Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Catching Up: Pi Day (March 16th)

Life goes on. Just thought I would update on some old pictures.

I was never a fan of pie as a kid. Too sweet. Too gelatinous. Too...something.

But now is the dawn of a new era, an era of pie for all. In celebration of Pi Day (3.16...) Dean and I decided to bake pies. He had a contest at work. I have kids that love pie. Plus it fits in with my current custard-making challenge. I need to refine that skill. 

This is the one we made for Dean's work. It is an apple strudel pie. I made a crust and some cream anglaise (pretty much vanilla pudding enriched by eggs). Then Dean took some filo (thin, thin crust material that comes in sheets in your freezer section), brushed it with butter, and wrapped it around finely diced apples with light sugar. He baked it until light brown . They made an interesting custard pie sculpture. 

He did not win. 

I then made chocolate pudding (another type of custard and so easy and good) to put in another pie shell. 
L. decorated. 

And of course the apple pie. Can't forget that. 

The boys decided whoever memorized the most digits of pi would have the biggest piece. The winner ate 1/4 of the chocolate pie by himself. 

Now about this chocolate pudding. You really, really should have this skill. You need this skill. 

You see pudding is very easy to make. In fact, while standing at the stove for the 15 minutes I made this I wondered why people bothered with the box kind you cook (its just as fast and smoother because of the fresh milk) and after I made it I wondered how we could ever go back to the instant version. I don't think Dean will let me. 

It started out with this recipe from Bakers Royale. She also makes these salted caramel and chocolate pudding pops which pretty much clinched the deal for me. 

Pudding is a lot like a custard. It has a sweetener (sugar, honey, agave). It has something to thicken it (cornstarch, tapioca, potato starch). It's made with a creamy dairy (milk, cream, even butter). It can be flavored (chocolate, vanilla, caramel, nutella, lemon, etc.). The main difference between a custard and a standard pudding is that custards contain eggs or egg yolks. So Lemon Curd is pretty much a rich, eggy lemon pudding. Pastry Cream is a rich, eggy vanilla pudding. 

Chocolate Pudding: 
1/3c cornstarch
1/2c sugar (feel free to tweak)
pinch salt
3c cold milk, more fat (whole/2%) is best but the others will work
1/2c-1c semi-sweet or dark chocolate (choc chips are fine, how much you use depends on how chocolaty you like things)
squirt of vanilla 

Mix the dry ingredients (except chocolate) together in a saucepan. 

Whisking vigorously, add milk. You can also mix these ingredients in a blender or with a hand mixer before adding to the pan if you're not confident about your whisking skills or you're not planning to strain afterwards. The point is to get that starch blended with few lumps.

Cook on medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Keep at those corners. Scrape the bottom. 

*About stirring constantly: there is always some confusion when one writes or reads this. The job is not to stand there with an always moving spoon whipping the mixture. By writing this most people just mean that you can't wander off. You can't go do something for a minute. You could put the milk away for 20 seconds and come back and stir, scraping sides and bottom thoroughly. You should spend at least one or two times at the stove watching how the pudding thickens and where the little trouble spots develop in your pan. After you have a feel for it you can spend a few moments putting things away. Always stay in the kitchen though, its very easy to scorch the bottom. If this worries you, cook the pudding in a water bath (in a bowl over a pan of lightly boiling water). 

When the mixture thickens to the point that you can draw a line on the back of the spoon and the mixture doesn't 'bleed' back onto the path its ready or very close to ready. Often I like to give it a minute or two after that to firm up a bit more. A lot of recipes target 180*F as a good endpoint, but warn about going over 185*. 

At this point remove the pudding from heat and add the chocolate, vanilla or other flavoring. Stir. 

Strain through a fine mesh strainer, or be adventurous. I would recommend straining if you have kids, company, or until you better understand the whole process. 

Cool. Refrigerate with plastic wrap pressed right against the surface (no skin then). 

This will keep for a few days in the fridge. I've never needed to keep it longer.

Happy eating.