Plain but Perfect Puddings

I grew up with puddings made from a packaged pudding mix and cooked on the stovetop: Jell-O, Royal and Knox. The flavors were vanilla, chocolate and butterscotch. These were sweet, old-fashioned American dessert puddings, and I loved them. I had no idea when these pantry staples were created.

Pudding history

The very first packaged pudding mix, called My T Fine, was introduced in 1918. In 1926 Jell-O introduced its chocolate pudding mix and Royal and Knox brands soon followed. At this time in our food history there was a strong message that “store-bought” was better than homemade, and some early food writers suggested that pudding was a form of health food, good for the digestion, for invalids, etc. (Those were the days, kids!) As the years went by fanciful and/or seasonal flavor variations were added such as: coconut cream, chocolate fudge, pumpkin spice, pistachio, white chocolate, devil’s food and more. And in 1949 the no-cook  “Instant” pudding mixes came on the market. Both these pudding mixes are still popular today.

Chef’s puddings

When I went to the Culinary Institute of America to become a chef I was introduced to a whole new pudding world: pastry creams, flan, crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, zabaglione, crème anglaise, Bavarian cream, crème caramel, and more. As it turns out, most of these require eggs, usually egg yolks, and hence are forms of custard. I learned to make a flawless pastry cream, a fantastic flan and a brilliant brûlée.

Kids’ puddings

Then I got married and we had three kids, and I quickly learned that what my kids really liked was pudding, pure and simple, forget fancy. But I was not going to make theirs from packaged mixes, and I was not going to use egg yolks or cornstarch, which tends to separate during refrigeration.

brown sugar and butter in cooking pan (the flavor base of butterscotch)

My kids still like chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch best. I often make three different batches and served them layered, like pudding parfaits. And when it comes to school lunches, these are perfect desserts to pack in small plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.

DSCF0421

Some pudding pointers:

  • Stir constantly from the sides and bottom while cooking over medium heat.

cooked chocolate pudding with butter ready to be whisked into finished pudding

  • Bring to a boil and let cook, stirring, one additional minute.

butterscotch flavor base cooking

  • Cool pudding in an ice water bath before transferring to a covered container to refrigerate. Place the cooking pan in a larger shallow container surrounded by ice cubes and stir until pudding reaches room temperature.
  • Top with whipped cream or non-dairy alternative and a teaspoonful of homemade freezer jams, or drizzle with homemade chocolate syrup.

vanilla pudding in dish with homemade chocolate syrup

Homemade Chocolate Pudding

Yield: about 3 cups (6 servings)

Homemade Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • ¼ cup tapioca flour (starch)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ¾ cups whole milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or non-dairy alternative
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In a 2-quart saucepan combine sugar, cocoa, tapioca flour and salt. Whisk to mix well.
  2. Add ¼ cup of the milk and whisk to make a smooth paste, scraping sides and bottom.
  3. Add remaining milk and vanilla and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly from sides and bottom, until pudding comes to a boil. Cook one additional minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Transfer pot to an ice-water bath and stir until pudding is room temperature.
  5. Transfer pudding to a container with a lid; place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
  6. Top with whipped cream or non-dairy alternative and, if desired, a teaspoonful of homemade preserves, or drizzle with homemade chocolate syrup.
http://gffamilyfood.com/recipes/plain-but-perfect-puddings/

Homemade Vanilla Pudding

Yield: about 3 cups (6 servings)

Homemade Vanilla Pudding

Ingredients

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup tapioca flour (starch)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ¾ cups whole milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or non-dairy alternative
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In a 2-quart saucepan combine sugar, tapioca flour and salt. Whisk to mix well.
  2. Add ¼ cup of the milk and whisk to make a smooth paste, scraping sides and bottom.
  3. Add remaining milk and vanilla and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly from sides and bottom, until pudding comes to a boil. Cook one additional minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Transfer pot to an ice-water bath and stir until pudding is room temperature.
  5. Transfer pudding to a container with a lid; place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
  6. Top with whipped cream or non-dairy alternative and, if desired, a teaspoonful of homemade preserves, or drizzle with homemade chocolate syrup.
http://gffamilyfood.com/recipes/plain-but-perfect-puddings/

Homemade Butterscotch Pudding

Yield: about 3 cups (6 servings)

Homemade Butterscotch Pudding

Ingredients

  • ½ cup very firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or non-dairy alternative
  • ¼ cup tapioca flour (starch)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ¾ cups whole milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In a 2-quart pot combine brown sugar and butter. Cook, stirring constantly from sides and bottom, over medium heat until the sugar is melted and the butterscotch is brown and bubbling. Remove from heat. Reserve.
  2. In a separate small bowl, combine the tapioca flour, salt and ¼ cup of the milk. Whisk to make a smooth paste. Add the remaining milk and vanilla and whisk to mix.
  3. Add to the pot containing the butterscotch mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly from sides and bottom, until pudding comes to a boil. Cook one additional minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Transfer pot to an ice-water bath and stir until pudding is room temperature.
  5. Transfer pudding to a container with a lid; place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
  6. Top with whipped cream or non-dairy alternative and, if desired, a teaspoonful of homemade preserves, or drizzle with homemade chocolate syrup.
http://gffamilyfood.com/recipes/plain-but-perfect-puddings/

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Comments

  1. Sonny Kalabum says:

    I followed your recipe, but I used coconut milk – everything else the same. The pudding came out like a gluey texture. I found the statement below which describes using tapioca flour:

    “Good tapioca pudding has a smooth, custardy texture with discreet tender pearls. Once tapioca is added to any liquid, don’t let the mixture boil or the tapioca may get stringy. Overstirring a tapioca mixture while cooking or cooling also produces a sticky, gelatinous texture.”

    What happened?

    • Ashley Malmquist says:

      Hello Sonny,

      So sorry about the gluey pudding – oh the joys of dairy-free/gluten-free cooking! Our thinking is that coconut milk is high in fat and may have resulted in the gluey texture. If you are going to use coconut milk, I would substitute rice flour or cornstarch. Just be careful to not overcook the cornstarch. Let me know how it turns out and thanks for hanging in there 🙂

  2. Made the chocolate pudding recipe tonight — the verdict? “Best dessert you’ve ever made”

    Like one Facebook commenter said, the chocolate and vanilla recipes don’t really say what to do with the butter, despite it being listed in the ingredients.

    I ended up modding the recipe by 1) melting the butter in the saucepan before throwing in the raw pudding mix, and 2) replacing the 1/2c sugar w/ 2 heaping tsp of powdered stevia (it’s the huge Trader Joe’s bottle version that contains lactose powder, so I use more than what I’d use w/ the non-lactose Trader Joe’s tiny bottle version that’s more potent)… and I might’ve shirked on the cocoa powder since I was running low, so maybe 1/4c cocoa instead. Eyeballing measurements ftw?

    In any case, delish. Thank you for posting these recipes!

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