When I decided to include the ultimate chocolate pudding in this year’s month-long Valentine’s Day celebration at LunaCafe, I thought the post would be a slam-dunk. Chocolate pudding is a cinch, right? Whatever was I thinking?
Tonight, after many evenings and weekends of maniacal pudding research and testing, there are dozens of books scattered across the floor of our live/work studio, each with one to several post-it flags marking the pertinent content around chocolate pudding. There are notes strewn everywhere. Premium chocolate bars and cocoa powders cover every surface of the kitchen. An alarming amount of our grocery budget is now in the hands of chocolate merchants. (What magic spell is causing me to cheerfully exchange $11 for 6 ounces of Scharffen Berger cocoa powder?)
The refrigerator is crammed with chocolate pudding: glossy, dark, fragrant, quivering, irresistibly spoonable chocolate pudding. Tonight, there’s Burnt Sugar Chocolate Pudding; Cardamom, Chipotle Chile, & Orange Chocolate Pudding; and Mexican Mocha Pudding. And there’s this wild haired woman cautiously stepping over the cookbooks, muttering something about how hard it is to find Mexican vanilla within walking distance (4-mile radius) of downtown Portland. Oh wait, that’s me.
This is what my quest for the ultimate chocolate pudding has come to.
After the first couple of baffling and disappointing tests in the OtherWorldly Kitchen, I hauled out my “big gun” and changed my mindset from slam-dunk to get-it-right-or-else. Well, I know that seems a little extreme, but, truly, every good cook should have a perfect chocolate pudding in their repertoire, and I realized after those early tests that I did not.
The “big gun” I am referring to here is a methodology I developed for the Northwest Culinary Academy, called The Recipe Grid. The purpose of the grid is to compare ingredients and methods across a number of credible recipes (from credible sources) in the same category, in this case, basic chocolate pudding. I ended up researching and closely comparing 16 high-profile chocolate pudding recipes. I tested a fair share of these as well. You can see the results on the page titled, Recipe Grid: The Ultimate Chocolate Pudding.
As soon as I began the testing, I realized that I needed a better understanding of the many available premium cocoa powders on the market today. That led to a cocoa tasting adventure that is highlighted on the page titled, Choosing the “Best” Cocoa Powder.
So, that’s quite a lot of research you might say, but “where’s the meat?” Here it comes:
LunaCafe’s Ultimate Chocolate Pudding Tips and Tricks
- For over-the-top, fantabulous chocolate pudding, purchase the best tasting unsweetened cocoa powder and 65%-75% bar chocolate that you can afford.
- The combination of unsweetened cocoa and bittersweet bar chocolate makes the most complex and delicious chocolate pudding, with a full range of flavor notes and a wonderful, silky mouth feel.
- To ascertain what the “best” cocoa powder is for you, purchase several cocoa powders (some alkalized-process, some natural process) and taste them. The process is outlined here.
- Although several methods were represented in the sampling of recipes I choose to explore, the one that works the best is also the simplest. I call it the Basic Pudding Method. It requires a small bowl, a saucepan, a whisk, and a silicon spatula. No whisking or blending is called for after the pudding has set and a strainer is rarely required. Although the cornstarch and milk mixture are brought slowly to a bare simmer, this does not require 20 minutes or a double boiler, as specified in some recipes. The egg yolks are added after tempering to the thickened pudding and the pudding is not brought back to a boil, which helps to ensure that the egg yolks will not curdle. Finally, the chocolate is added after the pudding is off the stove and stirred until melted.
- Heat kills enzymes in raw egg yolks, which will otherwise break down the starch bonds and thin the custard. Pudding must be brought to just under a simmer (208º) after adding the egg yolks.
- I notice a barely perceptible “grit” when I use egg white in custard, thus I prefer egg yolks only.
- Most puddings are too thick to strain through a fine mesh strainer, regardless of what the recipe says. If you have a single mesh strainer, you might try that. If you follow the directions below carefully, however, no straining will be necessary.
- I encountered a couple of recipes in which an immersion blender or processor is used to whip the pudding after thickening. From a food chemistry point of view, whipping the pudding at this point should break the gel. Plus, what a mess. The texture of my pudding is so smooth and silky, I see no point in actually trying this.
Now, let’s make the best chocolate pudding you’ve ever eaten, shall we?
LunaCafe’s Ultimate Chocolate Pudding
I tested this formula again and again to get the right consistency and sweetness level. (Yes, I also wanted an excuse to eat chocolate pudding for five days straight.) My goal was a pudding that could be eaten hot right off the stove or cold after several hours or even days of refrigeration.
The best results for this goal turned out to be a combination of cocoa powder (for depth of chocolate flavor), small amount of cornstarch (for ease and textural stability), modest amount of bar chocolate (for luxurious mouth feel), and egg yolks (for richness and best texture after chilling). I did not find it necessary to add a final bit of butter to the pudding, although that is certainly an option for a slightly richer version.
This elegantly simple formula has perfect balance in my estimation. It is not extreme in any direction, yet has a multi-dimensional, vibrant flavor and luxurious mouth feel. This pudding is delicious and beautifully textured whether served warm or cold.
The formula is also easy to remember: For every cup of milk, use 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 egg yolk, and 1 ounce bittersweet bar chocolate. No fussy half measures here.
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons best-quality unsweetened cocoa (In tests, I used Scharffen Berger, Green & Black’s and Valrhona cocoa powders; all were excellent)
6 tablespoons sugar
3 cups cold, whole milk
3 ounces best-quality 65%-72% bittersweet bar chocolate, roughly chopped (scant 3/4 cups chopped) (In tests, I used Scharffen Berger 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate bar and E. Guittard 72% cacao bittersweet chocolate wafers; both were excellent)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt (don’t even think about leaving this out)
1 cup heavy cream, whipped and lightly sweetened
- In a medium mixing bowl, add the egg yolks, and whisk briefly to lighten. Set the bowl and the whisk next to the stovetop.
- In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, whisk the cornstarch, cocoa, and sugar until all lumps are removed, and then slowly whisk in the cold milk, a little at a time to ensure no lumps form. Scrape the bottom and sides of the saucepan with a silicon (heatproof) spatula.
- Over medium-low heat, continue stirring the pudding until it thickens to the point that it lightly coats the back of the spatula, about 5 minutes. (We aren’t using enough cornstarch here to get a thick coating. Cornstarch begins to thicken quickly at 203º, turning the sauce from opaque to translucent in the process.)
- Continue cooking and stirring constantly as the pudding comes to a gentle simmer, about 2 minutes more. Reduce the heat to low.
- Ladle a ½ cup of the hot pudding into the egg yolks and whisk rapidly. Repeat two times. Now add the egg yolk mixture back to the saucepan.
- Bring the heat back up to about 208º, just below a simmer, stirring continuously. Remove from the heat.
- Add the chopped chocolate and continue stirring for about 1 minute, until the chocolate is melted and well combined with the other ingredients.
- Stir in the vanilla extract and sea salt.
- Immediately pour the pudding into a medium mixing bowl or 4-cup glass measuring cup.(If you think you may have lumps, pour the pudding through a single mesh strainer, using a plastic spatula to push the pudding through.)
- Quickly press a small piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.
- Let cool, and then refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.
- Spoon pudding into six, ½-cup ramekins.
- Top each serving with a generous mound of whipped cream and a strip of orange peel.
- Serve immediately.
Makes 3 cups, or six ½-cup servings.
More LunaCafe Chocolate Recipes
- A Gift of Drinking Chocolate
- Bittersweet Chocolate & Cabernet Butter Cake
- Bittersweet Chocolate & Montmorency Cherry Morning Love Muffins
- Bittersweet Chocolate & Toasted Walnut Cookies Perfecta Mundo
- Bittersweet Chocolate Orange French Toast for Lovers
- Burnt Sugar & Rosemary Chocolate Tarts
- Caramelized Ancho Chile & Cinnamon Almonds
- Chocolate & Warm Winter Spice Butter Crisps
- Chocolate Almond Pound Cake
- Chocolate Shortcake with White Chocolate Crema, Strawberry Lime Sauce & Strawberry Lime Salsa
- Fried Banana Split with Mexican Chocolate Sauce & Strawberry Lime Salsa
- Heavenly Chocolate Beet Tea Loaf
- Heavenly Chocolate Crepes
- LunaCafe OtherWorldly Silky Fudgy Brownies
- Luscious White Chocolate and Raspberry Rose Petal Cheesecake
- Mexican Hearts of Fire Cookies
- Mexicano Chocolate Ebelskivers (Aebleskivers)
- Naughty & Nice: Chocolate Toasted Coconut Bars
- Oh You Great Big Beautiful Blondie
- Pumpkin Spice & White Chocolate Cheesecake
- Pumpkin Spice Hot White Chocolate
- Quintessential Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
- Rosalyn’s Toasted Coconut White Chocolate Dream Pie
- Spirited Mocha Crepes with Peanut Butter Caramel, Peanut-Cocoa Nib Brittle & White Chocolate Crema
- White Chocolate, Cardamom & Coconut Beignet
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker
- Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
- Chocolate Epiphany by François Payard
- 101 Cookbooks: Coconut Chocolate Pudding
- Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding Pie with Creme Fraiche Topping
- Alton Brown: “Instant” Chocolate Pudding
- Cream Puffs in Venice: Literally, a Chocolate Feast (Adaptation of Fran Bigelow’s Princess Pudding from Pure Chocolate)
- Dorie Greenspan: Pudding of the Times
- FabulousFoods: Carrie Brown’s Chocolate Pudding
- I Love Chocolate: Elegant Chocolate Pudding
- Science of Cooking: How Does Cornstarch Work?
- Joy of Baking: Chocolate Pudding
- Joy the Baker: Gourmet Cookbook Chocolate Pudding
- Martha Stewart: Double Chocolate Pudding
- SmittenKitchen: Best Chocolate Pudding
- The Food Maven Diary: The Best Chocolate Pudding
- The Wednesday Chef: John Scharffenberger’s Silky Chocolate Pudding
- Whisk: A Food Blog: Chocolate Pudding
- Yumsugar: Barefoot Contessa Chocolate Pudding
- Cook’s Illustrated: Dark Chocolate Comparison