When I was growing up, pudding meant something that came from a box. My grandma opened a package, poured out brown powdery stuff into a pot, stirred in some milk, cooked it until it was thick and hot, then spooned it into glass serving dishes. She never called it pudding. She just always said she made us some My-T-Fine, which she pronounced “morty fine.”
Grandma’s My-T-Fine was smooth and creamy and tasted delicious. But when she passed on, the pudding never tasted the same. I always thought that it was because her loving touch was gone. But I realized years later that the boxed pudding formula had changed over the years. No longer simply a combination of cocoa, cornstarch, sugar and vanillin, there were all sorts of additives listed on the label.
I also learned that with a few simple ingredients, I could duplicate the original flavor and prepare fabulous pudding for my family in just a few minutes, at home, from scratch. It’s incredibly easy to make, the kind of recipe that could involve cooking with your children, and yet, simple as it is, it is sweet and rich enough for adults celebrating a birthday or anniversary dinner.
You only need five ingredients for homemade chocolate pudding: sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, salt and milk. Mix the dry ingredients, add the milk near-boiling and continue to cook the mixture over low-medium heat until the pudding is thick. It takes about 2-3 minutes. If you want to speed things up even more, prepare your own boxed mix ahead of time by combining the dry ingredients and storing them in airtight containers for up to a month (by the way, these make good dinner gifts).
The cocoa you use for pudding should be unsweetened, not cocoa “mix.” which also contains sweetener and other ingredients. Either regular or “Dutch” process cocoa powders are fine, although the Dutch process cocoa, which is treated with alkali to neutralize its acids, dissolves more easily and comes out darker. Use whole milk, if possible, because the pudding will be richer. If you’re counting calories, 2% lowfat milk works.
If you like to experiment and get creative with recipes, you can have lots of fun with basic chocolate pudding. Add a few drops of mint, orange or other extract. To make it into mocha pudding, include 1-1/2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder. For Mexican style pudding, mix in 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon pure chili powder. If you like even more chocolatey pudding, stir in 3 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate just before pouring it into serving dishes.
Chocolate pudding doesn’t need anything else to make it a welcome and wonderful dessert, although sweetened whipped cream or plain old cold heavy cream are classic accompaniments. If you’re feeling industrious you can pour the chocolate pudding into a fully baked pie crust, top it with sweetened whipped cream and voila! you’ve made chocolate pudding pie. Or make a simple “cake” by layering chocolate and vanilla or butterscotch puddings with graham crackers.
Vanilla and butterscotch puddings are just as easy as the chocolate; they are just variations on the same formula, as you’ll see looking at the recipes. There’s no cocoa powder of course, and the amounts and kind of sugar and vanilla extract are slightly different.
Ronnie Fein has been a freelance food and lifestyle writer since 1980. She currently writes regular features for the food and community sections of daily newspapers and has written articles for Newsday, Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer’s Digest, Connecticut magazine, and many other publications. She operates the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, Connecticut and is the author of three cookbooks, the most recent is Hip Kosher (DaCapo, 2008).
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.