Sunday, February 24, 2008

Kitchen Staples - Brandy Vanilla

If you do a lot of baking, please try using brandy vanilla instead of imitation vanilla extract, which should only be in your pantry if you make a lot of ice cream (the alcohol in the real thing hinders the freezing process).

Buy a jar of vanilla beans. McCormick’s is fine, or any other supermarket brand. Fill the jar with brandy. Spare the Hennessey, please; E&J or Christian Brothers is a good choice and a small bottle will keep just about forever. Leave the vanilla beans macerating in the brandy for a day or two and then use the brandy for any recipe that calls for vanilla extract. When you get down to the last spoonful or so, refill the jar with brandy. One jar of vanilla beans stays strong enough for half a dozen refills.

It is very good in this pudding, which is from the 1934 cookbook that I think is still available from the Hershey company as a reprint. When I was growing up in a large single-income family, we rarely had desserts or sweets, and this was for special occasions like birthdays. It’s a Depression recipe; it didn’t dawn on me until I was old enough to pay for my own groceries that this has the advantage of being cheap to make (and if you are feeling particularly frugal you can replace ½ cup of the milk with cold leftover coffee).

The traditional method requires a lot of stirring so I am including the microwave version as well.

Hershey’s Cocoa Pudding

¾ c. white sugar (the original recipe calls for a cup which is too much)
½ c. cocoa
¼ c. cornstarch
Pinch salt
3 c milk
1 T. butter
1 t. brandy vanilla

Stir together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt in a heavy pot. Gradually blend in the milk. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until it comes to a boil. This will take a long time but don’t stop stirring or the milk will scorch and the pudding will be ruined. Pull up a chair.

Boil for one minute, still stirring. Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Pour into serving bowls and press plastic wrap over the top once it has cooled, to prevent the top from hardening into a layer of skin. Refrigerate.

Microwave version:

Combine the dry ingredients in an 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup or large microwave-proof bowl. Gradually blend in the milk. Microwave on high for 8-10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes. The pudding is done when the mixture begins to thicken (I’ve never had to cook it more than 8 minutes). Stir in the butter and vanilla and pour into a serving dish. Refrigerate. Don’t forget the plastic wrap.

Honestly? I don’t make the stovetop version any more. The microwave keeps the milk from scorching and eliminates the standing over a hot stove, making it a great dessert for summer. Because it is so rich and so sweet don’t feel stingy about getting eight servings out of it. Whipped cream really gilds the lily. WARNING: this does not keep well, after a day in the refrigerator the cornstarch begins to “weep.” We never had any left over when I was a kid so that wasn’t a problem!

This is by no means low calorie, even if you use skim milk, but if you are feeding someone who is avoiding eggs it is a useful recipe. I take it to office potlucks as I work with a lot of religious vegetarians, i.e. they can eat dairy but no meat, fish or eggs.

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