In many ways, pudding seems like the most pedestrian of desserts. Nostalgic, comforting and delicious, certainly, but exciting or culinarily challenging, not so much.
Even Clio Goodman, the proprietor of Puddin’, a shop devoted to the dessert, never expected to make a career in pudding. In her intro to Puddin': Luscious and Unforgettable Puddings, Parfaits, Pudding Cakes, Pies, and Pops
, she writes that her “sugar-dusted upbringing led me to the Culinary Institute of America where I studied baking and pastry arts …I viewed the entire pastry-school experience as one massive art project with scientific and culinary underpinnings.”
After graduation Goodman worked in the pastry kitchens at NYC’s Union Square Café before becoming a private chef for a friend of her brother’s. It was there that she discovered pudding as her artistic canvas. “One night I served pudding for dessert. I’d made it growing up, loving the way a few simple ingredients — milk, sugar, eggs and cornstarch — could come together to create something so simultaneously elegant and comforting. My chocolate pudding became his house dessert, stocked at all times in his fridge and much in demand by his friends and colleagues.”
The chef and the client turned the pudding into a business, opening Puddin’ on NYC’s Lower East Side in January 2012. The sentimental sweets struck a chord and Goodman completely sold out of puddings, parfaits, trifles and pudding based cakes within a few hours. The success of this shop begat this book, which hits shelves just in time for holiday sweets season. But do you really need a cookbook to make this most humble of desserts?
The answer is yes. Goodman gives some clear cardinal rules for creating a creamy pudding. Always mix your milk and ingredients while they are cold — cold keeps the cornstarch from clumping, which affects the taste and texture of your final product; Whisk your pudding constantly when it is on a heat source to keep a skin of milk from forming at the bottom; For the ideal consistency, turn off the heat as soon as you see a faint shadow when you press your whisk into the surface, it will firm up further as it cools.
The recipes are clear and easy to follow, even for her most complex creations. Goodman begins with the classics. The recipe for the chocolate pudding that launched the business is here, rich with whole milk and Icelandic chocolate. Her vanilla pudding is perfumed with both scraped vanilla beans and extract. Butterscotch gets added depth from nutty browned butter and a healthy shot of Famous Grouse. And instead of relying on extract for her banana pudding as most traditional recipes do, Goodman and her Mom discovered a method of roasting bananas whole in their skin. The result is the rare banana pudding that was rich, sweet and slightly nutty, and more importantly, didn’t remind me of banana taffy candies.
Where the book shines is in the hand crafted accompaniments: At Puddin’ and in Puddin': Luscious and Unforgettable Puddings, Parfaits, Pudding Cakes, Pies, and Pops
, Goodman makes her own vanilla wafers, compotes, crumbs, hot fudge and salted caramel sauces, marshmallow creme and even sprinkles from scratch. The graham crackers were serviceable, but even with black pepper, a little bland. The vanilla wafers had a sweet tender crumb and gently crispy edges. They would have been great as topping for the vanilla, dulce de leche, pumpkin or eggnog puddings if they weren’t scoffed still warm, straight from the cooling rack every time I made them. I had never even thought of DIY sprinkles, but once I had mixed the egg whites, salt, vanilla and confectioner’s sugar and piped them through the world’s tiniest piping tip it was difficult to think of using mass produced jimmies again. Puddin' makes humble and hand crafted feel haute and makes comfort food company worthy.