A few years ago I was in my kitchen making a creamy orange puddingy pie. I was following the recipe, whisking together various liquids, corn starch, and sugar on the stove top waiting for something to happen, uncertain of what I was doing. Then suddenly it happened: Pudding Magic. What one second was an unappealing opaque thin liquid, the next second transformed into a soft and creamy pudding. I was blown away. That day a pudding-maker was born.
I always loved pudding growing up, whether it was the boxed Jello Pudding Mix version or the Hunt’s Snack Pack in my lunch box (I guess my immigrant parents tried to provide me with the best of American processed foods so I wouldn’t feel left out at school. Somehow people still seemed to notice my turban and brown skin and harass me regularly…but I can understand my parents’ efforts at suburban America assimilation. Hmmm…this sounds like the start of a different post all together).
Something about the smooth and creamy texture in my mouth has always drawn me to pudding. Maybe pudding isn’t the first thing that comes to your mind when it comes to sensual foods, but perhaps I’ll convert you by the end of this post.
Sensual or not, my aforementioned pie-making experience inspired me to figure out how to make my own pudding. So I began researching recipes online and experimenting with different flavors and thickeners, and learned that it doesn’t take much to make a delicious, luscious and satisfying pudding to eat on its own, put in a pie, or use for a layered trifle dessert. And you don’t necessarily need eggs, cream, or even dairy products at all to do so (though I do in all honesty prefer my pudding with cow’s milk)!
Some of the puddings I regularly make include: chocolate (regular or spicy), vanilla bean (so simple, yet so good), peanut butter (often made into a filling for PB pudding pie with a layer of chocolate ganache underneath), coconut-banana-ginger (vegan, made with coconut milk and crystalized ginger), and I’ve recently started exploring rice puddings (my latest creation being a blood orange-vanilla bean-cardamom version).
Once you start making pudding, it’s really easy to make up your own recipes using the basic formula (which I explain below in the recipe), which I did this past week for a family gathering in Atlanta (where my brother and his family live). We were having a big meal with both sides of the family together, and banana pudding was requested of me (I usually get charged with making dessert for these sorts of things and am happy to oblige). My mom used to make banana pudding when we were growing up and always used boxed pudding mix.
Here’s what a box of Jello vanilla pudding mix has in it: Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Contains less than 2% of Natural and Artificial Flavor, Salt, Disodium Phosphate and Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (For Thickening), Mono- and Diglycerides (Prevent Foaming), Artificial Color, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Bha (Preservative).
Needless to say, I went ahead and made mine from scratch with layers of vanilla and peanut butter puddings, an ode to the PB and banana sandwich that I adore (my local-eating aspirations are still just aspirations I guess). Pudding magic to the max with out the tetrasodium or bha (what the hell is bha?!)
So for all the pudding lovers and even pudding skeptics out there, homemade pudding is where it’s at. You’ll never go back to the Jello or even the Kozy Shack. All you need is a whisk and some patience (and a few simple ingredients). And if that’s not enough for inspiration, pudding literally facilitated Ora and I becoming dear friends and cooking comrades! We started having cooking dates after we discovered our shared infatuation with pudding.
So without further delay, here’s my recipe for one of my favorites: spicy chocolate pudding. (I’m happy to share the banana pudding recipe too, but thought I’d start with a simpler one).
Sonny’s Sensual Spicy Chocolate Pudding
(about 5-7 servings)
* 1/4-1/3 cup sugar depending on how sweet you want it (agave nectar works too, just increase the cornstarch a bit)
* 2 tablespoons cornstarch (non-GMO cornstarch is available in most grocery stores these days)
* 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
* 2 cups milk (soy milk or almond milk works well too, or for extra rich you can use cream or half and half for up to 1/2 cup of the liquid)
* 4 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate, chopped or chipped
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* pinch of salt
* ~2 tsp ground cinnamon
* ~ 1/2 tsp cayenne
put milk in a pot with corn starch and whisk and dissolve corn starch some (before turning on heat). then turn on heat to medium and add sugar and cocoa powder. keep whisking as it comes to a slow boil. once it starts boiling it will start thickening. keep whisking whisking whisking until fairly thick (just a couple minutes after thickening begins — you’ll notice the magical puddingy transition, then just keep it going for a couple mins). then turn off the heat and add all the other ingredients and whisk them in, melt the chocolate. turn the heat back onto low until everything is nicely combined.
pour hot pudding into a medium bowl and refrigerate ideally for a couple of hours until cool (though there’s nothing wrong with a warm pudding!)
spiced whipped cream topping
beat one small container of heavy cream with some ground cinnamon and maple syrup or agave nectar.
serve pudding with a dollup of whipped cream on top and shave some dark chocolate on top to make it extra fancy if you want. you can also pour the pudding into a pie crust (i usually do a graham cracker crust) and top with whipped cream for a chocolate pudding pie.