed me!
(Serves about 6 people)
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
5 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used chocolate chips)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream, for serving
In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of the milk with 1/4 cup of the sugar and the salt and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the cocoa and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until blended. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Whisk this mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer, whisking constantly, until the pudding is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk the whole egg with the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 1 cup of the hot cocoa mixture into the eggs until thoroughly incorporated, then pour it back into the saucepan. Cook the pudding over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until it just comes to boil, about 2 minutes. Strain the pudding into a medium heatproof bowl. Add the chopped chocolate, butter and vanilla and whisk until the chocolate and butter are melted and incorporated and the pudding is smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer the pudding to six 6-ounce ramekins (or one large bowl) and refrigerate until chilled. Serve with lightly whipped cream.