As comfort foods go, you can't get much simpler than pudding.
Thickening the Pudding
Puddings are thickened one or two ways:
- Using starch: in order for the starch granules to open up and actively absorb liquid, the mixture needs to come to a boil (1-3 minutes, until it starts to thicken). Stir constantly to prevent the mixture from burning.
- Using eggs: eggs add richness to puddings, whether or not the recipe includes additional thickeners. To add eggs to a hot liquid, you need to "temper" them (see Tempering Eggs below).
To avoid ending up with bits of cooked scrambled egg in your pudding, you need to gently raise the temperature of the eggs before adding them to the hot milk mixture.
- While the milk and sugar are heating, lightly beat the eggs in a medium mixing bowl.
- When the milk comes to a boil, remove it from the heat, and pour about a cup or so into the bowl in a slow, steady stream; meanwhile, with your other hand, whisk the mixture constantly. (This is a good job for older kids, while you handle the hot stuff.)
- Pour the hot milk-and-egg mixture back into the pot, and return it to the stove.
- Cook over medium heat, using a wooden spoon to stir.
- Unlike with cornstarch puddings, you don't need the egg mixture to boil.
- The mixture will thicken slightly, so it looks like very heavy cream. It will coat the back of the spoon; test it by running your finger down the spoon. You should wipe a clear, clean line through the custard.
- Remove from heat. The pudding will thicken more as it cools.
Chilling the Pudding
Many homemade puddings, like rice pudding and tapioca pudding, are delicious while warm, but many need time to set up fully. To prevent a skin from forming on the surface, cover the bowl or ramekins of pudding with plastic wrap or waxed paper.