Easy Chocolate Pudding / by Cynthia Raub

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I vacillate between having absolutely no self control to annoyingly smug and proud for my saint-like restraint. It's black or white and there is no grey. I either have self control or I don't. This is why you normally won't find cookies, ice cream or any other sweet treat in my home. My smug self feels superior for not caving in at the store and buying yummy and delectable treats at the store. The reason I don't keep treats in the house is because if I have them, I will eat all of them. Not one, not a few - ALL. This is where my self control fails me. But after my kids go to bed, I open my sad pantry doors, and I am disappointed that there are no yummy sweets for me to indulge in. This has lead to some desperate alternatives. A handful of chocolate chips? I've done it. A spoonful of Nutella? On the reg. Cinnamon sugar toast? I'm a child, I know.

But ever since I made this easy and fast chocolate pudding from pantry staples, my late nights have been a little less sad and disappointing. This pudding comes together in 15 minutes because of the cornstarch. Cornstarch doesn't have the best reputation, but it's just as "natural" as refined flour or sugar. I love to use cornstarch in my Korean Green Onion and Seafood Pancakes (Pa Jun) to lighten the pancake batter. For this recipe, the cornstarch thickens your pudding beautifully and easily. This recipe is also very versatile, as you can switch the milk from whole to skim, or an alternative milk. You can omit the cocoa to make a vanilla pudding or omit the generous portion of butter to health-ify things a little. Chocolate pudding can be made ahead and kept for several days, or it can be made on the fly to satisfy an immediate craving. I love that it's easy to transport (especially to a picnic with a summery bean salad) and doesn't require any extraneous kitchen equipment.

Notes: Although this recipe is very straightforward, it does implement one important cooking technique: tempering. Tempering is the process in which you heat an egg mixture slowly with a hot milk mixture. Adding hot milk to eggs will heat the eggs without cooking them, in order to develop the custard. The egg in this recipe helps to thicken the pudding and brings an overall richness to each bite but must be cooked and introduced to the recipe properly. If too much heat is introduced to the eggs too quickly, the eggs will scramble and curdle, leaving the mixture inedible and unusable.

If you are looking to cool your chocolate pudding quickly, (maybe you're pressed for time or maybe you have no self control . . . ) cover a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Spread the chocolate pudding evenly to increase the surface area of the pudding, and cover the top of the pudding with another sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Placing the parchment paper or plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding prevents the rubbery pudding skin from forming. If you find that your pudding it too firm or gelatinous for your liking once it's been cooled, you can put it in a mixer with the whisk attachment to lighten it up.

Time: 15 minutes active + cooling time
Yield: 3 cups

3 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 cups whole milk (divided)
3/4 sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter
Optional: cookie crumbs and/or whipped cream for garnish

In a large bowl, combine egg yolks, cornstarch and 1/2 cup of milk. Whisk until frothy and until the cornstarch has been fully incorporated.

In a non-reactive medium pot on medium heat, combine remaining milk, sugar and cocoa. Whisk until combined and bring to a simmer, allowing to simmer for 3 minutes.

Remove pot from heat and with a ladle, slowly stream 1/4 cup of hot cocoa liquid into the large bowl containing the egg and cornstarch mixture, whisking to disperse the hot liquid. (In my photo I did not use a ladle- I poured the hot cocoa liquid directly from the pot, which I would not advise). Continue to add hot liquid in a thin stream to the egg mixture slowly, while whisking constantly, until the egg mixture has been tempered (see Notes above).

Once combined, pour back into the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Once thickened and glossy after coming to a boil, turn off heat and transfer to a clean, heat proof bowl and place plastic wrap or parchment paper directly onto the top of the pudding. Chill in the refrigerator and serve, garnishing with cookie crumbs and/or whipped cream. (See Notes above for a rapid cooling tip!)