This is my pudding theory:
Most of us prefer to savor comfort food ever so slowly, nip by exquisitely tiny nip. This makes it last while lending us an almost sexual sense of control. Ice cream forbids this, forcing us to rush against time and against our will, which tinges every cone and sundae with angst, regret and resentment. Pudding will not do this to us. Pudding stays.
Along with other childhood foods, pudding now pops up on postmodern restaurant menus. At elegant Michelin Bib Gourmand Award-winning bistro FIVE in Berkeley, California, Texas-bred executive chef Banks White uses his grandmother's recipe to produce golden, gloriously creamy, borderline smoky butterscotch pudding. His secret? Guittard butterscotch chips. (See picture and recipe below.)
Pudding is the supreme universal comfort food because, like a compliant friend, pudding lets us do stuff to it.
Chef Devon Boisen of the art-deco Terrace Room in Oakland, California likes setting it on fire.
"Treat it like eggnog," he advises. "Use rum or Drambuie or something with a whisky flavor." His personal favorite is Austrian Stroh spiced rum, "because it's 160 proof and you can literally float this over the top of anything" and ignite it with the flick of a lighter.
Boisen, who serves seasonal crème brûlée at the Terrace Room, grew up eating pudding on a Montana farm.
"We always had the freshest eggs, the freshest cream. When you have a chance to make anything with ingredients that fresh, it's delicious. By comparison, the 'pudding' that comes in cans is a joke.
"A lot of desserts that go by different names are actually pudding. Vanilla custard is pudding. The filling for banana-cream pies and whatnot: That's pudding."
4 c cream
16 egg yolks
¼ c brown sugar
10 ½ oz butterscotch chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
Place butterscotch chips in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium-sized pot, bring cream to a simmer. Combine egg yolks with brown sugar; set aside. Once the cream begins to simmer, remove it from heat. Pour half into the yolk-and-sugar mixture; whisk to combine. Pour back into pot. Over medium heat and using a candy thermometer, heat to 190F while stirring constantly with a silicone spatula.
When the mixture reaches 190F, pour it immediately over the chips and whisk until chips are melted and fully incorporated. While it's still hot, pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a pitcher. Portion into individual cups and refrigerate for a minimum of four hours or until set.
Keep refrigerated. Pudding will last up to one week in the refrigerator. Top with whipped cream and crushed peanut brittle.
Images courtesy of Amy Partridge and Kristan Lawson.