Food & Drink

Feel better– eat pudding

Yes, the news is scary. Gas lines, unemployment lines, stock market lines zigzagging downward.

You need comfort. You need creaminess. You need something to ease your pain.

You need pudding.

The editors at Bon Appetit must have known bad times were coming. As far back as last winter, they named pudding one of the year's Top 10 food trends. Now fall is here and they're right – we need more comfort than we can get from a bowl of mashed potatoes.

Somehow, pudding seems to fit with all this talk about a return to the 1930s. What's more retro than the ultimate childhood food?

Now, when we suggest pudding, please understand that we are not suggesting you open a box of powdered pudding mix. We don't want you to peel back the cover of a pudding cup or (pardon our shudder) pop the top of a can of pudding.

Mixes, cups and cans may look like pudding. But that's not real pudding.

Real pudding is silky. It's more creamy than gelatinous. The flavors aren't just sweet, they're deep and nuanced.

And it doesn't take much more time to make the real thing than it does to stir milk into a mix.

There is confusion about what the word “pudding” means. We can thank the British for that. They had a habit of calling any kind of dessert a pudding. That's how they ended up with Christmas puddings that look like cakes, and fruit-soaked trifles called summer puddings. When that tradition crossed the ocean, we ended up with bread pudding that isn't pudding, and banana pudding that's really vanilla wafers covered with custard.

Custard and pudding both fall into the category of spoon desserts. The difference between them is in how they're thickened. Think of custard as protein-based while pudding is starch-based. All that means is that custards are thickened with eggs, while puddings are thickened with starch, usually cornstarch.

Another difference: Custards are sometimes baked, usually in a water bath, while puddings are cooked on the stove.

Standing at the stove, stirring a simple mixture of milk, sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch, is calming and simple. For a few minutes, you feel like you're back in a world you can control. And when you're done, you have something very nice to eat and to share.

So maybe we're not rich. But our desserts can be.