It took five tries to get this pudding right. On the fifth try it was finally, exactly what I wanted it to be – voluptuously indulgent, chocolatey but not too intense, cool and silky smooth. I got it right on the fifth try because I didn’t lose my nerve, cooking it for precisely three times the specified length of time.
I’ve made so many chocolate puddings over the years. My first experiments were with Chocolate Pots d’Creme (especially variations on this recipe); a simple idea that involves whisking hot cream through chocolate, egg yolks and vanilla before setting the mixture in the fridge. These dense, dark Pots were delicious, but so intensely rich that after a while I found them overwhelming. I switched to Chocolate Mousse (often this recipe) with its airy, whipped texture, and then to Molten Cakes (also called Chocolate Fondant) and their lusciously liquid centres. All undeniably wonderful but always just a bit too much, if you know what I mean; too cloying on the tongue or too heavy on the stomach. This divine Chocolate Pudding has finally won me over, and what makes different is that it’s based on milk, gives butter a miss, and is cooked like a custard. Overall it’s lighter and more subtle in flavour, fulfilling all of my deepest chocolate needs without making me break out in cold sweats.
In the quest for perfect chocolate pudding I’ve really been trying to capture the feeling of one that I loved to eat as a child. Like many kids growing up in the ’70s and ’80s in New Zealand, you could always find little packets of Greggs Instant Pudding in our cupboard. We only had it as an occasional treat, but our bowls of cool, fluffy pudding were always joyfully devoured, even when paired with the (equally ubiquitous) canned fruit salad. Yes…I realise that the terms “packet” and “instant” aren’t usually associated with culinary greatness, but my childhood memories put this pudding beyond such judgements. I get nostalgia-overload when I think about it.
So what exactly is Greggs Instant Pudding? It’s a good question. Early versions of the packaging don’t list any ingredients, not a single one, which is…silencing and actually quite impressive. In fact, the closest thing to an ingredient list is the statement “Artificially Coloured & Flavoured” displayed prominently on the front. This had disappeared by the time I would have started eating it as a toddler in the late 1970s, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it was probably still there in tiny print on the back. Who knew what was in it but what you did was beat it into a pint of milk and wait five minutes for it to become a thick, aerated, spoonable pudding – every hungry kid’s dream. It came in a range of flavours but I can only ever remember eating the chocolate. Then, as now, the thought of the lime, orange, and lemon flavours makes my stomach feel all curdly.
Greggs always had a slightly gritty texture, which didn’t bother me then and of course it was sweeter than it needed to be, which probably masked a range of sins. I wanted a silky, not-too-sweet pudding, but beyond that it was the lightness of Greggs and its lack of chocolate intensity that I was seeking. It feels almost ridiculous today to admit to a desire for less chocolate (surely what you mean is triple chocolate? 85% cocoa solids? death by chocolate?) but there it is. You can have too much of a good thing, and it turns out that of chocolate, I want less.
This recipe was already so close to my ideal in terms of flavour and all I had to do was reduce the cocoa powder and chocolate slightly. It’s still very chocolatey, but in a comforting way that won’t give you palpitations. The texture took longer to get right, and the first three times I undercooked it but didn’t realise until I went to eat it and found it as runny as a milkshake. On the fourth try I got closer, but on the fifth I cooked it for a heart-stopping 12 minutes, which is much more than the 3-5 minutes specified. It could just be my interpretation of “low temperature” that’s to blame, but it’s probably more to do with experience. You’ll know that your pudding is thick enough when it coats the back of a spoon very thickly, when drops that fall off the spoon leave a visible ring on the surface of the pudding, and when you take it off the heat it begins to get thicker almost immediately. Don’t lose your nerve for this pudding and you’ll be repaid in the most delicious way.
Perfect Chocolate Pudding
3 cups (750ml) milk (full cream or light; not skim), divided
1/3 cup (scant) sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 1/2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
80 grams dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
To serve (optional): 1/4 cup flaked almond (toasted), fresh raspberries
In a medium bowl (preferably one with a spout for pouring), whisk together 1 cup of milk with the sugar, cornstarch or arrowroot, cocoa powder and salt. When well blended, whisk in the egg yolks and set to one side.
In a large saucepan, bring the remaining 2 cups of milk to a boil over medium heat. Stir the milk frequently to ensure that it doesn’t burn. As soon as milk comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot milk, stirring steadily but gently to incorporate. Continue cooking and stirring until pudding is luscious and glossy and thickly coats the back of a spoon, up to 12 minutes.
Remove the pudding from the heat and add the chopped chocolate and vanilla extract. Whisk in the chocolate until completely melted and smooth (if you have trouble with lumps, you can strain through a sieve). Pour the pudding into individual serving bowls or cups and then chill in the fridge for at least one hour. The pudding will thicken even more as it cools and chills.
Serve the pudding with toasted flaked almonds for a pleasing textural contrast, and/or fresh raspberries.