Monday, September 10, 2012

amazing chocolate pudding

chocolate pudding

Hello there. Sorry for vanishing into the void, but I’m back. Sort of. August was a blend of crazy, busy, and sad. I won’t get into the sad, but there was a lot of travel between New York and Massachusetts and not of the happy variety either. Amidst the travel and gaining two additional roommate for a few weeks in August, I submitted the manuscript I co-wrote with Chef Forgione. The recipes alone were over four hundred pages. How I got it done, I’m not sure entirely, a lot of it had to do with a generous friend and her home office.

While it’s taken me three weeks to tell you about chocolate pudding, I hope you forgive me. I’ve been feeling a little stretched as of late, despite a relaxing week in Wellfleet where I diligently ate oysters and chased them down with beer. It feels like a far away memory now. I could, easily, have spent a whole month out on the Cape and hope to do so someday soon.

Most recently I had made chocolate pudding to justify my dessert-for-dinner excuse. I had a filled cavity from earlier that morning and could hardly open my mouth. Applesauce seemed too boring. And it was too warm to contemplate mashed potatoes. Rice pudding, delicious as it is, required chewing. Naturally, the next possible choice was chocolate pudding. Obviously, right? Right??

Everyone I know likes chocolate pudding. Even people who are ambivalent towards chocolate, like chocolate pudding. But here’s the rub: some of most of the recipes were far too rich and far too sweet for my palate. In doing a bit of research I found that many of the recipes use egg yolks, and while I’m all for yolky richness, I like my chocolate pudding to have singular, clean chocolate note. Less of a custard, more of a pudding, if you will.

Whenever I crave chocolate pudding, it’s impossible for me not to recall a certain disaster that once befell an apartment I was renting on the Upper East Side. Back then, I used to be a big fan of Swiss Miss chocolate pudding snacks, which I purchased weekly at my local Gristedes. At the time, I was working for a certain investment bank where my hours were long and my teammates were not very nice. When I had initially accepted the position, it was to do x, y, and z. I was, instead, relegated to the tasks no one wanted to do, and in the end just about everyone on the team came in at 9 and left at 5; whereas I had to be in at seven thirty in the morning and left well after nine o’clock at night. On most weekends I spend at least one day in the office. It was some time ago – I was very meek and didn’t know how to speak up for myself. Thankfully, I’ve become much better at this.

thick'ish

My apartment was a glorified studio marketed as a one bedroom with a living room no bigger than a closet (really it was non existent) and a kitchen with a sloping floor (so all my cakes baked lopsided). All its windows looked out to face other brick walls of the neighboring buildings. There were dozens of pigeons living in between the buildings and their creepy coos would wake me up in the morning and fill me with anxiety and dread.

My neighbors were a curious bunch. Down the hall from me, there was a psychic. When I got laid off from my job, I wanted to ask her why she couldn’t just warn me about it. Would have been a nice heads-up, but like an idiot, I showed up to work at six thirty in the morning, only to be told by HR at eight that they no longer needed me.

Upstairs, an apartment that seemed to mirror mine, housed a grandmother, a single mother, and her thirteen-year-old daughter who made out with boys at least five years her senior. Late one night when I returned home from work, I found them pressed against my door with his hand up her shirt. I made a coughing sound to alert them of my presence but they didn’t hear me, and it took a few more coughs to get them to come up for air.

One morning I found a passed-out, heavily tattooed girl dressed in all black, right outside my door as I was leaving to go to work. She seemed a little worse for wear and I had to call 911 for her. It turned out she had severe alcohol poisoning.

To sum up: the building was a veritable shithole, but in many ways it felt like the right of passage as a New Yorker. If you haven’t lived in a shitty New York apartment – well, you haven’t lived!

for licking

The single remarkable thing about my building is that it was home to a terrific omakase-only sushi restaurant, Sasabune. Once in awhile, I’d treat myself to their amazing chef’s selection sushi. A waitress would quietly appear with the latest offering and quietly instruct, “Soy sauce okay,” or more sternly, “No soy sauce!” on a particular cut and type of fish, and I diligently obeyed.

Back then, I was dating a guy who lived in Tribeca. My relationship with him (and what he wound up putting me through) is a book unto itself – seriously – so I’ll leave the story (stories?) for another day. I also had a college friend who had recently moved to London for work. In the interest of protecting names and identities, we’ll call that guy Ryan for the sake of this piece.

Ryan worked (and to the best of my knowledge still works) for a Fancy Wall Street firm. It became very clear to me that once Ryan had moved to London and found himself new, fancy London friends, he had little use for his old friends in New York. Their purpose, as it would seem, would be to provide free room and board when Ryan came through town. Through some years and antics, I had had enough, and cut off all contact. I stopped answering emails and calls inquiring about the latest visit and if my apartment was available for a particular week. It wasn’t. I was living in it.

But before our friendship dissolved, while in college and for a few years afterward, Ryan and I used to host Thanksgiving feasts for all our friends (and their friends) who would find themselves stranded for the holiday. Big dinner parties full of food, drink, and merriment. We’d start cooking a few days before and it would all culminate on that last Thursday in November.

dirty

Anyway, Thanksgiving. Ryan. London. That year he was back from London for the holiday with his then-girlfriend (we’ll call her Anna for this piece) – a grand-niece of a veeeery famous English writer whose life ended very sadly. Ryan had asked if he and Anna could stay at my apartment for the week, and if I could stay at my boyfriend’s place. I agreed on one condition: that my apartment was to be left in a pristine state and the linens were dropped off at the cleaner’s across the street.

We were planning to cook Thanksgiving dinner at our friend’s office kitchen, a special loft which came with a chef’s kitchen, two ovens, and a collection of well-honed German knives. We were expecting thirty-five people for dinner that night, so I brined two large turkeys to roast. The dinner went off without a hitch and as they say “a good time was had by all.”

But for the rest of the week, Ryan had no time to hang out and catch up – he had too many other friends to see in the city, he said. On the day he was supposed fly back to London, I arranged to meet him around the corner from my apartment for a quick drink before he and Anna headed out to the airport.

When I walked up to my building, I was nearly run over. By Ryan.

“I’m running late,” he informed me, “I forgot but promised to see a friend before I fly out. I mixed up my days, stupid jetlag. Oh, and Anna and I didn’t have time to clean up the place but here’s twenty bucks for laundry and a cleaning lady.”

And with that, he shoved the bill in my hand and dove into a cab. Still holding the crumpled up bill in my hand, I headed upstairs.

When I unlocked the door and walked into my tiny apartment, I gasped. At the entrance to the bedroom, the sheets were all crumpled up in a pile on the floor. Scattered around were a handful of condom wrappers. I was so disgusted that I darted out of the bedroom and back into the kitchen. There, right by the fridge, stuck to the floor, were a couple of Swiss Miss chocolate pudding covers. The floor was sticky with dried up chocolate pudding.

Twenty dollars were barely going to cover laundry never mind hiring a cleaning service to scour the place. That night, while muttering curses under my breath, I scrubbed the walls and the floor wearing elbow high rubber gloves. I went to the supermarket and bought some more pudding snacks. And when my apartment was finally back to the state I deemed acceptable, I went to my tiny living room, turned on the television, and ate my chocolate pudding on the couch.

chocolate pudding

A few weeks later, while reading a then-new food blog that I loved, The Wednesday Chef**, I found a recipe for what seemed like the most amazing chocolate pudding. It had no eggs, no cream, and it sounded delicious. I made it a week later, and it’s been my go-to recipe ever since. So I suppose that the story, despite the condom wrappers and the disgusting sheets, has its silver lining. It, sort of, led me to this pudding.

As for those crumpled up sheets, I threw them out – they were beyond repair.

**I’ll be back (hopefully tomorrow) with a recipe from Luisa’s upcoming food memoir, My Berlin Kitchen!

Extra! Extra! My friend Elinor Lipman has recently released a fantastic, hysterical book of political tweets, Tweet Land of Liberty! Perfect gift for your friends who watch MSNBC like it’s crack and are living and breathing election season news. Hopefully (gulp!) it’s not just yours truly! The book, regardless of your political affiliation, is really funny and witty. Last year, Lipman vowed to write 1 political tweet poem per day and has kept to her pledge, taking only Yom Kippur off (more than understandable)! And here are some of her best poem tweets. Now, if that’s not taking Twitter’s medium to a new artform, I don’t know what is!

Amazing Chocolate Pudding
Adapted from Luisa (who adapted it from Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate)

What I love about this version of chocolate pudding is precisely its simplicity and clarity of flavor. There is nothing getting in the way of chocolate. And somehow the pudding feels almost light on your tongue, weightless almost. Over the years I took a few liberties and settled on a version I am sticking to for life. The most important change I made from the original Scharffenberger recipe is that I took out the sugar all together. Originally, it listed 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar, but I was finding the pudding to be a tad too sweet for my taste. One day, I decided to skip the sugar and see what would happen, and I feel for this “more adult” version of the pudding hook, line, and sinker.

I also, recently, tried to make this pudding using light coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. And it was a stunning success! The main difference between the dairy versus the non-dairy version is that the cooking time is considerably shorter. The reason for that is that coconut milk (even the light version) is much thicker than cow’s milk. If you make this version, you will use 2 (15 ounce) cans of coconut milk and have a little bit of coconut milk leftover. By all means – save it, and tuck it into your morning oatmeal the following morning. Another bonus to making the vegan version is for the folks who keep kosher this is a now-viable dessert should they have meat or chicken for their main meal.

I provide both versions below – see which one you like better.

Chocolate Pudding (Dairy Version)

1/4 cup (35 grams) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) kosher salt
3 cups (710 ml) whole milk
6 ounces (170 grams) semi-sweet chocolate (I used 70%)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl or a double boiler bowl, combine the starch and salt. Whisk in the milk, scraping the bottom and sides to include dry ingredients – making sure no lumps remain in the milk. Place the bowl over a pot with 1 inch of simmering water and stir, scraping the bottom and sides. If lumps form, use a whisk to break them up. Cook the mixture, stirring with a whisk, until the mixture begins to thicken, for about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the chocolate and cook the pudding, stirring, until it has thickened and is glossy and smooth, about 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from heat and stir in the vanilla.

2. Strain the pudding through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl or a measuring cup. Ladle or pour the pudding into individual serving dishes, cover the tops with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days. [Note: if you’re one of those people who cannot stand pudding skin, you should place the plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding, not over the serving dish.]

Chocolate Pudding (Non-Dairy Version)

1/4 cup (35 grams) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) kosher salt
3 cups (710 ml) light coconut milk
6 ounces (170 grams) semi-sweet chocolate (I used 70%)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl or a double boiler bowl, combine the starch and salt. Whisk in the coconut milk, scraping the bottom and sides to include dry ingredients – making sure no lumps remain in the milk. Place the bowl over a pot with 1 inch of simmering water and stir, scraping the bottom and sides. If lumps form, use a whisk to break them up. Cook the mixture, stirring with a whisk, until the mixture begins to thicken, for about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the chocolate and cook the pudding, stirring, until it has thickened and is glossy and smooth, about 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from heat and stir in the vanilla.

2. Strain the pudding through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl or a measuring cup. Ladle or pour the pudding into individual serving dishes, cover the tops with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days. [Note: if you’re one of those people who cannot stand pudding skin, you should place the plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding, not over the serving dish.]

Both puddings make 6 servings.

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18 Comments

  • 1

    You were gone but not forgotten. I just stopped over this morning… I was like, where the heck has Olga been? What’s her deal!?! And now here you are with a new post. Woo hoo! And it’s fabulous. Who doesn’t like chocolate pudding?

    But oh… what a story. I don’t even know where to begin :-)

    September 10, 2012 11:26 am
  • 2
    Radish said:

    Brian – btw, your popovers? can we talk for a second? Yeah, the story is amazing. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to tell it, but I completely forgot until I had made myself chocolate pudding a few weeks ago.

    September 10, 2012 11:28 am
  • 3

    That was quite a story! Thanks for entertaining me — and making me drool over those beautiful puddings — during my little lunch break today. And welcome back. :)

    September 10, 2012 12:35 pm
  • 4
    Janae said:

    What a great story – I mean, I’m sorry that that happened to you (what a jerky thing Ryan did to you), but it was well told and made for some good reading! And yes, that pudding recipe is amazing; it’s been my go-to for several years and I won’t make any other kind. Enjoy every last bite :)

    September 10, 2012 10:04 pm
  • 5
    Margarita said:

    Oh my, I would’ve punched him in the face and Anna too for that matter. How rude! Gotta say though, I love stories like these… Life’s adventures always make for great memories, good or bad. Love your chocolate pudding!

    September 11, 2012 12:48 am
  • 6
    Katie said:

    Wow, what a story! This chocolate pudding looks amazing, I’ll have to give it a try. I’m quite fond of making a cornstarch based vanilla pudding and sometimes whisking an egg in towards the end to give it a little extra body, but sometimes not. Depends whether I’m in the mood for the extra richness. I haven’t tried a chocolate pudding that uses actual chocolate (as opposed to cocoa powder), but this one looks right up my alley. Thanks for posting!

    September 11, 2012 1:56 am
  • 7
    Rachael said:

    I love Elinor Lipman!! I always look foward to reading her books. How do you know her?

    September 11, 2012 10:02 am
  • 8
    Radish said:

    Rachael – she is one of my mother-in-law’s best friends and is my friend now too! She’s a wonderful, funny, warm lady!

    September 11, 2012 10:20 am
  • 9
    Marianne A. said:

    Love those NY stories! I have a few myself from way back in the day (20years ago!) when I lived in the city. You should write a book about them. And I must say….Elinor Lipman…I LOVED her book “The Pursuit of Alice Thrift”. Lastly, this pudding recipe is a “must try”.

    September 11, 2012 11:02 am
  • 10

    Oh how I wish my similar story did not involve my daughter! Not the crumpled sheets and condoms part (thankfully) but coming home from a trip a day early surprised both of us when she was staying at my place. She thinks I’m a pill about keeping things picked up…she showed me! Her bedroom as a teen was always a mess but I could close the door…the only way to escape the mess this time would have been to walk back out and close the front door. Which I did. Gave her 2 hours to get it in order and now I have a neighbor watch my home and dog. :)

    The very first thing I made as a 20 something that I thought gourmet was pots de creme…really just delicious chocolate pudding; thanks SO much for the reminder. Now craving it badly and glad to have a recipe you love!

    September 11, 2012 1:02 pm
  • 11

    I’m a big fan of chocolate puddings and custards both- one in a bowl, and the other, topping a tart or pie crust. This one looks fantastic- and I love that it only has to chill an hour, because when the pudding fever hits, waiting till the next morning to dip one’s spoon in chocolatey richness is painful. I’m glad you weren’t making this when Ryan was around – he didn’t even deserve the Swiss Miss.

    September 11, 2012 1:05 pm
  • 12

    [...] place in my life. Come to think of it was when I was still living on the Upper East Side eating chocolate pudding for [...]

    September 12, 2012 12:59 pm
  • 13
    Whitney said:

    HILARIOUS STORY.

    What. an. ASS.

    September 13, 2012 12:09 pm
  • 14
    Jessica said:

    Oh my goodness! What a terrible friend, good for you to cut off all communication.

    I will have to try this pudding. I eat dairy but the coconut milk version sounds interesting!

    September 14, 2012 8:13 pm
  • 15
    Tzintzuntzan said:

    Some people are just insensitive gits. Thank goodness you are not one of them, and you return with lovely chocolate pudding! We’ll be good :-)

    September 15, 2012 10:45 pm
  • 16
    Jill said:

    Ahh!!! I must have messed up the cooking directions (dairy version)…been in the fridge for 24 hrs and it’s still sort of soupy. Any suggestions? I guess I’ll have to tell my hubby it’s chocolate milk so it doesn’t go to waste. ;)

    September 25, 2012 2:39 pm
  • 17
    Radish said:

    Jill – sorry to hear it didn’t come out. What about adding it to shakes?

    September 25, 2012 4:51 pm
  • 18
    Jill said:

    Great idea!! I might even try freezing some to see what happens ;)

    September 26, 2012 6:57 am

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