Comforting, sweet and savory pudding

Comforting, sweet and savory pudding

Pudding. The word is both comforting and sort of silly — rolling off the tongue to evoke sweet memories of the smooth chocolate stuff, and Bill Cosby gleefully pushing instant Jell-O brand in the box.

But while cupcakes and doughnuts have had cool revivals, and cakes and pies never went away, made-from-scratch pudding has only recently resurfaced as a subject for reconsideration, appearing in several new cookbooks that favor old-fashioned desserts.

In “Desserts From the Famous Loveless Cafe” (Artisan, 2011), Nashville pastry chef Alisa Huntsman writes that “puddings fit in perfectly with the down-home nature of the cafe, and our Loveless Banana Pudding remains one of the most popular desserts on our menu.”

Though she’s a Culinary Institute of America graduate, Huntsman said she happily dipped into her childhood for many of the recipes in the puddings section of the cookbook, which includes tapioca, rice and brownie bread pudding.

“I was definitely going back and getting things that I would have loved to have had as a child,” Huntsman said. “And I still like to eat pudding.”

Huntsman offers quick and delicious takes on stirred stovetop chocolate and butterscotch puddings that use a few basic ingredients, including half and half, sugar, cornstarch and egg yolks.

“I love creamy chocolate,” she said. “That’s my thing. But the butterscotch has a complex combination of caramel, salty and sweet that really sends it home.”

From sweet to savory, pudding’s eggy custard base is able to transform other kinds of ingredients to create dishes that are equally easy and satisfying.

Thomas Keller, in “Ad Hoc At Home” (Artisan, $50), and Hugh Acheson, in “A New Turn in the South” (Clarkson Potter, $35), both have versions of leek bread pudding that use a “sweets style” of cooking to make a wonderful dish that can serve as a savory side or simple meatless meal.

My own childhood food memories are filled with church and community potluck suppers, where corn puddings, sometimes topped with corn flakes, were a staple. Adding shrimp and spice to the mix of custard and fresh corn pushes the flavors in a more sophisticated direction.

Whatever the recipe, side, main dish or dessert, could pudding be back?

A half-dozen tips for stirred puddings from pastry chef Alisa Huntsman:

1. As with any recipe, read it from start to finish, at least once, if not twice.

2. Always gather all your ingredients and equipment together before you turn on the stove. This is especially important with puddings and custards, because the difference between properly cooked and overcooked can happen while you’re looking for something.

3. Watch your heat. It’s always better to bring your milk up to a boil slowly, allowing things like vanilla beans to steep, which will extract the most flavor.

4. When you’re using cornstarch, you must bring it to a full boil. If you don’t, you be leaving uncooked starch in your final product, and it will be loose and runny, and won’t taste right.

5. Invest in a heavy-gauge stainless steel saucepan with a thick bottom. It will conduct heat more evenly and allow you to cook sauces and custards without scorching.

6. You’ll also want to have a nice, fine-gauge strainer. No professional pastry chef ever cooks anything with eggs without straining it after it’s done. Any little rubbery bits will ruin the consistency of your custard.

Photos by Renee Brock/ Special; Styling by Lisa Hanson/Special

Recipes

These quick and easy pudding recipes include savory and sweet takes on old-fashioned and updated favorites.

Savory Leek and Gruyere Bread Pudding

Hands on time: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Serves 8

This savory bread pudding combines the earthy-sweet flavor of leeks with a cheese custard in a dish that can serve as a side for roast beef or chicken — or have it with a salad for a simple meatless meal.

For the leeks:

1 tablespoon butter

2 large leeks (white part only) finely sliced

1/2 cup dry white wine

For the custard:

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups heavy cream

3 cups whole milk

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded and divided

1 challah or brioche loaf, cut into 1 inch cubes and lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 375.

To cook the leeks:

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and cook leeks 6-8 minutes until translucent. Add white wine and cook another 5 minutes. Set aside.

To make the custard:

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and salt. Add cream, milk, pepper, nutmeg, thyme, 3/4 cup Gruyere and stir to combine. Add the leeks to custard and combine.

To assemble:

Butter a 10-by-8-inch soufflé or gratin dish, layer the bread to cover and pour custard leek mixture over the bread. Sprinkle additional 3/4 cup Gruyere cheese over the top and let stand for 10 minutes, then bake 40-50 minutes.

Per serving: 668 calories (percent of calories from fat, 65), 19 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 48 grams fat (28 grams saturated), 242 milligrams cholesterol, 802 milligrams sodium.

Corn and Shrimp Pudding

Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Serves 6

This version of a potluck standby adds shrimp, herbs and hot sauce for a spicy seafood corn pudding. Use crab instead of shrimp for a different flavor.

4 to 6 ears fresh corn, to yield 3 cups

2 tablespoons butter

5 scallions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped

2 tablespoons thyme, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup half and half

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1/4 cup all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350.

Into a large bowl, cut kernels off the ears of corn and include milky bits.

In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter and cook scallions for 2 minutes. Set aside.

Add the scallions to the corn. Add eggs, half and half, parsley and thyme. Season with salt, Tabasco and white pepper.

In a separate bowl, toss shrimp with flour, shaking off excess. Fold shrimp into corn pudding.

Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Pour in pudding and bake for 1 hour until set and lightly browned.

Per serving: 241 calories (percent of calories from fat, 36), 21 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 10 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 203 milligrams cholesterol, 551 milligrams sodium.

Chocolate Pudding

Serves 4

Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 4 hours, including chilling

Just a few ingredients and 10 minutes at most yield a perfectly delicious homemade pudding. With all the chocolates available now, you can create a different pudding each time you make it. For a less intense chocolate flavor, try a semisweet chocolate; for a more sophisticated taste, use a bittersweet chocolate that’s high in cacao. Children often prefer pudding made with milk chocolate.

2 cups half-and-half

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

4 egg yolks, at room temperature

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped into small pieces

In a small heavy saucepan, combine 1 3/4 cups of the half-and-half and the sugar. Slowly bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Place the cornstarch in a heatproof bowl. Whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup half-and-half to make a smooth paste.

Add the egg yolks and whisk until blended. To temper the egg yolks, gradually whisk in about one-third of the hot half-and-half in a thin stream to warm them. Slowly whisk the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the remaining half-and-half in the saucepan. Return to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking constantly; continue to boil, whisking, for 1 minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Whisk gently until the chocolate is melted and smooth, making sure to scrape down the sides of the pan so that no streaks remain. Strain the pudding into a serving bowl or 4 dessert dishes. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it right onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate 2 to 4 hours, until completely chilled, before serving.

Tip: Even though the egg yolks in a stirred pudding are tempered by gradual warming to produce a silky smooth dessert, the cornstarch used as a thickener protects them from curdling. That’s why a pudding can be boiled to finish cooking at the end without any worry.

Per serving: 435 calories (percent of calories from fat, 53), 8 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 27 grams fat (15 grams saturated), 257 milligrams cholesterol, 59 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from “Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe” by Alisa Huntsman (Artisan, $24.95)

Butterscotch Pudding

Serves 4

Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 4 hours, including chilling

Real butterscotch flavor is complex: buttery with a hint of caramel, salty and sweet all at the same time. Making stirred pudding like this is much easier than you’d expect, because you don’t have to worry about the egg yolks curdling. The only tricky part is caramelizing the brown sugar without burning it.

2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 inch of vanilla bean, split lengthwise in half

2 cups half-and-half

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons cornstarch

4 egg yolks, at room temperature

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dark rum

To make the caramel: Place the brown sugar in a deep heavy saucepan and stir in 3 tablespoons water. Set over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the syrup starts to boil, place a candy thermometer in the pot and cook without stirring until it reaches 255°F. Immediately remove from the heat.

With the tip of a knife, scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into a small saucepan and toss in the pod. Add 1 3/4 cups of the half and half and the salt and warm over low heat.

When the caramel reaches 255°F, quickly whisk in 1/2 cup of the hot half-and-half. Whisk in the warm half and half in several more additions until it is all incorporated. Return the caramel cream to medium-low heat and bring to a boil, whisking gently and scraping the bottom of the pan. Remove the caramel cream from the heat. Discard the vanilla bean.

To finish the pudding:

In a heatproof bowl, mix the remaining 1/4 cup half-and-half and the cornstarch, whisking until smooth. Add the egg yolks and whisk until blended. To temper the egg yolks, slowly whisk in about one-third of the caramel cream in a thin stream. Whisk the warmed egg yolks back into the remaining caramel cream in the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking, for 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and rum. Discard the vanilla pod. Strain the pudding into a large serving bowl or 4 individual dessert dishes. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it right onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate 2 to 4 hours, until completely chilled, before serving.

Per serving: 465 calories (percent of calories from fat, 54), 6 grams protein, 47 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 28 grams fat (16 grams saturated), 281 milligrams cholesterol, 307 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from “Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe” by Alisa Huntsman (Artisan, $24.95)

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