Big weekend. Huge! Sweet 16 party. Passover with one side of the family. Easter with the other. My friend Alana's book debut. Still not back in fighting shape from the Great Germ Siege.
It all calls for pudding. First, my fridge was groaning under the weight of a severe over-estimation regarding how much milk would be consumed at the party. Second, the looming week of lunchboxes bore down on my party-weary behind. Third--ah, salvation--a stolen moment of seated bliss with Alana's book reminded me how positively the lunchbox responds to a jar of pudding tucked into its hungry, fathomless depths.
The simplest of all types of pudding, a cornstarch-thickened milk pudding is the work of a few minutes to put together, and in partnership with a handful of mason jars will reap rewards for you all week, in the fulfillment of either your lunch-packing or midnight snacking responsibilities. I used whole milk here, but any milk--cow or otherwise--will do. This is a big blank canvas for you to fingerpaint upon.
In the case of the chocolate pudding, in fact I used chocolate milk, because that represented a good portion of the aforementioned milk glut, so I added no additional sugar and maybe a half a cup of chocolate chips. It's the proportion of liquid to cornstarch that you need to keep constant, and the rest of the parts are all moveable. I have made it with maple syrup in place of sugar, and used cocoa when I had no chocolate around, and it always turns out to be pudding, lovely thick satisfying milk-enriched pudding. The half cup to four cups proportion makes a pretty firm pudding, so if you'd like it softer, just use 1/3 of a cup of cornstarch instead.
Alana's chocolate pudding first, and below that the caramel version I made for the non-chocolate eaters in my house. Think of this, though: infusing the milk, as you heat it, with either fresh mint or fresh ginger; adding a tablespoon of instant espresso powder or grain coffee; layering a white pudding and a chocolate one in the same container. Why did I only think of that NOW?!
adapted from Alana Chernila's The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You can Stop Buying & Start Making
4 c milk
1/3 c sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
6 ozs chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, or 1 c chocolate chips
Combine 3 cups of the milk with the sugar in a heavy medium saucepan. Combine the remaining cup of milk with the cornstarch in the measuring cup and whisk until smooth. Heat the milk in the pot over medium-low heat until it is steaming. Watch carefully so that you do not burn the milk or let it boil (as in boil over and make a huge mess) and stir frequently. Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the hot mixture, raise the heat slightly and stir constantly until it begins to thicken, which will only take about 5 minutes. As it starts to thicken, stir in the chocolate and continue to cook until the mixture is nicely thick and waves from stirring stay visible on the surface. It will thicken considerably as it cools. Ladle into individual dishes (about 6 half-pint mason jars) and try to chill it before you eat it, if you can manage to wait. A skin will form on top (a delicacy around here) unless you press greased wax paper or plastic wrap against the surface.
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c water
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean or 2t vanilla extract
4 c milk
1/2 c cornstarch
pinch of salt
You will need 2 pots for this, but it will be entirely worth it.
Measure 3 c of milk into a saucepan and place over a low flame until too hot to leave your finger in there when you test it.
In the measuring cup, combine the cornstarch and the pinch of salt with the remaining cup of milk and whisk until smooth.
In another pot, a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Allow to boil until a beautiful medium amber color (5 minutes, approximately) and IMMEDIATELY dump in the hot milk (sugar moves rapidly from 'lovely medium amber' to 'miserably blackened mess' unless you arrest its progress). The mixture will boil up fearsomely and you will think that all is lost, but soldier onward.
As you continue to heat and stir, the two substances will combine smoothly and you'll wonder why you ever doubted it would turn out well. Now whisk in the cornstarch mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is nicely thick and waves from stirring stay visible on the surface. It will thicken considerably as it cools. Ladle into individual dishes (about 6 half-pint mason jars) and try to chill it before you eat it, if you can manage to wait. A skin will form on top (a delicacy around here) unless you press greased wax paper or plastic wrap against the surface.