How to Make Pudding the Old-Fashioned Way
Skip the instant mix. We're making rich, creamy stovetop pudding from scratch.
By Nicole Doster, Digital Associate Editor and Peggy Woodward, Food Editor
We all love instant pudding mix. It might just be the best thing since (dare I say it?) sliced bread. It's been our go-to ingredient for making quick desserts like this Chocolate Chip Cookie Delight or the creamy frosting on our favorite Pineapple Orange Cake. But what ever happened to its predecessor, homemade pudding? With all the hustle and bustle of today's busy cooks, I think this old-school dessert deserves a comeback. It's creamy and delicious, and it totally trumps the convenience of that quick mix.
Don't believe me? Here are a few more reasons why you should be making stovetop pudding:
1. It's a fantastic way to use up extra egg yolks.
Ever wondered what to do with your leftover egg yolks when making meringue or angel food cake? Homemade pudding is your answer. Its simple recipe calls for those sunny centers (and not the whites) to create its moist, delicious texture.
2. It's a fantastic pantry dessert.
Alongside the egg yolks, the recipe for old-fashioned pudding calls for basic ingredients, most of which you probably already have on hand. Think sugar, salt, cornstarch, milk and a bar of chocolate. (OK, bars of chocolate never last long in my household, so you might have to stop by the store for that one.)
3. You can customize the flavor.
For those of us who love to get creative in the kitchen, homemade pudding is the perfect medium. The simple recipe can be expanded upon to build any flavor you can dream of. Cinnamon white chocolate? Yep. Dark chocolate and raspberry extract? Yum-O. Peanut Butter 'n' Banana? Oh my.
4. The proof truly is in the pudding.
It's just a fact that old-fashioned pudding is much richer and tastier than the pre-made or instant mix stuff. Once you've had it, you'll never be able to compare the two again. It's the ultimate comfort food to have slowly cooking on the stove.
Sold yet? I thought so. Our Test Kitchen has devised the best way to make pudding at home.
How to Make Pudding the Old-Fashioned Way
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1 dark chocolate candy bar (6.8 ounces), finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon flavored extract. We like vanilla, but you can experiment with flavors like almond, orange or mint.
Flat whisk (standard is fine, too)
Step 1: Combine the first three ingredients
In a large saucepan, mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt. We're adding cornstarch for two reasons. One, it helps thicken the custard, and two, it helps keep the eggs from coagulating once they're heated. (You definitely don't want bites of scrambled egg in your pudding.)
Step 2: Add the milk and gently cook
At this point, were going to challenge you to multitask. Slowly pour the milk into the pan while gently whisking the ingredients. Whisk until the mixture reaches a smooth consistency. Then, dial up the burner to medium heat. Make sure to stir the pot continuously until the liquid has started to thicken and bubble. Don't be tempted to leave it unattended—your pudding might scorch!
Test Kitchen Tip: If you're a utensil connoisseur like me, a flat whisk is a great tool to reach into the corners of your sauce pan. This extra reach will make sure you whisk every bit of milk.
Step 3: Lower heat and stir
Once the pudding has started to bubble, reduce the heat to low. Continue gently stirring for 2 minutes longer, then remove from heat.
Step 4: Carefully add the egg yolks
Combine the egg yolks with a small portion of the hot custard mixture in a small bowl and give it a whisk to combine. This brings the eggs up to a higher temperature, so they'll mix into the pudding more smoothly, without curdling. Pour the milky yolk mix into the saucepan. Whisk again to combine.
Step 5: Heat things up again
Bring the saucepan, yet again, to a gentle boil. Continue to cook and stir for 2 minutes.
Test Kitchen Tip: This extra step might seem unnecessary but it's actually quite important. Why? The extra cook time kills off an enzyme in the raw yolk called alpha-amylase. If the enzyme remains in your pudding, you're likely to end up with a watery mess.
Step 6: Bring on the chocolate (or other flavors)
Stir in the chopped chocolate. (Be sure to take a whiff — I absolutely love the smell of cooking chocolate.) Once it's fully melted, remove the saucepan from the heat. Top it off by stirring in the vanilla extract. Let the mix cool about 15 minutes or so, stirring once in a while to keep it smooth.
Test Kitchen Tip: You can add lots of different flavors. Try heating up your chocolate with some cayenne, or lose the chocolate and just make vanilla pudding, maybe with some cinnamon? Get creative!
Step 7: Cover with plastic wrap and cool
Once the pudding has cooled slightly, transfer it to a bowl. Press plastic wrap right onto the surface of the pudding, which helps prevent a skin from forming. Pudding skin is simply milk protein (casein) that's dried out due to evaporation. It can form a thin, rubbery layer on top of your dessert. It won't hurt you; if it happens, just scrape it off with the edge of a spoon.
Test Kitchen Tip: No plastic wrap on hand? You can also keep the skin from forming by adding a thin layer of butter. To do this, lightly dab a stick of butter on the surface of the hot mix until a thin layer has collected on top.
Refrigerate the pudding for a few hours until cold. If you can stand to wait that long, you'll be rewarded with extra rich and creamy dessert that lives up to all your efforts.
Test Kitchen Tip: Try not to stir the pudding once it's set. It'll start thinning the rich texture.
Now that you're a pudding pro, there's no limit to the flavor combinations you can achieve by simply mixing and matching ingredients. Here are a few to get you started:
- Make it a mocha: Stir 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder in with the sugar mixture at the beginning of the recipe.
- Add some heat: Swap out the plain chocolate for Mexican chocolate instead.
- Incorporate sweet flavors: Substitute white chocolate and orange extract for a fruity delight.