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Egbert: The Ultimate Comfort Food

  • Cooked on the stovetop and browned under the broiler, this macaroni and cheese is both creamy and crispy. (Eve Bishop/Newsday/MCT)

    Cooked on the stovetop and browned under the broiler, this macaroni and cheese is both creamy and crispy. (Eve Bishop/Newsday/MCT)

  • Cooked on the stovetop and browned under the broiler, this macaroni and cheese is both creamy and crispy. (Eve Bishop/Newsday/MCT)

This time of year the sun sets before I’ve finished my afternoon tea. The cold damp air calls for a roaring fire in the woodstove.

This is the season between holidays. There’s lots to do and not a lot of energy to do it. It’s comfort food time. To me, comfort food is food that’s easy to prepare, flavorful with a creamy consistency — the perfect description of pudding.

As a young cook, I made pudding by combining pudding mix with milk, cooked the mixture, stirring patiently, until it had big bubbles that plopped and spattered like the boiling mud pots at Yellowstone. The discomfort of a burned tongue (the result of my unwillingness to wait until the pudding had cooled) was offset by the comfort I found in steaming bowls of silky, smooth chocolate pudding.

After mastering pudding made from a mix, I wanted to make a pudding from scratch. The box of tapioca on the shelf near the pudding mixes caught my eye. I was intrigued when I read that tapioca came from the poisonous root of the tropical cassava plant. I couldn’t resist the idea of an exotic food with roots in South America that combined danger and comfort in one bowl. When I want a quick dose of creamy comfort, I still make tapioca pudding, using the recipe on the side of the red and white box.

But when I wanted luxury as well as comfort on a gray afternoon last week, I used heavy cream and imported chocolate and made a dense, dark pudding. Here’s how I did it:

Intense Chocolate Pudding

6 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

I used a wire whisk to combine the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt in a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom. When the dry ingredients were well combined and there were no lumps, I slowly stirred in the milk and cream. I brought the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently to keep the pudding from sticking or scorching and boiled the mixture, for 30 seconds, until it was thick. I took the pot off the heat and added the chocolate, then returned it to the heat and whisked until the chocolate had melted. After boiling for one minute, the pudding had thickened again. I removed the pudding from the heat and stirred in the vanilla. I cooled the pudding for five minutes before pouring it into four bowls.

Served in delicate crystal bowls, topped with dollops of whipped cream and eaten with antique silver spoons, it is the epitome of comfort. To achieve an ultimately luxurious dessert, I used Callebaut dark chocolate, heavy cream that was not ultra pasteurized, and vanilla extract made by steeping a vanilla bean in vodka.

When I was longing for a bowl of creamy comfort and didn’t have either a block of imported chocolate or heavy cream in my pantry, I resorted to my favorite, pantry friendly, vanilla pudding. Here’s the recipe:

Creamy Vanilla Pudding

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

pinch of salt

2 1/2 cups whole milk

3 egg yolks, lightly beaten

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in 1/2 inch cubes

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

I used a whisk to combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, then I stirred in the milk and egg yolks. I cooked the lump-free mixture, over medium heat, stirring frequently with a spatula. After five minutes, when the pudding had thickened and begun to boil, I lowered the heat and cooked the pudding for five minutes more, stirring constantly. I removed the pan from the heat, added the butter and vanilla extract, stirred until the butter had melted and was completely combined. I transferred the pudding to four serving dishes, gently pressed a piece of plastic wrap onto the top of the pudding in three of the bowls and put them in the fridge to chill. I topped the fourth bowl with a generous teaspoon of mini chocolate chips, sat in the rocking chair close to the woodstove and enjoyed the chocolate flecked bowl of comfort and thought about my sister. She was never convinced that tapioca was delicious, not deadly, and so, instant vanilla pudding remained her favorite comfort food.

Carol Egbert lives in Quechee, where she writes, paints and cooks. Her food blog can be found at www.carolegbert.com.