I Tried To Invent A Pudding

Ok, the election is over, we can all breathe a heavy sigh of relief, and move on with our lives. What better way to move on than to try to invent a pudding?

After making Elise’s foolproof recipe for chocolate pudding (click here) several times–it’s become something of a staple in our home–I began to think deeply about the process. “Ok,” I thought, ” to make chocolate pudding you put milk in a pot with sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and a pinch of salt. You heat and whisk vigorously until it gets really thick, then you add an egg and some more chocolate and put in ramekins or mugs and refrigerate. That’s all you do.”

My thoughts continued: “So why can’t I just put anything I want in milk, add cornstarch and sugar and a pinch of salt, and make whatever kind of pudding I can dream up? Why can’t I invent my own pudding?”

I found this idea captivating, enthralling even; there were so many options, so many puddings to try. Where should I start? My first thought was a Christmasy pudding with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. My second thought was a fruity pudding made somehow with jam (ya, that one sounds kind of gross.)

Finally, I settled on my third idea: burnt caramel pudding!

No, not like really burnt caramel, the good kind of burnt caramel. You know, like the kind that goes into those salted caramels you buy that are really smoky? It’s where you take the caramel just to the point of almost burning, but not quite burning. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

I started by placing 1/3rd cup of sugar in a pot and heating until it got to that deep, dark amber stage right before turning black:


Immediately, I added 2 cups of milk (it bubbles up, be careful!), 2 Tbs of cornstarch, and a pinch of salt.


I whisked vigorously as the milk came up to a boil. Whisking, whisking, until I was sweating, I waited for the mixture to get thick like it does with the chocolate pudding. It never did.

So I added more cornstarch: two more tablespoons.

I kept whisking and whisking and finally it got a little more thick and I poured my burnt caramel pudding into ramekins:


The color is nice, isn’t it? It looks promising, doesn’t it?

I placed it in the refrigerator and about an hour later I took it out to see how it was doing.

I shook it a bit and it was still way too liquidy to be a pudding. I decided to give it a taste. Here’s the sound my soul made when I tasted it: “MLEKKMMMLKKKMLKKMMM.”

Meaning: ugh! Horrible! Disgusting! What the hell is this?

I think the high temperature of the caramel got the milk so hot that it curdled; there were lumps of solid protein in there. Also: there wasn’t nearly enough sugar, so it was barely sweet. Like tasting vaguely sweetened lumpy milk that’s also disturbingly smoky. How’s that for a first crack at inventing my own pudding?

So into the trash the pudding went, and now I’m back at square one. Actually, I’m at square zero: I’m not sure I want to try to invent another pudding.

But that doesn’t mean YOU shouldn’t try to invent a pudding. Theoretically, if you follow my initial formula–the milk + sugar + corn starch + whatever else you want–you can create a flavor profile that suits you and makes my sad attempt look even sadder. In fact, I urge you to do so! Please: invent a pudding? Give it a go, upload your pictures to my photo pool and e-mail me the link and your recipe. If it’s good, I’ll make it and share it with the world.

Inventing pudding is hard business, but now that the election’s over it’s just the kind of business we have time for again. I hope your business is far more successful than mine.

18 thoughts on “I Tried To Invent A Pudding”

  1. Maybe you should have made a caramel, let it cool, then whisked it into the finished pudding base:

    milk + sugar + corn starch = plain pudding + caramel = caramel pudding

    I’ve never made pudding from scratch, but I’ve made flavoured custard before, and that’s how I’ve always done it.

    Hope that helps!!

  2. Caramel isn’t as sweet as sugar, so you need to use about 1.5 times the amount of sugar to reach the same sweetness.

  3. You probably want to combine caramelized sugar with milk to create a caramel sauce first (no cornstarch), let that cool, and heat it with cornstarch, milk, and any sugar that might be necessary to make pudding. Cornstarch + milk on hot caramelized sugar is quickly taking the cornstarch-milk mixture well above cornstarch’s activation temperature, which can’t be good.

  4. What a tragedy, but a wonderful idea. Not sure if I’m ready to brave these new waters, but I’ll check back to see if anyone else dares to reinvent the pudding wheel.

  5. Adam, I agree with the first poster. Make the basic plain pudding, then add the cooled caramel flavoring.

    I suspect this is how ice cream makers create caramel ice cream. There is a high end creamery in San Francisco (Bi-Rite), that sells a salted caramel ice cream. I haven’t tasted it yet, but all the food reviews rave about it.

  6. I’m sorry to hear about the pudding but OH MY GOD I LOVE YOUR PILGRIM HEADER. Haven’t visited the site in a long time so apologies if the radness of your header has already been discussed.

  7. Hi Adam, a German foodblogger posted a great recipe for caramel pudding some time ago, here’s the link:


    and here’s a brief translation:

    You need 500 ml milk (sorry about those metric units), 60 g sugar, 1/2 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon salted butter, 40 grams cornstarch.

    The differences to your recipe are that

    (i) she separates about 50 mls of the cold milk and whisks that with the cornstarch (if added to hot liquid, starch will get lumpy immediately) – interestingly, this is the standard German procedure for making puddings, as per the recipe on all German ready-made pudding mixes

    (ii) she makes caramel with sugar & water, then adds butter, and then milk. After the caramel is dissolved, add starch-milk-mixture and bring to a boil while whisking.

    So that should work better :) and maybe you want to give it another try? It’s a really yummy recipe, good luck.

    And by the way, congrats about that election :)

  8. Hi Adam,

    If you let the caramelized sugar cool before you add anything else, it will harden, so don’t try that!

    Also, you should heat your dairy before you add it to the caramelizing sugar to be certain not to shock the sugar (which can also cause it to crystalize and form little chunks).

    My suggestion would be to substitute cream for at least half of the milk (it will blend much more smoothly) in the recipe. Bring your milk/cream just to a boil, and whisk the hot milk/cream into the hot sugar til smooth. Immediately strain this mixture out of the hot pot.

    This will result in a nice base that won’t become solid as it cools, and you can then temper in your thickener of choice (egg, cornstarch).

    Keep experimenting! :)


  9. Another thing you might try would be to make the caramel syrup and spoon it carefully into the bottom of the ramekins. Then prepare a vanilla or butterscotch pudding and spoon that on top. When you let them set up in the fridge, you’d get something of a creme caramel effect (I don’t know how successfully they’d unmold to a plate though – usually I use a coconut panna cotta recipe from Epicurious circa 2000 that always works perfectly).

  10. Well, live and learn; try try again, and all that rot.

    How about a pumpkin pudding? After all, nobody’s done anything pumpkin in a while! LOL

    Nice try… I’ll see what I can do with your challenge!

  11. I got the same impulse last year, and “invented” a chai pudding – basically, pudding made with chai-steeped milk. SO GOOD. Don’t give up on the dream.

  12. Make your pudding life easy, I’ll share some advice from Maribel Lieberman, founder of MarieBelle. She used her special Maya Hot Chocolate in a cooking demo I filmed with her for Behind the Burner. She says that you can refrigerate the left over hot chocolate and it turns into delicious pudding a few hours later.

  13. Don’t forget you can use other ‘milks’ for pudding, too. Coconut milk is a personal favorite. Also, once you’ve made that custard, you could put it in your handy dandy ice cream mo-sheen and turn it into awesome homemade ice cream.

  14. Don’t forget you can use other ‘milks’ for pudding, too. Coconut milk is a personal favorite. Also, once you’ve made that custard, you could put it in your handy dandy ice cream mo-sheen and turn it into awesome homemade ice cream.

  15. You can use different flavors of chips, too. I used Ande’s Mint Chips instead of semi-sweet to make a mint-chocolate pudding. Yum!

  16. I made pudding a couple of weeks ago. (Surprisingly, I had no idea how to make pudding, so just guessed and made it up, and according your blog post, I did it right! Except i used a can of evaporated fat-free milk.) Anyhoo – I added maple syrup and a bit of vanilla. It was good! Give it a try!

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