Phundamental Pudding Principles
The Proof is in the Pudding
Contributed by D. Max
Sometimes cooking good pudding from scratch seems like a black art - one attempt becomes a bowl of vanilla soup while another becomes spackle. While attempting to titrate ingredients for various pudding recipes (and rescue various disasters in the making), I have come to realize that whether it is rice pudding, flan or an envelope of supermarket pudding powder, there are certain common underlying rules that apply to them all.
I have attempted to collect these "Pudding Principles" into a general theory that can be used to guide you in your search for just the right consistency in whatever concoction you happen to be working on. I formulate these principles under the heading of what I call...
These are principles that I am basically making up spontaneously out of the luminiferous aether (call it a Big Bang of thought, if you will). However, I realize that nothing I am saying here is really original to me (except where I'm wrong). I am merely regurgitating some of the collected wisdom of pudding makers who have come before me. If I see so far, it is only because I stand upon the shoulders of giants. You can quote me on that.
There was a time when we thought everything was like pudding. Back in 1897, a scientist named J. J. Thomson performed experiments that led to the discovery of electrons (which he called corpuscles) which he believed to be the single building block of matter. He proposed a model, called the "Plum Pudding" model in which atoms are like a little swarm of negatively charged corpuscles swimming around inside some sort of squooshy cloud of positive charge.
Later, his student, Ernest Rutherford, shot some alpha particles at a sheet of gold leaf and demonstrated that in fact all the positive charge was concentrated in a little ball at the center of the atom. Thus, matter isn't "Plum Pudding" and instead atoms are in fact mostly empty space. This became known as the "Meringue" model.
Where was I? Oh, right! So, it turned out that all matter isn't pudding, you see. But, of course you knew that because you can't just serve a lump of carbon isotopes for dessert and say, "There you go, pudding!"
So, in summary, all matter isn't pudding, but all pudding is matter.
These different types of substances that transform the soup to goo (guons, if you will), share some fundamental properties that enable them to substitute for each other thus making rules that are learned for one class of guons also apply to the rest of the guons. Actually, this is my whole point here, so really it is "The Grand Gooification Theory" that I am espousing here.
Alright. Now on to something that you can use, maybe. All of the following can be used to thicken pudding:
This class covers a large class of puddings including the pudding you buy at the supermarket that usually contain some kind of "modified food starch." You can also use some kind of powdered starch like corn starch, or you can use other starch-containing ingredients like rice or tapioca.
When cooking a starch-based pudding, the pudding will stay liquid almost up to the boiling point. Just below the boiling point, the pudding will rapidly thicken. If you are making rice pudding or pearl tapioca pudding, the mixture may not thicken immediately because the starch needs time to be cooked out of the grains into the liquid.
When egg cooks, it changes from raw form to hard-boiled form. When thoroughly mixed into a liquid, it will cause the liquid to thicken when cooked. Pudding made using eggs are often called custard. Like a starch pudding, the mixture will thicken just below the boiling point. It is not a good idea to let custard heat up more than this. For some recipes, the custard is so delicate that it is cooked in a double boiler to prevent overheating. In general, custard is done when it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. It will thicken more when it is cooled.
For both starch and eggs, a bit of chemical magic happens right below the boiling point. Starches are made up of these long chains of carbohydrates. When heated, they kind of unfurl and interlock with each other thereby thickening up the liquid. With eggs, the concept is the same except it is long chains of proteins rather than carbohydrates that are doing the interlocking.
You don't usually think of gelatin as belonging in pudding, but in fact it is used for such pudding-type confections as Bavarian Cream. Make sure that if you use gelatin that it is unflavored. Milk, vanilla and lime Jell-O are not a happy combination. But seriously, some "unflavored" gelatin actually contains acids like citric acid in the assumption that you are planning to use it in some kind of fruit dessert or something. If you try to pour it into milk, you will get an ugly curdled mess. Do I sound like someone who speaks from experience?
You probably won't find this for sale except in the Asian food section, but it is a thickener made from seaweed which I generally associate with petri dish my doctor used to use when he would check my throat for strep. Anyway, you could use it for pudding...
You usually don't use this stuff in your kitchen, but the food chemists out there have come up with stuff they call "thickeners," "vegetable stabilizers" (for keeping tomato plants from falling over?) or hydrocolloids that they add to processed foods to make them thicker and smoother. Agar agar is used in this way. Another example is carrageenan, which comes from seaweed or Irish Moss (whatever that is). I don't know, try asking these people who call themselves The Carrageenan Specialists.
Others are xanthan, guar, locust bean gum, doublemint, karaya, gum tragacanth, alginates, gum arabic, and many other gums. Double your pleasure, double your fun. Double your recipes with locust bean gum.
Want to know more about gums? Go look at Gum Tech.
Most of these thickeners don't need heat to activate them. They basically work by absorbing lots of water. They are therefore often used in instant puddings that thicken without cooking. Appetizing, no?
Actually, another substance that thickens this way is soluable fiber like oat bran. Yes, could in theory make pudding with Metamucil. In fact, some of the diet slim- fast type stuff does exactly that. I'm not sure I would try that, but if you're looking for a healthy way to thicken up a sauce, you could really... just make sure it isn't the orange flavor.
So, what's the "Grand Theory?" You can use any one or more of these things in your bag of tricks for making pudding or thickening up any of these things. If your pot of tapioca or rice pudding is looking too thin, you could mix up a bit of corn starch and water and toss it in. Next time, you can use more tapioca or add an egg to the recipe.
There, see? Simple as Bavarian Cream Pie.
Let us know your feedback, and what your favorite pudding is!