Friday, February 28, 2014
With the Oscars set to air this Sunday, movie fanatics are gearing up for this year's tribute to the films and the stars that make so many intriguing stories come alive. Movies are such a great escape that we willingly give a few moments of our undivided attention to immerse ourselves in another world. They teach, they entertain, they move. I admire the craft of writing, acting and direction and all that goes into building the mood and the tone of a film: location, set decoration, lighting, costume, cinematography, editing and sound. Every bit a delicate balance.
In great contrast to the drama and elaboration of the silver screen, this Vanilla Pudding is a very unassuming dessert. That is not to understate its elegance and beauty. It has a quiet subtlety and simplicity that impresses on the first sumptuous taste.
Every now and then I like to get back to basics. There aren't a lot of ingredients or embellishments in this pudding: fresh milk, sugar, cornstarch, salt, eggs, a little butter and a good vanilla, all in their own delicate balance. The preparation takes about 15 minutes or so. Then the puddings cool to a creamy consistency and you're in for a sublime dessert.
So let's celebrate the movies, enjoy our popcorn and, for dessert, grab a spoon. For all its deliciously rustic and spare quality, this, too, is worthy of the spotlight.
- Don't skimp on the salt. It's necessary to enhance the flavor of the milk.
- For a richer hit of vanilla, use 1/2 vanilla bean instead of the vanilla extract. To maximize the vanilla bean flavor, split the pod and work the seeds into the sugar with your fingers rather than simply adding them directly to the milk. This helps ensure they get evenly distributed. Place the vanilla sugar along with the vanilla pod in the saucepan with the milk. Once the pudding is cooked, remove the pod before adding the butter and vanilla.
- I like to keep the heat on my gas stove at medium low for more control. If the pudding is cooking too fast, just lift the pan off the heat to settle it down and be sure to lower the heat.
- When stirring the pudding over the heat, switch to a heatproof rubber spatula or flat-bottom wooden spoon. As you're stirring, make sure you're covering the entire bottom of the pan to keep a thick coating from forming and scorching. A whisk doesn't scrape the bottom of the pan in broad sweeps well enough to keep the mixture moving. A whisk also creates a lot of air bubbles, which can make it difficult to see the thickening process.
- This pudding doesn't form a thick film on top but if you want to avoid any skin from forming, keep stirring it as it cools to break up the protein or press a piece of plastic onto the surface.
- Always use unsalted butter for pastry and desserts unless otherwise noted. I'll start noting "unsalted" in my posts.
- The candied citrus in the photos is from the recipe for Olive Oil Cake with Candied Orange (as explained in the first bench note at the link). The cookies are Plain Jane Cookies from my ecookbook, The Global Pastry Table, pasties & desserts with international style for the modern kitchen.
Makes 4 half-cup servings
2 cups (16 oz) whole milk
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) sugar
2 tablespoons (18 grams) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
1 oz (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature, cut into 1/4" pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whisk together the cold milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan and set over medium low heat. Switch to a heatproof rubber spatula or flat-bottom wooden spoon and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly. When a light foam begins to form around the edges, cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Take off the heat.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break them up and slowly add about 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly until thoroughly combined. Add the remaining milk and blend. Pour back into the saucepan and return to medium low heat. Using the heatproof rubber spatula or flat-bottom wooden spoon and stirring constantly, bring to a very slow boil and cook for 2 - 3 minutes until the mixture is thickened. The pudding is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and a finger traced through it leaves a clean track. It will thicken more as it cools.
Remove from the heat and add the pieces of butter and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Pour into four ramekins or a bowl to cool. Serve warm or refrigerate for about 2 hours to chill.