Dessert is a tricky subject for many parents. Should we serve one or not? How much do they have to eat before they get it? And so on. I used to find a happy middle ground with pudding. Yes it’s dessert, but it’s got to be good because of all that milk, right?
Not if you’re serving instant pudding. Just look at the ingredients. Disodium phosphate. Tetrasodium pyrophosphate. Diglycerides. BHA (a preservative). The day I stopped serving it was the day I took a page out of Michael Pollan’s playbook and asked myself, “Is this something my great-grandmother would have recognized as food?” Of course not. My spell check didn’t recognize it either, also a bad sign.
Now I make something called blancmange, a yummy concoction of milk, sugar and vanilla thickened with cornstarch. I discovered it years ago in my old Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Unlike custard, blancmange doesn’t contain eggs and it doesn’t have to bake. You do have to stir it while it thickens, but you can always do this while asking your children about their day at school, or if they’re old enough, you can enlist their help.
Note that the original recipe doesn’t call for maple syrup, but I’ve found that without it, the pudding gets gummy as it sits. A tablespoon or two keeps the pudding smooth without affecting the flavor. However, if you’re concerned about the extra sweetness, just leave it out and eat the pudding quickly.
Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
Makes 4 servings
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups organic milk, divided (whole is best, but use what you have)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1-2 T grade A maple syrup, if desired
First, get out your double-boiler. If you don’t have one, make your own by finding a metal bowl that fits over your saucepan. It shouldn’t just rest on the top; it needs to dip into the saucepan just enough that it won’t slip off while you’re stirring, but not so much that it comes close to the water. Put an inch or so of water in the saucepan and let it come to a simmer (not boil) while you’re preparing the other ingredients.
Stir the cornstarch, sugar and salt together in your metal bowl and add 1/4 cup of the milk. Place the bowl over the simmering water and gradually add the remaining 1 3/4 cups milk, stirring constantly until thickened. This will take about ten minutes. Keep stirring another 15 minutes. Resist the urge to cut corners; this gentle cooking improves the flavor. Remove from heat.
To speed up the cooling process, place the bowl in an ice bath. If you’ve never done this before, make one by closing the drain in your sink, filling it with a few inches of ice cubes, nestling the bowl into the ice, then adding a bit of cold water. The pudding will cool quickly. Now add the vanilla and almond extracts and maple syrup, if desired. If you’re making it ahead, cover it with plastic wrap placed directly against the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.
Three Variations: For plain vanilla, leave out the almond extract. For chocolate pudding, leave out the almond extract and stir in 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate or a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips when you add the 1 3/4 cups milk. For maple pudding, leave out the almond extract, decrease sugar to 2 tablespoons and increase maple syrup to 4 tablespoons.