Friday, January 14, 2011

Vanilla Bean Pudding

Generally, I'm not much for puddings. I mean, I have some recipes for trifles and whatnots that call for instant pudding - and I's just so quick and easy! But in my eyes, pudding is never the star of the dessert. The brownies or strawberries or sweetened whipped cream factor is always the star. Pudding is creamy and it's nice that it's there, but in 97% of situations, if there were a bowl of vanilla pudding sitting in the fridge, I could resist it, no problem. (The other 3% would involve NO chocolate OF ANY KIND being available in the house. And you will notice that 3% is a very, very tiny percentage. Our house always has chocolate.)

That's why the recipe I'm about to share with you is a game-changer. I am sitting here at the computer, composing this post, la la la - but I'd really much rather standing at our refrigerator door, sneaking a few spoonfuls of Smitten Kitchen's vanilla bean pudding. Oh, dear, yes.

I've made only a few custards in my day, but each time I have to psych myself up to do it. There's no telling what could go wrong - there's been limited success - and sometimes I've had to remake them. Which stinks. I just don't feel competent in that area. I know, I know...practice makes perfect. Well, all I know is that I'll be saving this vanilla bean pudding recipe and substituting it in every other situation that calls for pudding or custard or such. Banana pudding? Yes. Peanut Butter Pie (that they don't make any more...sad!) from The Olde Pink House in Savannah? Definitely. And can you freeze your own pudding cups? Because, man! That is seeming like an excellent idea!

If you get right down to it, though...this pudding needs nothing else. It can stand alone, exactly as is. I felt true bliss while we ate some last night. Still warm because we couldn't wait until ten o'clock at night at eat dessert. It was very delicious already - and Jeremy actually heated his back up in the microwave when its temperature dropped. (He was eating it and studying for a presentation for work at the same time). "It got cold!" he said.

All of this is truly amazing to me. Because you know how I feel about pudding. Yes, yes, I know it's because there's such a difference between instant and the real stuff, but it's still amazing.

So, I need to tell you that Smitten Kitchen is the cat's meow. The proof is in the pudding. (How do you spell that drum/cymbal crash after a bad joke?) Anyway, Deb is the Big Time, cooking from her tiny kitchen in NYC, and is now working on a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. (Yea!) I'm terribly excited about that because I adore her writing and I think she's super smart in the kitchen. As evidenced by several testings/tastings of her recipes that I myself have held in my own kitchen. If you meander on over to her site, be sure to also click on any links embedded in her text - she's got the cutest little curly-headed toddler that shows up at least once in every post. =)

Back to foodstuffs...if you're trying to decide whether you can master the following recipe or not, remember that a pudding novice had great success with it, so I feel sure that you, too, can make this happen in your kitchen. I do have a few notes, though...

First of all, you may already have guessed this by reading the very name of the recipe, but it does call for a vanilla bean, which is exactly what inspired me to make it - because I already had some. BUT. If you don't, you may still use vanilla extract, but please use the good stuff. (A side, side note: vanilla is quite expensive in all of its variations, but do you know why? I did a little research while I was purchasing them awhile back and was very interested to see how fussy a vanilla bean vine is to grow and harvest. One has to hand-pollinate each flower! If I were growing them, I'd be charging quite a bit, too. Fortunately, a little goes a long way. That being said, I did use one whole vanilla bean instead of the half that Deb called for. Don't skimp - it's scrumptious!)

Also. Milk. Deb's recipe calls for whole milk, which I don't ever have. What I do have on a regular basis is a fridge door full of skim milk (for drinking) and half & half (for coffee/tea) - and often, heavy cream (for making scones/desserts), which was the case last night, as I had recently made scones. I used a mixture of all of these, to good effect. I would not have attempted this with only skim milk. Word to the wise.

Now, let's get started. While it's good to have your ingredients and measuring apparatuses lined up before beginning any recipe, I encourage a somewhat heightened kind of preparation in this recipe - along with studying it for just a few minutes before putting the milk on to start heating. Don't freak's really not difficult, but for pudding novices, it's just going to be easier (and more fun) to be ready than to not-be-ready.

Vanilla Bean Pudding
Serves six, one-half cup portions

2 2/3 c. whole milk, divided
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch (yes, cup)
1/4 tsp. salt
Seeds (caviar as it's called) from one vanilla bean - or two teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (optional)

Begin heating 2 cups of the milk in a medium saucepan over medium low heat, stirring frequently. Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla bean seeds in a separate heat-safe bowl. (Hint: I used my KitchenAid with the whisk attachment for this step.) Toss the empty vanilla bean pod in the saucepan to steep as the milk continues to heat. 

Slowly add the remaining 2/3 cup of milk to the sugar mixture, whisking well during the process. Also add the egg and whisk again to combine.

Bump up the heat a tad and stir until the milk in the saucepan just begins to boil. Retrieve and discard the vanilla bean pod. Slowly pour just a tad of the hot milk into the sugar/cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly. (Important: this will temper the egg so that you won't end up with scrambled eggs. It can happen.) Slowly add the rest of the heated milk and continue whisking until things are thoroughly combined.

Pour entire mixture back into saucepan, making sure all of the sugar and vanilla bean seeds go with it (some may tend to hang out on the bottom of the mixing bowl) and heat again on medium low. Stir constantly with a silicone spatula with a wide, flat edge (my choice) or a wooden spoon. As it heats, you will notice that the spatula or spoon will start gathering thickened pudding from the bottom of the saucepan. Proceed to stir somewhat quickly as it cooks about one minute longer and thickens up considerably - but don't worry about any lumps that begin to appear. You can whisk those out. After doing so, stir in the tablespoon of butter if you choose to. I chose to - and it was outstanding.

Pour one-half cup of the pudding into six small ramekins. (I think I got my heart-shaped ones in the dollar aisle at Target a few years ago.) To avoid pudding skin, press plastic wrap gently onto the surface of the pudding before chilling in the refrigerator. Chill at least two hours. Or eat it warm, like we did, if you just can't wait.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

And, yes, after this pudding photoshoot, there was pudding for lunch. What? It's Friday.

P.S. This post is part of a "linky party" over at Sweet As Sugar Cookies. There's lots of other fun stuff to look at on this blog, so head on over!


  1. I've been waiting for the weekend to make that pudding and it's impossible - love Smitten Kitchen! Those bowls are one of the cutest things I've ever seen - adorable!

  2. This really makes me miss my kitchen. Can't wait to get back home and start cooking again!! This sounds delicious and I'll have to try it. Thanks for putting ways you substitute because that is one thing I really struggle with.

  3. What Happens After Five - I hope you find the time to make this pudding soon! Maybe next weekend. =)

    Kimberly - it does take a bit of trial and error to figure out acceptable substitutes, that's for sure. And reading other cooking blogs helps me out a lot! Sounds like you'll be back in your own kitchen soon, though. Let me know if you need any hints. =)

  4. Love your little heart-shaped ramekins.

    Swing by my blog sometime @

  5. This looks perfect for a valentines day dessert! I need to try this soon! Yummy! :)

  6. That pudding looks so creamy and I bet the vanilla flavor really makes your tastebuds pop. I have a new linky party on my blog called "Sweets for a Saturday" and I'd like to invite you to stop by this weekend and link this up.

  7. This pudding looks wonderful! Simple and delicious! :)

    I'm having the very first GIVEAWAY on my blog. Please stop by to submit an entry. Good Luck.

  8. Thanks so much for linking this up with Sweets for a Saturday. I truly appreciate your support. Hope to see you again next week. By then, I'll have a cute button that you can grab and add to your post.

  9. That looks like a really great, thick vanilla pudding...which is way better than chocolate pudding.


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