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[Ed: A treat for everyone today - a new guest blogger all the way from Port Colborne, ON (I think our most far flung contributor yet!). Everyone give Robin a warm welcome...]
My stepmother carries chocolate pudding with her wherever she goes. She once dreamed that she found a baby by the side of the road, and she wants to be prepared.
While you and I may not view chocolate pudding as one of nature’s great restoratives, it is true that puddings, historically, were not the frivolous foods that they are today. Medieval puddings were made from highly seasoned meats or fowl, more like sausage than dessert; the pease pudding of nursery rhyme fame was a thick soup of split yellow peas boiled with a ham bone. By the 1800s these savory puddings had evolved and were sweeter, often made with nuts or fruit, but were still boiled; plum pudding is a prime example. Pudding as we know it today is more closely related to custard. The ancient Romans (from ancient Rome, I mean, not elderly Italian cooks) realized the binding properties of eggs, and made sweet flans flavoured with honey and cinnamon; these custards evolved through time into such delights as creme caramel (custard baked on a layer of caramelized sugar which when inverted provides the sauce), Bavarois (custard with whipped cream, gelatine, and fruit or chocolate flavouring), and many other classic desserts.
So there’s pudding for you, in a nutshell. To be honest, even though I spent most of my working life as a cook, I haven’t made much chocolate pudding. I, myself, don’t even care for the stuff. It smacks of invalids and toothlessness, and lacks both textural interest and complexity of flavour. However, when I was a kid, it was a different story. We lived on a farm and had parents with back-to-the-land leanings; oh, how I coveted my little friends’ lunches! Wonderbread, Wagon Wheels, Twinkies, and most of all, those cunning plastic pots of Jell-O Pudding; I would gladly have traded the entire contents of my red barn lunchpail (with silo thermos) for just one Pudding Cup. My mother tried to placate me with homemade chocolate pudding, but I was not deceived. Her pudding came in an earthenware bowl, was topped by a leathery skin, and tasted faintly of goats; I craved pudding that tasted like the sound of that unctuous voice from the Kraft commercials that aired during the Carol Burnett Show.
But today, oh yes, today is Chocolate Pudding Day! A mere three hours ago, I cast aside my culinary snobbism and prepared chocolate pudding – not hot chocolate sabayon, not even pot au chocolate, but straight-forward chocolate pudding, the kind that tempts you to drop the ‘g’. I whisked together a quarter cup of sugar, two tablespoons cornstarch, a quarter cup of cocoal powder and a pinch of salt, then added two cups of whole milk and brought the mixture to a boil, whisking steadily, as is my wont. I beat a couple of egg yolks in a small bowl and whisked in a little of the hot mixture, then added the yoolks back into the saucepan and whisked some more, being careful not to overcook the egg.
Then I took the saucepan off the heat, beat in four ounces of chopped dark chocolate, added a little vanilla, and poured the mixture into four six-ounce ramekins. I toyed briefly with the idea of putting a bit of parchment paper on top of the ramekins to prvent the dreaded puddinskin [Ed.: Great word!], but felt that this was somehow a betrayal of tradition. I chilled the cups for two hours, then tasted.
You know what? It wasn’t that bad. Given a choice I would have preferred to have gnawed the four ounces of chocolate directly from the block, but maybe that’s just me. The pudding’s texture was pleasantly smooth but had the mouth-feel that cornstarch-thickened food always has, faintly glutinous. Using cocoa as well as chopped chocolate gives the pudding much-needed depth and the egg yolks add the richness that whipping cream and/or butter lend to more sophisticated chocolate desserts. And while the puddings did develop a bit of a skin, for some reason it wasn’t nearly as repulsive as I’d remembered. Really, the only thing missing was that little plastic pot, that, of course, and the partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, assorted emulsifiers, and artificial colour and flavour…
Happy Chocolate Pudding Day!