I love pudding, but I always thought it would be a really involved process. Walker has never really liked pudding, and I’m sort of developing a theme here where I push us to eat things we believe we don’t like in an effort to broaden our culinary horizons. This recipe would not only push Walker pasts his pudding hating (because really, who hates pudding) and it also would push me far out of my comfort zone with caramel.

I’ve made grainy caramel and burnt caramel and hard caramel, and never once have I been truly happy with a caramel result. But the promise of a caramel pudding sounded too good to let a little fear of boiling sugar get in the way of.  Sure it would take a while, and sure I don’t have a candy thermometer so I’d have to gauge the caramel’s done-ness by color alone, but I can do it, right?

Caramel Pudding

Caramel pudding, and look! I haven't killed my paper whites yet!

Adapted from Food & Wine and Smitten Kitchen
Makes 7 1/2 cup ramekins of pudding

Ingredients

4 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons cornstarch
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar

Preparation

1. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of milk with the cornstarch, and vanilla until there are no clumps. Set aside.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar with 6 tablespoons of water and bring to a boil. Cook over medium high heat, without heating, until it becomes a deep amber caramel color, about 10 minutes after it first starts boiling. Don’t leave the room and watch the color closely once it starts to boil. It will only take a second to go from perfect to burnt. Remove from the heat.

3. Very gradually whisk in the remaining 3 1/2 cups of milk.  The milk will bubble up as you add it to the hot caramel, so be sure to add in very slowly.

4. Return the pot to the stove and whisk over moderate heat until the caramel has fully dissolved into the milk. Simmer over medium heat until the mixture thickens slightly and deepens in color, about 10 minutes.

5. Slowly pour in the cornstarch, whisking as you pour. The pudding will immediately start to thicken. Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking, until the pudding thickens up a little more, about two minutes.

6. Food and Wine recommends that you strain the pudding, but I don’t own a strainer with a fine enough mesh and that’s just one more step I can skip to make my life easier. Skipping this step will make for a slightly lumpier pudding, but it will hardly make the pudding less tasty. If you choose to strain, do so now.

7. Pour the pudding into 1/2-cup ramekins and cover each ramekin individually with a piece of plastic wrap. As you cover, press the plastic to the top of the pudding itself, removing all air, and refrigerate until chilled and set, about 2 hours. Removing the air will prevent that leathery skin on the top of the pudding from forming.

Caramel pudding - only three seconds after this photo, it had disappeared

Critic’s Comments

“Hey I don’t even like pudding! This is good!”

I think I’ve changed one mind about pudding’s place on a plate – though I can’t speak for hospital puddings or puddings in a plastic cup. I don’t think anyone really loves those. This pudding is very sweet, and I can’t even imagine what it would have been if like Food and Wine suggested, I used the same volume of liquid and doubled the amount of sugar. I think this was definitely the way to go. Also, to cut the sweetness just a bit, I served this pudding with these not-too-sweet chocolate wafers and the flavors played off of one another well so that nothing was too over powering.

The greatest part of this pudding is that these are four basic ingredients that you almost always have on hand! No more last minute runs to the grocery store before you can enjoy your own decadent dessert, and it doesn’t need to be costly either!

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