Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cooking School: Nostalgia and Pudding Pops

When summer hits, there is nothing better tha a cold, sweet treat to help cool you down. I wasn't picky and would take most fruit flavored popsicles (except grape), but pudding pops were always my top choice. Much to the delight of basically everyone else I can in contact with, including my family, I only ever liked the vanilla ones and no one ever had to fight me for the chocolate or the swirls.
I've heard that that quality has been nothing to write home about in more recent years, so instead of buying a box as the weather warmed up, I made some. It's easy peasy: make pudding and put it in the freezer.
I opted to go with an eggless recipe as a nod to jello pudding (If you use a boxed mix, I won't tell). The vanilla flavor was tremendous, as I used vanilla bean paste with specks of real vanilla bean in it, though you could easily use half a vanilla bean or even vanilla extract to infuse flavor into the pudding. The finished pop was lighter that ice cream and not as overly sweet as some store bought pops. In fairness, this was not as completely smooth as I remember the ones from my childhood being, but it tasted wonderful and melted easily on the tongue. I also suspect that the ones from my childhood were not even as dreamy as I remember them being. These are certainly good enough for me.
If you would prefer to have a regular pudding and not a frozen popsicle, simply pour the pudding into ramekins and chill overnight in the refrigerator. I like the consistency, which is a bit thinner than most puddings. I love the "skin," but if you prefer your pudding without it, just put a layer of plastic wrap on top before chilling.
Getting back to the pudding pops, I use some molds that I've had for ages. They're plastic and very inexpensive. I recommend picking up a set for a few dollars, but you can use small paper cups and wooden popsicle sticks in a pinch. They're a bit harder to eat because of the shape of the cups, but they'll turn out fine.
To release the popsicles, run the molds under warm water for a few seconds. If you use paper cups, you can simply peel it back.

Vanilla Pudding Pops
3 cups milk, divided
1/2 cup sugar
5 tbsp cornstarch
small pinch salt
2 tsp vanilla paste

In a medium sauce pan, heat 2 1/2 cups milk and sugar over medium heat, whisking to dissolve sugar. Bring just to a simmer. You will see steam coming from the milk, but no bubbles.
Meanwhile, whisk together remaining 1/2 cup milk, cornstarch and salt in a small bowl. When the milk/sugar mixture comes to a simmer, whisk in the cornstarch mixture.
Whisking frequently, continue to cook for several minutes, until pudding comes to a simmer and begins to thicken (I generally cook it for about 1 more minute at this point, but it depends on the heat of your stove). It should thickly coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla paste (vanilla extract with beans suspended in it; plain extract is fine).
Pour into clean popsicle molds and transfer to freezer.
Freeze until solid, or overnight.

Makes about 8, depending on the size of popsicle molds.
(This recipe can be halved and any kind of milk can be used, though I typically use low fat.)
This recipe was featured in several newspapers, including the Detroit Free Press, Kansas City Star and LA Daily News.