My mother always made chocolate pudding from scratch. But like other housewives of the 70s, I followed the commercial advice of Bill Cosby and served Jell-O Instant Chocolate Pudding. It was just too easy to do otherwise. The folksy comedian assured us that the box version was “as smooth and creamy as cooked pudding.” As it turned out, a whole generation of kids grew up not knowing the pleasure of an honest-to-goodness, stove-top chocolate pudding.
If you’d like to try the real McCoy, for ol’ times sake, below is the classic recipe as laid out by Martha. It takes a little while to heat the ingredients all together, but it’s well worth the effort.
As the mixture cools, don’t forget to put a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface so no air comes in contact with the pudding, that is, unless you like the rubbery skin that forms when pudding is left uncovered in the refrigerator. Some people do. The makers of Jell-O Instant solved any problems with skin, flavor, and texture by adding thickeners, stabilizers and enhancers to the basic ingredients.
Ingredients: (Serves 4)
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (if making chocolate pudding)
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Place a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl; set aside. In a medium saucepan, off heat, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt. If making chocolate pudding, add cocoa powder. Very gradually (a few tablespoons at a time) whisk in milk, taking care to dissolve cornstarch. Whisk in egg yolks.
Whisking constantly, cook over medium heat until the first large bubble forms and sputters. Reduce heat to low; still whisking, cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; immediately pour through sieve into bowl. Stir butter and vanilla into hot pudding.
Place plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding (to prevent skin from forming); chill at least 3 hours and up to 3 days. Before serving, whisk pudding until smooth; divide among four serving dishes.
Instant Pudding v. Homemade
The folks over at The Kitchn did a time-cost study of Jell-O Instant Pudding v. Martha’s homemade recipe. They found the cost was about the same: Jell-O Instant was 77 cents per serving; Martha’s made from scratch, 72 cents. But there was a big difference in kitchen time. The instant variety lived up to its name, clocking in at 5 minutes from package to spoon, while Martha’s recipe took 15 minutes, plus 40 minutes for the pudding to set.
To Jell-O’s credit, the pre-fab pudding gives you a silky, perfect texture every time. Homemade pudding can be more iffy and requires constant whisking while cooking. But homemade pudding is definitely superior in taste and you can manipulate the chocolate content, using cocoa, semi-sweet or bittersweet varieties.
Even so, you might want to stock up on a few pudding packages for those times when you need a quick dessert. If you’re wanting something special, for Thanksgiving or a family celebration, it’s well worth the time to go with the real deal.