The sun is finally here to stay, or so it seems. New Yorkers are still a little bit on edge – we’re convinced we’ll be punished with gray clouds this whole summer.
But I was brave and I finally bought a pint of strawberries.
And I had a plan for the strawberries. It involved pavlova, chocolate mousse and strawberries on top.
But then my plan, as they so often do, totally derailed – but in a really, really good way.
Two things happened:
First, I finally satisfied my curiosity about Eton Mess – that English dessert of crushed meringues, whipped cream and strawberries. It tastes like strawberries in fairyland and I am completely addicted.
Second, I accidentally, lazily stopped halfway through making chocolate mousse to discover that I had just made the chocolate pudding of my dreams.
This pudding tastes - finally tastes – the way I always wish and hope the stuff in the plastic tubs will taste.
But they never do. I mean, pudding cups are alright – they have a certain plasticky appeal to them, but they promise a chocolateyness that they never live up to. Instead, they are gloopy with a ghostly hint of chocolate that comes from same faraway land of stale, abandoned chocolate.
Well, what I like about the idea of pudding is the soft, cold, cloudy creaminess which is not the same as the sort of sharp coldness you get from ice cream. Pudding is what you want when you want something in between chocolate milk and chocolate ice cream.
Whenever I crave that in-between soft, chocolatey comfort, usually in the summertime, I rather sulkily pretend to enjoy a small tub of pudding. Most recipes for the home-made version include corn starch and I think I made such a version once long ago and was not pleased with the result.
Possibly I just didn’t like chocolate pudding as far as standard chocolate puddings go, but there was an idea in my head of what I always thought it should and would taste like.
And now, at long last I have found it.
I suppose it’s really more like a thick custard. Thickened by egg yolks, the richness of cream and not too much chocolate. It tastes rich, and IS rich, – but it is so light on the tongue, like eating cool chocolate clouds. It is cold and creamy, but not as cold and creamy as ice cream. It has not even the slightest hint of the plastickiness from corn starch. It is just pure, decadent chocolate.
I have read about a “purist” chocolate pudding (meaning no additives, only chocolate itself used as a thickener) in Joanne Chang’s Flour. Her recipe is a bit more complex, involving both cream and half and half, along with bittersweet chocolate. The idea here is the same though. No corn starch.
For now – this pudding is my pudding of choice. 4 ingredients, no gloopiness, simple, decadent but not overly rich.
It is just what I want – and have always wanted – from the imaginary taste sensations that the words “chocolate pudding” conjure up.
The Chocolate Pudding (emphasis on The)
This recipe is basically a tweaked version of the first part of a Ghirardelli chocolate mousse I made a while ago. I’m not sure I did it correctly then. This time I was very careful with my custard. That recipe calls for 6 oz of chocolate, but I, for some inexplicable reason refused to add more than 4 oz this time. It was just a gut feeling. Always follow your gut. It knows. Second only to the heart.
So once I mixed the chocolate with the warm custard, let everything melt, it set in the refrigerator and two hours later I had a light, velvety, richly chocolatey thing which I could only say was The Chocolate Pudding Of My Dreams. And so I point-blank refused the rest of Ghirardelli’s instructions and put a full-stop on the recipe then and there. It is the best decision I have ever made.
The thing about custard is this: you have to stir like you’re a crazy person about to be sent to the asylum. It’s not pretty. You have to stir like your life depended on it. Then, and only then, will your madness be rewarded with a beautiful, thick, glorious custard – which is the key factor for the pudding.
I wish I could have taken a picture of the custard for you, but trust me, custard making time is NO time to be taking photos. It really does demand uncompromising attention. Or at least it does from me. You might be on more lenient terms with it.
Use good chocolate. I’m sure this would be get-off-the-planet delicious with milk chocolate. I would just avoid regular semi-sweet, unless it’s a really good brand. That might make it taste a bit pedestrian.
Okay! On to the recipe. Sorry about my garrulousness but I just couldn’t contain my enthusiasm for this one.
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
4 oz good quality chocolate, chopped, or chocolate chips
In a medium bowl, beat the yolks together with the vanilla with an electric whisk until thick and pale. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream over medium heat just until it’s hot and you start to see tiny bubbles appear at the edges. Don’t let it boil.
Carefully and slowly, pour half of the cream into the yolk mixture, stirring the yolks all the time. You are tempering the yolks, bringing them up to temperature, so that they won’t cook and curdle when we put them back on the heat.
Now pour the yolk mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the cream. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and madly. Keep a close eye on the custard – you want it to be thick like a thickened white sauce, but it takes a split instant before it goes from that, to curdled. So be vigilant.
As soon as it is thick, remove it from the heat and keep stirring until the mixture cools down a bit (cool enough so that the yolks are finally persuaded to stop cooking).
Place the chocolate in a bowl or storage container. Strain the warm custard through a strainer directly over the chocolate. Stir everything together until the chocolate has melted into the custard.
Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until well-chilled.
Serve with whipped cream and strawberries.
Makes a thousand decadent spoonfuls.
(Less poetic version: about 2 cups.)
Serves however many people are willing to fight you for it.