June 27, 2011
Sometimes you do something you are really, truly, genuinely proud of. You want to do it, and then you do, and it turns out pretty much exactly as you had hoped. And then you are unabashedly (or probably a tiny bit abashed, because you’re not super-great at taking compliments, even from yourself ) proud.
For example: I had this idea for a pudding, a cold, creamy, almond-flavored pudding topped with bourbon-y cherries and whipped cream. I honestly have no idea where this idea came from, given that up until I made these, I have loathed, disdained, and completely eschewed puddings and all things pudding-esque in texture for my whole life. But during my bout with bronchitis at the end of the school year, I found myself dreaming about the foods I would cook when I felt like eating again, and this was one of them.
Now, a pudding might not seem much to get all self-congratulatory over, except for two things: one, it turned out exactly how I had imagined, the flavors, textures, and temperatures all combining for a rich but not heavy dessert. Two, the fact that these puddings turned out is for me a sign that I’ve reached a goal.
There are things I have wanted to do, very badly, without really knowing how to do them, or if I would be capable of doing them when it came right down to it. I’m certain that you, reading this, know what I mean, though I don’t know what those things might have been for you.
Some of my goals have been more intense (deliver the eulogy at my father’s funeral in a way that would dignify him, care-take Jill without making her cancer about me) than others (shave my head just to see what it would be like, become the kind of person people refer to as “refreshingly honest”). Some I’ve yet to accomplish (publish a book, become fluent in Hindi).
But one constant goal, somewhere on the middle of the spectrum between serious and silly, has been to improve my cooking skills. Early in my cooking career, I set my sights on the idea of being someone who can take whatever was in the house and throw together dinner; I do that regularly now, with fun and ease. I am a much more efficient cook (and a much more efficient cleaner of the messes I make, something I know Jill appreciates)—I have a repertoire of dishes, but I also feel confident enough to improvise, something that would have terrified me a few years ago.
Recently, I have been focusing on the idea of flavor combinations and expanding my knowledge of ingredients and techniques. I want to be able to build a dish in my mind, imagining the component parts and steps that will be necessary, and then build that dish in my kitchen, perhaps with some trial and error, but ultimately have it turn out. So that’s why I’m so excited about this damn pudding.
I still have a long, long way to go—so much I do not know about food, or what to do with it. My butchering skills need work, and I’m a total stranger to the grill. But I hope, in time and with practice, I’ll be able to one day say—“I wanted to do that, and now I have.”
ALMOND PUDDINGS WITH BOURBON CHERRIES & WHIPPED CREAM
Please note: the puddings need to chill for about four hours before you can eat them. I know, I know, I know, but it’s worth the wait. Plan accordingly!
You could also keep them overnight, and maybe longer than that, but in my house, they did not last.
for the puddings:
½ cup almonds
2/3 cup sugar, divided
2 T water
2 cups whole milk
2 egg yolks
2 T cornstarch
2 T unsalted butter
2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
special equipment: 6 ramekins (you could also use mugs or small glass bowls)
Grind the almonds and half the sugar (1/3 cup) until the nuts resemble wet sand. Add the water and blend until mostly smooth. Turn the almond paste into a medium-sized, thick-bottomed saucepan and add the milk. Whisk together and heat the mixture over medium heat until hot to the touch.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch, & salt until it’s smooth. Pour in half of the hot milk mixture, whisking to combine. Add the remaining half of the hot milk to the egg yolk bowl, whisking until completely incorporated.
Pour the whole thing back into the saucepan, and heat again over medium until it’s thick and bubbling. Stir constantly with a whisk or spatula. Boil for just a minute, until the mixture has thickened to a gloppy consistency. (I know that sounds gross, but it’s going to be very tasty, don’t worry).
Remove the saucepan from the stove and stir in the butter and extracts until the butter has completely melted. At this point, I passed the pudding mixture through a mesh sieve before spooning it into the ramekins; I wanted a smooth texture, but you might not.
Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the pudding directly, preventing it from forming a thick skin. Refrigerate until cold and set, about 4-5 hours.
for the bourbon cherries:
a dozen sweet red cherries, pitted & halved
3 T butter
2 T brown sugar
bourbon! (yes, it deserves an exclamation mark)
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium low until it’s foamy. Add the cherries and sauté until they become soft and a bit darker in color. Stir in the brown sugar, letting it caramelize a bit before deglazing the pan with a generous hit of bourbon. Turn the heat to low and let everything cook together for a few minutes, at which point you should have boozy cherries and a simple, burgundy-colored sauce.
Mound some homemade whipped cream over each pudding. Top with a few bourbon cherries and, if you like, some chopped, toasted almonds.