Albert Burneko is off. Your guest Foodspinner this week is longtime friend of the program Miserable Shitehawk.
If you don't already hate kids, if you haven't already realized they're a bunch of clueless stupid parasitic weaklings, if you haven't accepted that it is their mission to torment and weaken adults and eventually assimilate human adulthood and lead humankind into the apocalypse, just look at what those malevolent little assholes have done to our pudding. Kids are fucking destroying pudding. Kids have ruined pudding for everyone, and they've done it with stupid toothless smiles on their grubby little faces.
Pudding ought to be the kind of thing a person lusts after. Rich in flavor but ethereal in texture, it ought to be an exalted foodstuff, snooty food, like hollandaise or paté or soufflé. It should commonly be called blancmange because that sounds better and more grown-up, and it should be eaten with good silverware and gushed over by foodie types. Instead, it's called "pudding" and smeared across the slimy faces of squealing children like war paint in a ceaseless campaign of animosity toward everything good and decent.
Because its texture is appropriate for the kind of degenerate who can't even be bothered to maintain a mouthful of teeth, pudding has become a go-to substance to cram by the plastic spoonful into the howling maws of disgusting children, who respond by smearing it across their faces and every other place their tapered fingers can get to. It's no wonder adults have come to regard this poor dessert with sneering skepticism— we've got Post Pudding Traumatic Stress Disorder.
And that's a damn shame. Look, let's make some pudding. Let's make it, lovingly and with care. Let's reacquaint ourselves with one of the great forgotten dishes, and then lets stand in the kitchen and gulp it down in great heaping mouthfuls. Because pudding is great.
Your grocery list is super-simple and cheap: Go get yourself some sugar, cornstarch, salt, cocoa powder, and cayenne pepper. Those are your dry ingredients. Grab some eggs, some whole milk, the best unsalted butter you can find, and some vanilla extract. If you're the kind of person who will want to and can use vanilla beans, hey, good for you. But also, screw you, we're using vanilla extract here.
Gather some kitchen implements. You're going to need a whisk, you're going to need a nice deep medium saucepan, you're going to need a big bowl, you're going to need a rubber spatula, and you're going to need a fine mesh sieve. I wish I could tell you to substitute cheesecloth or muslin for the sieve, but it won't work. You should be able to pick up a fine mesh sieve at any reasonable kitchen store for six bucks, and it's a thing you'll use again in other, more ambitious cooking projects down the line. Settle the sieve over the bowl and set them near the kitchen sink. We'll be using them later. Also, get out the plastic wrap and have it nearby.
Measure all your ingredients. This is important, because once you start the cooking, there will not be time for measuring. Making pudding is very straightforward, but it's an active cooking project. Measure 2/3 cup of sugar and go ahead and dump it into your saucepan. Add a half cup of cornstarch. Chuck in there a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a quarter-teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Finally, dump in 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder. Now, over on your counter, get 2.5 cups of milk into another vessel. Cut up two tablespoons of butter into little cubes. Put a teaspoon of vanilla extract into a little cup. Get all these things prepped and ready before the cooking starts. Also, separate four egg yolks into a small cup.
(Separating yolks is maybe a little bit slimy and gross, but it's no big deal. Carefully crack the egg and peel off the top half of the shell, letting a whole bunch of white spill out into your sink. Now, turn the bottom half of the shell containing the yolk and some white over and pour it into the top half, losing even more of the white along the way. Repeat until the yolk is more or less alone, being transferred back and forth between the two halves of the shell. There. You have separated an egg yolk. Now, do it three more times, and pour the four yolks into a cup. Chef-like!)
(Or do this, which is too cool for words.)
Now you've got all your dry stuff together in your saucepan and all the other stuff measured and at the ready.
Whisk some wet stuff into the dry stuff. Start with the milk, and do this a couple of tablespoons at a time away from any heat. At first this will seem ridiculous, mashing a whisk around in a pile of barely damp brown dirt and kicking up a cloud of chocolate-scented dust, but within a few splashes of milk the mixture will quickly turn first into a chunky mud and then a smooth shiny puddle. Once all the milk is in, drop in those yolks and whisk vigorously until they're fully incorporated.
OK, you've made it this far, and so you are probably too far along to quit in disgust when I tell you that you are about to do a hell of a lot of stirring. All the stirring. Sorry.
Put the whole thing over medium heat and start the stirring. Just steadily move the whisk around the pot, keeping the mixture moving. As the pudding heats it will thicken, and if it doesn't heat evenly it won't thicken evenly and you won't wind up with pudding so much as you'll have a sputtering blobby ooze with a hard acrid brick of char at the bottom. Stir steadily and constantly.
You're first going to notice a thin steam rising from the surface. Then you're going to notice that your wrist is bothering you, followed by your screaming elbow, not long before you notice that you absolutely hate pudding and cooking and everyone you know. Hang in there! Your elbow is screaming and you're sweating because hey look! The pudding is thickening! Things are going to progress quickly from here. Pay close attention—you're watching the surface of your pudding for one fat vaguely-rude-seeming bubble to rise and break on the surface. Keep whisking steadily until it happens, and then drop the heat to low and stir for just one more minute. You can do it. You've come this far, damn you.
Remove the pudding from the heat and pour it through a sieve into a bowl. This is just as simple as it sounds. Use your rubber spatula to get all the pudding from the sides and bottom of the saucepan into the sieve, and all the pudding through the sieve into the bowl. And look at it! It's glorious! It looks like real pudding, doesn't it! It is real pudding, silly. We're almost home.
Add the butter and vanilla extract, and stir. Stir it on in there until the butter is fully melted and incorporated and you've got a steaming bowl of shiny and wonderful-smelling pudding. Tear off a sheet of plastic wrap, lay it directly on the surface of the pudding, and stick the whole thing in the fridge. You're done with the cooking. In your fridge this very moment is actual pudding.
Pudding can be eaten hot. Why not? It's smooth and chocolatey and delicious, and it would make a perfectly delectable hot dessert right off the stove. I'm going to recommend, though, that you resist the urge to scoop up giant quivering mounds of hot, rich chocolate pudding and inhale them in violent, ecstatic gulps. Do yourself a favor and wait a few hours. In the fridge, via whatever unknowable alchemical process, the pudding will somehow become more delicious, richer, more texturally perfect. But, most importantly, the children will all go to bed. And once they've retreated to their lairs, there to fidget and shriek in the night and plan whole new attacks upon the adult world, you can retrieve that perfect bowl of cool delicious pudding from the fridge, pull off the plastic wrap, plop several heaping scoops into a shallow bowl, maybe add an attractive dollop of whipped cream to the top, and eat your spectacular creation in peace, with a spoon and a mouth and some goddamn dignity, as befits such a refined delicacy.
What do those awful kids know about this dessert, this sumptuous otherworldy elevation of simple ingredients? You'll show them how it's done, carefully composing each bite, savoring the creaminess and appreciating the pleasing kick of the cayenne that would no doubt be lost upon their pathetic undeveloped palettes. Steadily, patiently, with reverence, a spoonful at a time, like a grownup.
Or, hey, ram your face down in there, smear it all over, fling it across the room, blow disgusting pudding bubbles, stuff it up your nose. It's your goddamn pudding, you made it, yours yours yours! Anyway, it's what all the kids are doing.
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Image by Sam Woolley.