Faith Durand knows pudding. Besides being executive editor of The Kitchn, she’s the author of Bakeless Sweets: Pudding, Panna Cotta, Fluff, Icebox Cake, and More No-Bake Desserts. She harbors a particular nostalgia for old-fashioned, homey chocolate pudding. “When I was a kid, magic in the kitchen meant instant pudding,” she writes. “Shake the powder out of the box, whisk in milk, and before your very eyes, a velvety chocolate treat would appear. I discovered much later that pudding from scratch is almost as quick and easy, and far more enjoyable.”
This recipe, demonstrated by Juli Roberts from the Fine Cooking Test Kitchen, is Faith’s favorite version of classic chocolate pudding. It starts with milk and cream, and is thickened with cornstarch and egg yolks—a classic custard. The chocolate flavor comes from cocoa powder, just enough to make it sweet and full but with a mildly bitter edge. It’s simple enough for children to make, pleasurable enough for adults to eat, and still quick enough to be like magic.
Need to Know
Choose your cocoa. Either natural cocoa or less acidic Dutch-process cocoa will work. Dutch-process cocoa (used in the pudding shown here) produces a darker chocolate flavor, while natural cocoa gives the pudding a milk chocolate flavor.
Sift out lumps. For the smoothest pudding, sift the cornstarch, cocoa, and salt before adding the cream, and mix really well to eliminate any lumps.
Use the right equipment. A heavy-duty saucepan helps the milk heat evenly, and a whisk with a long handle keeps your hands clear of the steaming custard as it cooks.
Temper the eggs. The yolks must be heated gently so they don’t scramble. Add the warm milk to the cocoa mixture slowly and gradually, whisking all the while.
Cook out the cornstarch. Cornstarch must be boiled thoroughly for it to thicken properly; if your pudding becomes watery after chilling, it’s a sign that the cornstarch wasn’t cooked long enough.
Avoid pudding skin (unless you love it). Pudding skin is the rubbery layer that forms when a hot cornstarch-thickened pudding is exposed to the air as it cools. To prevent it, press plastic wrap directly against the surface of the pudding before letting it cool.
Whip before serving. Pudding sets firmly as it cools, and while it’s yummy straight from the fridge, I like to loosen it before serving. Whisk vigorously by hand, or whip for a few seconds with a hand mixer.