Monday 7 March 2011

Hey, Puddin'!

Until the advent of pudding mixes, every cook knew how to make a cornstarch pudding.  Vanilla cornstarch custard pudding, or blancmange, was a staple nursery food in Victorian England and, if dressed up with caramel or chocolate, adorned with fruit, or topped with whipped cream, it was thought fit to grace even the finest table.

After WWII, with advertisers and home economists proclaiming the virtues of convenience food, the humble cornstarch pudding fell from favour.  It’s never regained its place of pride in the home cook’s repertoire.  It is, however, a good thing to know how to make.  We usually have the ingredients on hand and, once mastered, this pudding makes an affordable, tasty, comforting dessert.  It can also be used in pies and parfaits.

The proportions for almost all cornstarch puddings are the same.  With the exceptions of caramel and butterscotch, you can make just about any kind of pudding you might like simply by adding flavourings to basic blancmange right at the end of the cooking time. 

To make a blancmange, begin by whisking together 1/3 c. sugar, 6 Tbsp. cornstarch and ¼ tsp. salt.  Gradually add 4 cups of milk to this mixture, whisking constantly as you do so in order to dissolve the cornstarch.  Place the mixture in the top of a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl over—but not touching—boiling water.  Stir it constantly until it begins to thicken—about 8 to 12 minutes—then cover it and continue to cook the pudding for another 10 minutes. 

Once the milk mixture has thickened, stir about a cup of it very gradually into 2 well-beaten eggs.  Do this slowly, stirring the whole time, to ensure that the eggs blend into the mixture without scrambling.  Add the egg mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk mixture and cook the pudding for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly. 

Remove the pudding from the heat and stir in 1 tsp. of vanilla extract.  Pour it into a bowl and cover it immediately with plastic wrap, making sure that the plastic rests right on the surface of the pudding.  This will prevent the top of the pudding from forming a skin.  Once it has cooled sufficiently, store the pudding in the refrigerator.

Simple, right?  Now that you know how to make it, you can file this recipe away for the next time you have need of a little comfort food.


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