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Salty Caramel Pudding

caramel pudding

Last week I had the pleasure of a lovely girls-dinner with my pal and fellow butter-lover Michelle Jaffee (owner of my favorite Fairfield County, CT bakery – Sweet & Simple). We sat at the bar at our local spot Bonda; we drank and ate and drank a bit more – responsibly, of course – but more importantly, we talked and we listened. The place was packed and the noise level was high but when two good friends get together for a long overdue catch-up, all that stuff easily falls away. Our only distraction came with dessert. When we both declined (let’s face it, these two girls already eat more than our fair share of desserts what with our day jobs), two of our fellow bar mates, my longtime pals Jim & Mary Jane, insisted we try the house-made Budino. Bonda’s version starts with chocolate cookie bottom (crushed or a single layer? I’m not sure.) followed by multiple layers of rich creamy pudding and whipped cream. Devilishly good.

I’ve been lingering over the memory of this dessert. What exactly is a Budino any way? Must it have multiple layers? Must it be served in a pint-sized canning jar? Must it have a cookie crumb mixture as a base or will a simple cookie or no cookie do as well? According to seriouseats.com, a budino is simply a pudding that packs a big-flavored punch. From further research, some budino are layered and some not; some with a cookie (or crumb mixture) in the bottom and on top or just on the side; some with whipped cream and some straight up. Clearly, my options were vast and regardless of my choices I wouldn’t be breaking any sacred rules of Italian desserts (phew) so I set out to do, well, what I do and that is to develop a recipe. Believing that less is more, my Salty Caramel Pudding (I’m not Italian so I’ll forgo the “budino’ but you should feel free to call it whatever you like.) begins with a single chocolate cookie followed by a big-flavored, creamy, caramel stove-top pudding and topped with sea salt and Marcona almonds just before serving. Carmel-y, creamy, nutty, salty, chocolate-y goodness in a little ramekin is what’s for dessert in my house this weekend.

Notes from my kitchen: What to do with those leftover egg whites? You can make a batch of Meringue Cookies The Everyday Baker page 153 or the ever-glamorous Espresso-Hazelnut Meringue Cake, The Everyday Baker page 208. Don’t forget that you can keep them tightly covered in the fridge for weeks.

For Your Reference: Here are The Everyday Baker page numbers for the essential techniques you’ll be using in this recipe. Take a look in the book before you start baking.
For more about Separating Eggs, see page 371.
For more about Caramel, see page 273 and this post.
For more about Making Pudding, see page 388.

Salty Caramel Pudding ~ Makes 4 servings.
4 crisp, thin chocolate wafer cookies (I use Nabisco Famous Brand)
3 yolks from large eggs
2 Tbs. + 2 tsp. (3/4 oz./20 g) cornstarch
1/4 tsp. table salt
2 cups whole milk or half-and-half
, divided
2/3 cup (4 5/8 oz./131 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
2 Tbs. (1 oz./28 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, very soft
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Coarse sea salt (I like Maldon), for serving
Marcona almonds, roughly chopped, for serving

1. Have ready four 6-oz. ramekins or small cups arranged on a flat plate or quarter sheet pan. Arrange a cookie in the bottom of each ramekin. If the cookies are broken, piece them back together as best you can to line the bottoms. It’s ok if they overlap slightly.
2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, cornstarch and salt until well blended. Whisk in about 1/3 cup of the milk or half-and-half; set aside. Put the remaining milk or half-and-half in a small saucepan or microwave-safe measuring cup and heat until very hot. Set aside.
3. Put the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring, over 
low heat until the sugar is dissolved, then stop stirring and increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. When the sugar begins to caramelize, swirl the pan over the heat until the caramel is deep amber, 2 to 3 minutes. Gently swirl the pan over the heat to even out the caramel color. (I like to test the color by putting a drop or two on a white plate. If the caramel is too light in color, the sauce will be too sweet.) Slide the pan off the heat and slowly and carefully add the warm milk or half-and-half. Be careful, as it will sputter and the steam is very hot. Whisk until the caramel is completely smooth. If necessary, return the pan to the heat and continue whisking the bottom and edges of the pan until the caramel is dissolved. You’ll know it’s completely dissolved when the whisk no longer catches or sticks to the bottom of the pan. Slide the pan from the heat.
3. Whisking the egg yolk mixture, slowly add about half of the hot caramel milk. (This is called “tempering”. Adding the hot liquid too quickly and/or not whisking constantly cause the yolks to curdle.) Using a silicone spatula, pour and scrape the mixture back into the saucepan while whisking to blend. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil (the foam will dissipate and the liquid will thicken as it cooks). Boil, whisking constantly, for 30 seconds (I count it out – “one Mississippi, two Mississippi..). Slide the pan off the heat, add the butter and vanilla, and gently whisk until just blended.
4. Pour and scrape the hot pudding evenly among the prepared ramekins. They will be almost completely filled. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the puddings’ surface to prevent a skin from forming. (If you like the skin, cover only the top of the  ramekins with plastic and not the surface of the pudding.) Set aside to cool until warm and then refrigerate until chilled, 6 hours or up to 2 days. Just before serving, remove the plastic, scatter almonds over each pudding and sprinkle with the salt.

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