Monday, December 18, 2006

Chocolate Pudding

Pudding is a word you are no doubt familiar with, and if you are like most of us out there, love the thought of. But pudding can that mean many different things, often defined by a preceding description (bread pudding, yorkshire pudding) and can vary depending on what continent (or island) you are standing on. Encompassing the entirety of the dessert course in the UK, the broad term pudding has a much more specific meaning here. When an American cook is looking for a pudding recipe, they want to make something smooth, creamy, cooked with milk, eggs, and starch and most often tasting of a singular flavor. Something so delicate in it's richness that must be spooned from a cup.

When Jell-o introduced it's boxed pudding mixes at modest prices, some so convenient they needed no cooking, pudding became a staple in day to day American cuisine. Whether it was made in your home of not, you saw it was served in the school cafeteria, sitting next to you in your best friends sack lunch, or served as an after school snack at your neighbors.

I'll admit, I am part of a generation that knew only that pudding started in a box. My mom liked foods that offered convenience, as do many parents who spend most of the day chasing around 3 very active children. It's no crime to take advantage of shortcuts in the kitchen when your energy is focused elsewhere. Life is one big balancing act, and pudding from a box helped my mom keep hers level.

This offered no preparation for me, however, leading my life as a pastry chef. I love having a bit of pudding on my menu. Just a few bites served in a cute little dish aside a dessert, a nice alternative to plating everything with an ice cream. Not only a luxurious way to present a flavor, pudding is received by more than the palate. Pudding triggers nostalgia, adding a tiny emotional response of childlike joy to the dish.

While putting a dessert that is so well received on a plate seems easy, it's challenge is in it's simplicity. While our nostalgic memories of pudding prepare us to enjoy the dessert on many levels, our adult palates will be disappointed by the bland and unexciting flavors of the puddings we ate as children. In presenting a pudding, it has to taste better than the child in us remembers.

Working with a method from an decidedly unamerican pastry chef, I have a pudding on my menu that I am confident accomplishes all it has set out to do. Rather than make a simple ganache by pouring hot cream over chocolate, Pierre Herme pours a hot custard over chocolate for a filling in his cakes. By using the same concept my pudding was created. A hot custard flavored with brandy is poured over bittersweet chocolate and poured in individual dishes. When left to set up, a thin skin is formed. While this skin was eschewed by many, I see it as a defining quality of pudding. Removing the skin is like taking the crust off a bread, or the rind off Brie.

At the restaurant the pudding is made in large batches and used bit by bit to fill dishes, so no skin is served. But when making this pudding at home I delight in eating the tender skin first.

Chocolate Pudding

1 lb bittersweet chocolate
2 cups cream
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tbsp brandy
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
10 egg yolks

1. Chop the chocolate finely and place in a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients.

2. In a medium sized, heavy bottom saucepan, combine the cream, milk, brandy, vanilla, and salt and scald. Whisk the yolks and sugar together until they lighten a bit in color, about 1 minute. Temper the hot cream into the yolks and return to the stove top.

3. Cook the custard over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.

4. Strain the hot custard into a pitcher or bowl. Ladle 1/4 of the hot custard over the chopped chocolate. Slowly stir the chocolate until the custard has been stirred in completely and the chocolate looks glossy. Repeat adding the custard to the chocolate in 2 more batches, stirring slowly between additions until all the custard has mixed in and the chocolate looks glossy.

5. Pour the pudding into individual dishes, or one large dish and chill until set, about 2 hours for the small cups, or 4 to 6 for the large. I have also used this as a chocolate cream pie filling.