I really think February is just the worst month. I know it’s a short one, but it drags on FOREVER. In the Northern Hemisphere it’s still cold and dark, and this year has been particularly full of ice and wet and slush and snow and also the COLD, goodness gracious. The major holidays are over, and we’ve all returned to business as usual, and yet Spring is still in the distance. I’ve also been single for every Valentine’s Day of these my 29 years on Earth, and even though it’s a totally manufactured holiday and I’m happy hanging out with me (and Gus and Ruby) and I don’t need love to define my life etc. etc., this month is usually still kind of terrible.
WHICH IS WHY I’M MAKING IT BETTER. With pudding.
This pudding is so many of my favorite things rolled into one. It’s pure, unadulterated comfort food, yet it’s also sophisticated. And simple, rich, decadent, creamy, dense, and a whole host of other delicious, delicious qualities. It’s like pudding meets custard meets heaven. While it packs a serious punch on its own, thanks to bittersweet chocolate with a dash of cocoa and espresso powder, you should really experiment with some different toppings, because they make it absolutely transcendent.
If you DO happen to be celebrating Valentine’s Day with a loved one this year, might I suggest you do so with chocolate pudding? According to legend chocolate is a powerful aphrodisiac, the texture of this bad boy is SINFUL (dear god it is LUSH), and the best part? It’s make-ahead, y’all. Who wants to get a romantic dinner going only to have to pause to do the dishes or put a soufflé in the oven? No one. Just pull the serving dishes out of the fridge, add a topping of your choice, and enjoy!
Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding
(adapted, barely, from Bon Appetit)
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 c. heavy cream
2 c. whole milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean
1 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp. instant espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
Chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans
Chopped toasted or candied nuts: walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, etc.
Dessert liqueur: Bailey’s, Nocello, Kahlúa, Crème de Menthe, etc.
For the pudding:
Melt the chocolate (either in the microwave at 20-second intervals, stirring well after each interval, or in a double-boiler over medium-low heat), stirring until smooth. Set aside and allow to cool slightly at room temperature.
Whisk together the cream, milk, and egg yolks. Scrape in the seeds from half a vanilla bean (save the other half for the whipped cream garnish), whisk, and then add the vanilla bean pod.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, salt, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and espresso powder (if using), then slowly add the cream/egg mixture, whisking until smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently to avoid clumps. Once the mixture boils, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook for about four minutes, until the custard is quite thick and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and melted chocolate. Pour the pudding through a fine-meshed strainer into a large bowl or measuring cup. Transfer the pudding to individual bowls and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the pudding’s surface. Chill for at least 4 hours. Makes 6-8 servings, depending on the size of your serving dishes.
Now comes the fun part! While this pudding is insanely decadent on its own, it’s also a fantastic base recipe to indulge in a little creativity. I think a dollop of lightly-sweetened homemade whipped cream flecked with vanilla beans is a must, but beyond that, the sky’s the limit!
For a fun salty-sweet crunch, sprinkle over some chopped pretzels and peanuts. For a bit of sophistication, add a drizzle of your favorite liqueur, like Nocello (this is the bottle of walnut liqueur that WILL NEVER DIE, so you’re going to keep seeing it turn up until I can figure out a way to get rid of it all), Kahlúa, Crème de Menthe, Bailey’s, etc. To get your heart racing (literally), add some chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans and a dash of ground cinnamon (you can also up the amount of espresso powder in the pudding itself). For a sweetly retro look add a maraschino cherry and a drizzle of rasberry coulis! To make a raspberry (or mixed berry) coulis, let 1 c. of frozen raspberries thaw, then pulse in a blender with a teaspoon of granulated sugar and a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice until fully liquefied. Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve to remove the seeds, and then pour a spoonful over your favorite dessert.
These are the few variations I tried, but there are so many others! What about shards of nut brittle, or a drizzle of caramel sauce (like this lovely Lavender Blossom Caramel Sauce, for example), or some crushed Oreos, or even a few simple mint leaves? OR BACON? Feel free to get creative, but don’t garnish until just before you serve: part of the deliciousness comes from the play of different textures, and if you garnish ahead of time all your crispy/crunchy bits will get soft.
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I really like that this set feels “special”, with its wine color and subtle pink hearts and sassy suspender belt, but it’s still so totally wearable. As much fun as sweeping robes and, like, marabou puffballs and sassy sheer babydolls can be, there’s no need to save this set solely for special occasions.