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Stirring up sweet memories with vanilla pudding

BILL DALEY
Chicago Tribune
Modified: August 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm •  Published: August 15, 2012
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Vanilla pudding can bring out the kid in you, especially as it conjures up memories of those huge institutional cans cranked open in summer camp dining halls or the tiny cups your mom would tuck into your school lunchbox.

Part of the appeal of vanilla pudding lies in its simplicity. It personifies the nostalgic flavors of childhood. Yet, vanilla pudding can be a key ingredient in more complicated desserts designed to please adults, treats like tarts and trifles and homemade ice pops. That’s due to the clean, clear flavor you get, especially from homemade versions.

Alice Medrich, a baker and teacher living in Berkeley, Calif., says vanilla pudding serves as a valuable backdrop for other flavors, whether that’s a nutmeg-spiced tart shell, a sprinkling of crumbled toffee on top or a spoonful of fresh fruit. Vanilla pudding is also a superb showcase, naturally, for that distinctive vanilla flavor.

“Vanilla pudding is bland in a delicious way,” says Medrich, author of “Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts” (Artisan, $25.95)

Shaina Olmanson, the Falcon Heights, Minn.-based writer of the “Food for My Family” blog, also zeros in on the “creamy sweetness” of vanilla pudding that “puts a period at the end of the meal.”

“It’s like vanilla ice cream,” says Olmanson, author of “Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats That Shine” (Harvard Common Press, $16.95). “It’s simple, sweet and satisfies the need you have for that last sweet bite.”

While vanilla pudding can be a nostalgic reminder for “those in the older age groups when parents made real pudding,” Medrich says vanilla pudding appeals to all generations today as a delicious, no-fuss dessert. That vanilla pudding can be made without eggs is especially appealing.

“For the new cook or a cook scared of eggs it’s easy to make. They don’t have to worry about the eggs curdling,” she says. Cooks can control the richness by using half-and-half or cream instead of milk, if they want to use a dairy product at all.

“I’m certain, though I haven’t done it, you could make vanilla pudding without dairy using coconut or hemp milk,” Medrich says, suggesting cooks also experiment with different sugars, like brown or raw.

“The key to vanilla pudding, I think, is to let it shine,” Olmanson says. “Use great vanilla. The better the quality the better the taste.”

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RICH VANILLA PUDDING

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Chill: 1 ½ hours

Servings: 4 (½ cup each)

Note: Tasters found this pudding from Shaina Olmanson’s “Desserts in Jars” to be absolutely delicious.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon salt

Vanilla beans scraped from 1 vanilla bean pod

3 egg yolks

2 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

1. Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla bean seeds in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the egg yolks until well combined. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking to incorporate. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, 10-15 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat; whisk in the butter one piece at a time, making sure each piece is incorporated before adding the next. Cover the top of the pudding with plastic wrap; refrigerate until set, 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Nutrition information:

Per serving: 254 calories, 13 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 166 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 133 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.

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