Stovetop Pudding


Not much harder than so-called instant, but with infinitely more flavor.
TIME About 20 minutes, plus time to chill
MAKES 4 to 6 servings
2½ cups half-and-half
⅔ cup sugar
Pinch salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Method
1 Combine 2 cups of the half-and-half, the sugar, and the salt in a small saucepan and stir. Put over medium-low heat. Cook until the mixture just begins to steam, 2 or 3 minutes.

2 Combine the cornstarch and the remaining ½ cup half-and-half in a bowl and whisk to make a slurry; there should be no lumps. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan. Raise the heat a little if not much is happening and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and just starts to boil, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens noticeably and starts to stick to the pan, another 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the butter and the vanilla extract.

3 Pour the mixture into a bowl big enough to hold it or into 4 to 6 small ramekins or glasses. Put plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding to prevent the formation of a “skin,” or, if you like pudding skin, leave it uncovered. Refrigerate until chilled, at least an hour, and serve within a day.

Variations
  • Lighter Pudding: Use milk instead of half-and-half and skip the butter.
  • Chocolate Pudding: In Step 2, add 4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate to the thickened pudding. Make sure it has all melted before transferring it to the fridge.
  • Butterscotch Pudding: Substitute packed brown sugar for the granulated sugar.

Tips
  • The mixture of cornstarch and half-and-half is called a slurry (a term used to describe similar wet mixtures both in and out of cooking). Once it’s stirred into the warm liquid it immediately starts to thicken the pudding. Just make sure the slurry is completely smooth before you add it (it’s easy; that’s the beauty of cornstarch), or the pudding will be lumpy.

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