A Pudding That’s Anything But Puritanical

Indian pudding, a colonial-era dessert spiked with a nip of whiskey, makes a grand finale to the Thanksgiving meal—or any fall feast.

MARRY A PUDDING, arguably the most comforting of desserts, with the spices of gingerbread and the texture of a particularly rich Cream of Wheat, and you basically have Indian pudding. To finish off a steaming-hot bowl of it is to find yourself sailing back through history on the Mayflower.

Indian pudding was, no doubt, born of the longing for a taste of home. For the British settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, that meant hasty pudding, a porridge made with wheat flour. With the required flour hard to come by, the settlers turned instead to cornmeal to thicken a warm, slightly jiggly milk custard burnished with molasses. (The dish’s name derives from “Indian meal” or “Indian flour,” which is what the settlers called cornmeal.) Originally slow-cooked in the embers of a fire and served not as a dessert, but as a first course to quell the appetite, Indian pudding, over its nearly 400-year history, has evolved into a sweet, spiced autumn dessert redolent of our heritage and therefore most often served during the Thanksgiving holidays.

In keeping with the busy lives of the settlers, Indian pudding is easy to make. It is also forgiving. A few minutes more in the oven won’t ruin it, nor will the absence of any one spice. That said, do use whole milk to ensure a rich consistency. And, if you can find it, choose fresh, local milk that hasn’t been ultrapasteurized beyond recognition—farmers’ markets are a good bet.

Molasses and maple syrup, which were readily available in the 1700s, are the traditional sweeteners here, but dark brown sugar nicely offsets the generous dose of ginger I like to include. Use whatever you have in your pantry. Even honey would work, as would golden syrup.

Boston had a booming rum trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, and I can’t help but imagine a tipsy cook murmuring “one for the cook, one for the pot” while generously spiking her pudding. My one-for-the-pot is bourbon, a nice complement to the sultry sweetness of the molasses.

The recipe at right is my own adaptation, a relatively quick-to-cook version served in the individual ramekins it’s baked in. If you want to be really authentic, and have several hours to cook your pudding, do it over the embers of a fire; just use a single heat-safe ceramic pot in place of the ramekins. Scooped out and plopped in a bowl, the single-pot version of the dessert isn’t nearly as pretty as the one pictured at left. But cover it with a nice mound of ice-cream, and none of your guests will be the wiser.

Visit this link for recipe: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304644104579191980670883584

—Aleksandra Crapanzano Nov. 15, 2013 for WSJ online.


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