Sunday, November 25, 2007

An Acquired Taste - Licorice Pudding

Move over, My*T*Fine. I’ve never made pudding from scratch before, but now that I’ve pulled it off, there is no going back. Sure, you are très convenient and attractively packaged in that meretricious sort of way that begs attention, that red lipstick lettering and those lush pin-up package illustrations. But despite the flash, there is little substance in that little box of yours, more flavoring and coloring agents than anything wholesome, healthy and refined. If I bought a box of you, I would feel cheap and dirty. So I passed on Times Square and went to the zoo instead. I bought a box of something else; I bought a box with a bear on it.

I’ve always had a weakness for bears. There have been Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington Bear, and Smokey the Bear’s avuncular fire-safety guidance. Teddy bears of varying degrees of stuffed fluff and straggliness are the cherished guests of many a childhood. As we grow up, we exchange our toy friends for the real-deal creatures who share the planet with us, the polar and koala bears, those beloved beasts whose ultimate survival depends on our stewardship of their territories, no matter where in the world we have settled. Yet of all our adult bruin obsessions, none is quite so adored as the panda bear, the playful, bundles of black and white, the good will ambassadors, whose historic gift and exchange breeding programs between China and other countries have led to the common cross-cultural goal of ensuring their endangered populations increase. It’s no surprise then that the most well-known and popular licorice candy in Europe and much of the U.S. should be named Panda.

Panda pieces.

Licorice, a botanical plant of the legume family, has a long history of medicinal and comestible use in many cultures. Licorice sweets are enjoyed in literally hundreds of shapes, textures and flavor varieties. The most unusual to the American palate is the European salted licorice, dominant in The Netherlands, Scandinavia and Germany, which has a generally appalling taste to the uninitiated. My first encounter with Old Timers Hinderlooper Ruitjesdrop lead me to believe I was being stricken with strychnine. This was not the Good ‘n Plenty of my youth. Several years later, when time faded the trauma of that episode, I revisited the treat for a tamer version. While this experience did not fully convert me, it did not revolt me, either, but opened up the possibility that licorice, a flavor I definitely do fancy, was worth pursuing in other desserts. Even so, pudding was not something I had remotely considered. It was too weird to take seriously. Naturally, I had to try it.

Wildly popular in Finland, the base of which is the molasses-rich original all-natural Panda formula, licorice pudding is not as easy an exercise as opening a box and whisking its contents into a bowl of cold milk. Instead, you will have to diligently watch over it, carefully regulating the heat, adding delicate egg yolks, and piling multiple bowls and saucepans into the sink as tall and listing as the Tower of Pisa. It’s not unlike the painstaking and patience procedures of fine French and Italian custards.

After four hours of undisturbed, refrigerated chill, the clouds of cream, now transformed into a golden caramel color, were as voluptuous as loose velvet. It was a bowlful of butterscotch-rich bliss, its licorice liquor a faint and far away flavor that flickers and fades with each spoonful. I cannot entice those cooks who little care for licorice, but I can promise that for those who indulge in its black beauty will find the soft, sweet and comforting luxury of this esoteric dessert very easy to bear.

Licorice Pudding - Adapted from the Epicurious recipe

[N.B. - While the personal pleasures and purported health benefits of licorice consumption are well known, care must be taken not to overindulge. Certain compounds in licorice can increase your risk of hypertension and other ailments. Licorice is not recommended for consumption during pregnancy nor breast feeding, nor for those with diabetes, heart problems, or obesity. Please enjoy your treats in moderation.]

3/4 cup very finely chopped Panda brand black licorice pieces
4 1/2 cups whole milk or lower fat milk
1/3 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks


In a large saucepan over medium low heat, melt the licorice in 4 cups of the milk and 1/3 cup of sugar, stirring frequently and ensuring that it does not come to a boil. If milk skin forms on surface, pull off and discard. After 20 minutes, the licorice should be fully melted, turning the milk a light golden brown color; if not, remove from heat and allow the licorice to further melt.

In a small bowl, combine the corn starch (corn flour) with the remaining milk and sugar, then combine with the licorice mixture. Return mixture to heat, cooking over moderate heat until it simmers and mixture thickens as you occasionally stir it. Again, remove from heat.

In a large bowl, beat the 3 egg yolks with the remaining sugar until well blended. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture in a thin stream into the egg yolks, beating well. Return the entire mixture to a clean large saucepan and cook over moderate heat until mixture further thickens and reaches 170 degrees F on a culinary thermometer. Remove from heat and immediately pour hot mixture through a large tea strainer over a large mixing bowl, discarding the strained solids. Gently press and fit a circle of waxed paper onto the top of the hot pudding. Place bowl of pudding in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours. Before serving, remove waxed paper from surface and discard. Distribute pudding into 4 dessert dishes. This rich and flavorful pudding serves 4 very generously. --

This entry is being submitted to Truffle of What's on My Plate?, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging for Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, creator of this popular weekly food blogging event.


Been There, Done That ~

Anise Turkish Delight


Shaun said...

Susan, lovie ~ In the October 2006 edition of Martha Stewart Living there is a recipe for a licorice custard that poured into a pie crust and is then bruleed. I thought of making it last week, only to remember that Eric has the kitchen torch. It is only now that I realize that I could have used the grill in the oven - though not as precise, it does the trick.

I have not heard of this pudding, but I can imagine how good it is. The gorgeous caramel color from the melted licorice and the voluptuous texture are both very inviting. The method seems very straight-forward, which is always a pleasure to learn.

How did you come across this recipe? I never know where to go with Epicurious...I get paralyzed by the infinite choices and possible searches.

It is only because I do feel the effects of too much licorice that I keep the consumption of it at a moderate level. Otherwise...

sra said...

One of the Indian names for licorice is Atimadhuram, which translates as over-sweet.
Your photos are really good.

Ann said...

Okay, I obviously need to try this as my mind says "yeah, that'd be great!" and the child in me says "Ick!" I love recipes that are challenging that way!

Sandeepa said...

I don't think I have ever tasted licorice. Didn't know about the "panda" either. Maybe should take a step towards trying it.

The pudding looks ver velvety and lovely though

Dhanggit said...

the first time i tasted licorice (reglisse in french) i would have to admit i find it weird..but i started to love candies , even in tea or infusion combined with mint it taste fantastic..i tried making a licorice infused raspberry coulis that i used for my Green Tea Opera and it was lovely..i will try this recipe you have i think it will really go well with the creamyness of the way how did you know i love zombie movies LOL :-) thanks for tagging me

katiez said...

Ooooh, I love, love, LOVE licorice! Even the salted kind...actually, we'll demote that to a 'like'.
My mother, also a licorice fiend, had to give it up (high blood pressure)...sigh....
We rarely see it here and when we do, grab it fast. I rather think I'd like your pud!

Kalyn said...

What a fascinating idea. I do love licorice, so I'm guessing I would like it. I had no idea that licorice could potentially be harmful, good information.

Simona said...

Very interesting. I like the color of the pudding a lot, warm and inviting. In Italy you can get licorice ice cream.

Lucy said...

Never knew the dangers involved in a licorice over-indulgence. Worked with a woman who would eat an entire bag each lunchtime. Thanks for the warning.

Bless those bears. Wise move to head on over to the zoo instead.

'Voluptous as loose velvet' - just the kind of sweet folds I'd love to dive into this morning.

Sylvia said...

I really like the licorice taste, but I never thing in make a custard whit it,but I love the idea,I find something exotic..lovely

Freya and Paul said...

I have banned my husband from too much liquorice as it is an anti-aphrodisiac. So, no liquorice allsorts for him. As for me, I've always hated the taste until recently and I think that I could manage to grow to like it with dishes like this!

Laurie Constantino said...

Hmm. Looks good, sounds wierd, includes licorice? Sounds like a must try to me! Thanks for doing the experimenting for us.
PS: I noticed your tag. I'm cogitating on it....

Nora B. said...

Hi Susan,
Interesting post - wonderfully written and I like the 3rd photo very much.

I'm afraid that you finally posted something that I would not try, well maybe I would have a spoonful for research purpuses, but licorice is not my friend. But maybe this custard can be the thing that changes my mind...(custard I love!) ;-)

Rosa said...

Those Finns do have a thing about licorice - they even think knocking back shots of licorice schnapps is a fun way to get drunk. This pudding I could deal with, I think! I do love Bassett's licorice allsorts.

Cynthia said...

I've never had licorice before. Thanks for the education.

Asha said...

These come in various varieties here, don't they? Pudding look s delicious! Making Pudding from scratch is so easy, I made Saffron pudding once!
Btw, I bought the Gnocchi board, got to try your Gnocchis now!:))

Richa said...

that pudding looks so smooth and creamy, so very tempting :)
i've not tasted licorice, but have heard that it's flavor resembles that of fennel, does that sound right?

Susan said...

Shaun – I did see the MSL recipe, but my results have been uneven w/ her, so I went for more of a sure thing. I also wanted a straight pudding rather than the tarted up brûlée, as pretty as it looked from fitting in a flan ring. With too many kitchen gadgets afoot already, I’ve always relied on sliding things under the oven broiler on the highest shelf closest to the flame to burn anything. If you watch it and turn the dish a few times, the results are almost as uniform as a torch or salamander.

The licorice flavor is very subtle but discernible, the caramel robust, but not overpowering.

I found this recipe through a generic Google search for “licorice dessert.” It was the first URL listing. Remarkable, considering I was expecting to have to wade through many Halloween spider cupcakes.
Sra – Thanks. I bought some licorice root powder from an Indian grocer, but I don’t know what to do with it yet. Don’t know if it’s for culinary or medicinal purposes. I’m thinking I can brew a tea w/ it at very least.
Ann – LOL! We seem to share a common sense of culinary adventure.
Thanks, Sandeepa. Panda is not nearly as popular here as in Europe, but you can find it fairly easily in health food stores and more cosmopolitan supermarkets. I got mine at Trader Joe’s. The pudding really was like velvet.
Dhanggit – Licorice is not for everyone, but there is a huge population that is addicted to the stuff. It truly sounds delicious and intriguing with mint or raspberry. I knew you loved zombie movies from your profile. ; )
Katie – I was fascinated by the wide-range of salted licorice available, some of it in little tubes with the ammonium chloride powder inside – really wild – but do NOT have the courage to try it.
Kalyn – I’m guessing you would like it, too. Not everyone is vulnerable to licorice’s potential side effects, but it’s good to let the world know. I do tend to ere on side of caution.
Thanks, Simona. I’ve heard about Italian licorice ice cream. I believe France also has their own version. I know I’ve seen it on the menu at a NYC bistro I frequent.
Lucy – It doesn’t surprise me that your co-worker indulged in licorice overload; it can be addictive. It is supposed to have some health benefits specifically for women, so maybe that would explain her cravings. I love the Panda box! I had no idea; I thought pandas preferred bamboo!
Hi, Sylvia. Thanks! I wouldn’t have thought to make a custard with licorice, either. I was glad to happen upon the recipe.
F&P -- I have heard that licorice has some estrogen-like substances in it. This pudding was very subtly flavored so you may, indeed, be able to “manage” it. I’ve always liked licorice, but don’t see myself downing bags of the salted kind any time soon.
Hi, Laurie. I’m happy to don the lab coat – all for a good cause!
Thanks, Nora. It was bound to happen, but a spoonful of custard might help the licorice go down. : )
Rosa – Aren’t Bassett’s Allsorts the best? I didn’t know about the licorice schnapps; sounds deliciously deadly and far tastier than Jägermeister.
Cynthia – It’s a toss up whether you would like licorice or not. It has a flavor similar to anise and fennel.
Hi, Asha. Saffron pudding sounds divine. I made saffron kulfi this summer but could NOT get it out of the molds w/out creating a terrible mess – tasted great, though.

Licorice does come in other varieties. The red or strawberry licorice is very popular here in the U.S., but technically it is not licorice if it doesn’t have licorice extract in it.

Glad you have a gnocchi board. Even when not in use, it makes an interesting little kitchen curio to hang on the wall. Good to see you!
Thank you, Richa. Yes, indeed, licorice does resemble fennel in flavor; it is very similar in taste to mukhwas. In fact, the first time I had a scoop of mukhwa I thought it had licorice in it. Love it.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

I thought it was going to be anise extract, but you used big chunks of black licorice? Oh, my! I love black licorice. I have got to try this and share it with my mom, who shares my adoration for the sticky stuff.

Wendy said...

I never came across licorice pudding when I lived in Finland but salmiakki (THE finnish licorise) was EVERYWHERE. Like Rosa, I loved the flavoured vodka shots! And the ice-cream wasn't too bad either. :)

Susan said...

Hi, Susan. Thanks. Anise is an OK sub, but this called for the real deal. Chopping it up in small bits helped to melt it more quickly in the milk.
Wendy - will be a while until I bite *that* bullet.

Kelly-Jane said...

I love pudding, I only started making it this year, but I want to make it more, that's for sure....

Susan said...

Hi, Kelly-Jane. Packaged puddings cannot compare with the special texture and flavor of stir-your-own. I'll be cooking up more of it myself.

tagalong said...

Licorice candy does not contain any of the herbal licorice root in it. Licorice candy is made from anise flavoring and molasses and sugar and shouldn't cause any health problems other than those related to hypoglycemia and diabetes. Licorice root herb is another thing though, and people often get those two confused and post false information as a result.

Susan said...

Tagalong - I have not confused ersatz licorice with genuine licorice nor have I posted false information. Panda brand, which I used in this recipe, does list licorice extract on its label. It is not anise; therefore, the health warning.