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.
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 ~
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