If one thing screams childhood it is most definitely pudding. My mum used to just whip up the store-bought pudding mix for a quick dessert. But as we got older, we began questioning why we were using the ready stuff when it's possible to make the treat from scratch just as fast. And if I do remember right, it is even cheaper to make it yourself. I'm the last to judge anyone who prefers the ready mixes, but once you start making it yourself you'll never look back.
Today lets take a look at three classics: The Ottoman muhallebi that has been around for centuries, the English Trifle which has just as much history attached to it and a simple caramel pudding because that one can be a bit tricky if you don’t have the right recipe (which I’m sharing with you here!).
When I said that muhallebi has been around for centuries, I meant it. This pudding was around long before the Ottomans, using shredded meat. The dish goes back to Roman times and one iteration that has survived the test of time is Tavukgöğüsü, literally meaning “chicken breast”, which is enjoyed as a dessert. Over time, the meat was omitted and it evolved into Italy's panna cotta and France's blancmange. But the Ottoman version kept its same name, muhallebi.
Set aside about one glass of milk and bring the rest to a boil. While the milk is heating up, add starch, flour, vanilla and sugar to the milk that you set aside and mix well. This will prevent clumping later on and makes the process much smoother overall. Once the milk starts to boil, add the thick milky mixture to it while stirring constantly. The last thing you want is to burn the bottom, so lower the heat a bit so that it is just bubbling. Once the pudding starts to thicken, turn the heat off and add the butter and mix it until it is fully incorporated. Pour into small bowls or decorative cups and let it cool off. Serve cool and add some fruit or nuts (or both) as decorations if you desire.
Play around with the ratios. If you think the muhallebi is too thick for your taste, remove a tablespoon of starch or add a bit more milk if it is too late to remove it. More or less sugar is always a thing to consider as well.
The layered trifle is indeed quite an affair and I have friends that can’t imagine Christmas without it. But I find it a bit sad that many recipes recommend using canned custard. I do get it, especially during the busy holiday season it can get hectic but the canned stuff never really tastes as creamy and good as the homemade version. As for the cake layer, some prefer to bake the cake ahead of time and just toss it into the freezer (guilty as charged), others prefer ladyfingers or regular store-bought sponge cake. To be honest, do as you like. As today’s focus is on the pudding, I'll teach you how to make the custard from scratch but the cake layer will be "ready."
For the custard
For the cake layer
For the fruit layer and whipped cream
Bring the milk to a boil then turn off the heat. Mix the yolks with the sugar, vanilla and cornstarch until smooth. This part needs to be done right, so pay attention! Slowly drip some of the hot milk into the yolky mixture while stirring it constantly. We don’t want sweet scrambled eggs. Do this gradually until the mixture has warmed up quite a bit and slowly increase the amount of warm milk. Put the mixture back onto the heat and let it simmer for about two minutes until it gets thick. Remove it from the heat and in the butter and continue mixing until it is all smooth. Let this cool off. If you want to avoid skin forming on top you can put plastic wrap over it.
While this is cooling off, wash your fruits and cut the strawberries in half, quarter them if they are very big. Then it is time for the whipped cream, which is made by whisking together heavy cream with powdered sugar until it gets stiff. Don't overdo it though, as you don't want it to turn into butter.
Once the custard has cooled off get your bowl ready and place about 1/3 of the cake into it. Spread the juice of sherry over it and top that off with about 1/3 of the fruit. Finish that off with 1/3 of the custard and 1/3 of the whipped cream and repeat. While layering you can get creative and use the strawberries for examples to line the bowl. As a final touch, decorate the top with fresh fruit and any leftover custard or whipped cream (or both or neither, just get creative)
As is clear in the two examples above, puddings recipes are quite similar. This is why instead of teaching you how to make a chocolate pudding for example (just add a tablespoon of cacao, you could even enhance it with molten chocolate), I wanted to give you something that requires a bit more finesse.
In a small bowl combine a bit of the milk with the egg yolks, starch, salt and vanilla and whisk until there are no clumps.
In a pot of your choice melt the sugar until it turns a light brown color. No need to stir it, just let it melt. Pour the remaining milk into the caramel and stir until it dissolves. You can preheat the milk to make the caramel dissolve faster but the steam can be quite nasty. Always be careful with hot sugar. Once dissolved you can pour the egg mixture and stir constantly until it starts to thicken. Let it bubble up for a moment and turn the heat off. Pour into cups or bowls and serve.
You can melt more sugar for a bit longer if you are looking for a more intense caramel taste.
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