Make Ahead

Bay-Scented Vanilla Pudding

February 22, 2011
2 Ratings
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

I stumbled on the combination of bay and vanilla a few weeks ago while responding to a comment, here on food52. It happened as part of a typographical error. The discussion was about bay leaf plus cinnamon plus cumin, a trio I've been playing with a lot lately, in a variety of different applications. I was typing along, with my brain racing ahead of my fingers, so instead of telling the other FOOD52 cook that I planned to use the bay/cinnamon/cumin combination, I typed “bay/vanilla/cumin.” I noticed the mistake but realized that it sounded quite good, as bay really does work well in sweet and savory dishes. You'll see that I recommend cashews to garnish this. I like the cashew flavor with the bay and vanilla. Any other nut, or pine nuts if your guests have allergies, would also work. Enjoy!! ;o) - AntoniaJames

Test Kitchen Notes

What happens when bay leaves and vanilla rendezvous in the same pudding pot? An intriguing blend of sweet and savory, of course. A dash of cinnamon adds depth while chopped nuts lend some crunch. This is definitely a foodie's pudding. —broccolirose

What You'll Need
  • 6 bay leaves (dried)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • Tiny pinch of salt
  • 1 3/4 cup of whole milk, divided
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons high-quality vanilla extract (See note below.)
  • Lightly toasted and chopped cashews, or other nuts, or pine nuts, for garnish (optional)
  1. Break four of the bay leaves into three or four pieces each and put them in a heavy saucepan with 3/4 cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until the water is reduced by half. Allow the bay leaves to steep in the water overnight. (You can also do this in the microwave, in a glass measuring cup. It takes about four or five minutes to reduce.)
  2. When ready to make the pudding, strain the infused liquid and discard the broken bay leaf pieces.
  3. Sift together the sugar, cinnamon, corn starch and salt. Add ¼ cup of cold milk and stir well to remove any lumps.
  4. Scald the remaining milk with the remaining two bay leaves. (I usually do this in the microwave in a glass measuring cup.)
  5. In the bottom part of a double boiler, bring 2 - 3 inches of water to a simmer.
  6. In the top insert of the double boiler, and off the heat, beat the egg yolks. Add a few drops of hot milk, stirring constantly, then add a few more and then yet some more, stirring all the while.
  7. When you’ve added about ½ cup of milk, strain the mixture back into the measuring cup or whatever vessel is holding the rest of the hot milk, then pour it all into the top insert of the double boiler (which is still off the heat). Leave the bay leaves in with the milk mixture, to get more bay flavor while cooking the pudding. Add the reserved bay-flavored water.
  8. Set it over the hot water in the bottom piece of the double boiler. The water should be just at a simmer and not boiling. Make sure that the top inset does not actually touch the hot water beneath it.
  9. Stirring gently with a wooden spoon, add the sugar, cornstarch and milk mixture.
  10. Continue to stir gently and put your timer on for four minutes. When it goes off, add the vanilla extract, stirring all the while.
  11. Cook for a few more minutes, continuing to stir very gently. The pudding should thicken considerably.
  12. Remove the pudding from the heat, and continue to stir while it is off the heat, gently, for a few more minutes.
  13. Remove the bay leaves and cool the pudding, putting a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the top surface.
  14. Serve with a few chopped toasted nuts on top, if you like. Lightly toasted cashews go particularly well with this.
  15. Enjoy!! ;o)
  16. N.B. The basic proportions and general order of operations are the ones I’ve used my entire adult life, taken from "The Joy of Cooking." (I have the 1943 version. I suspect that later versions are similar.) The method of stirring some cold liquid into the cornstarch mixture, and the admonition to stir very gently, I learned from a book I stumbled on at the library some time ago, called “Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages.” According to its author, Anne Mendelson, vigorous stirring while cooking a pudding can break the starch links that form to thicken it.
  17. About the vanilla: Vanilla bean tends to be too strong in this pudding, as it can overwhelm the bay, which by nature is more delicate. For that reason, I suggest using a good vanilla extract. If you have a vanilla bean that's been used once, and from which someone has scraped the seeds, so that just the pod remains, about 4 inches of that can be used in this pudding, instead of the extract. Add it when you pour the milk mixture into the double boiler and remove it when you remove the bay leaves.
Contest Entries

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Bevi
  • hardlikearmour
  • lapadia
  • Sagegreen
  • Lizthechef

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)

17 Reviews

Bevi March 3, 2011
Congrats on the EP! I might have to make this as a parting gift for my Other while I travel.
AntoniaJames March 4, 2011
Thanks so much, Bevi. I hope you do! If you don't have time for the overnight steep of the bay leaves, don't worry about it. A half hour or so will do. I'd add another whole bay leaf though to the pudding while it cooks. ;o)
hardlikearmour March 3, 2011
Yay on EP, AJ! I just knew you'd get some pudding recognition.
AntoniaJames March 4, 2011
Thanks, HLA!! Your encouragement is always so appreciated. Tested the new bay flavor infusion method, which is a hybrid of your sugar-blending and my steeping, for some rice pudding yesterday. Will post more about that when I have time (this weekend, I hope, but work is crazy, but wonderfully so, again . . .) ;o)
lapadia February 25, 2011
Very interesting with the Bay leaves!
AntoniaJames February 25, 2011
Thanks so much, lapadia! The combination of vanilla and bay can only be described as "beautiful." I made some rice pudding yesterday (recipe to follow, this weekend) using this combination and it was out of this world. ;o)
Sagegreen February 25, 2011
Very clever and elegant!
AntoniaJames February 25, 2011
Well, thank you, SG. Coming from you, the master of clever + elegant, that is quite a compliment! ;o)
Lizthechef February 24, 2011
Never, ever thought to combine bay with vanilla - this is a winner! Thumbs up!
AntoniaJames February 24, 2011
Thanks, Liz! If you like cashews and the bay/vanilla combo sounds good, you should definitely try my crispy spice-brined cashews (the recipe with vanilla and bay -- I have two posted now for cashews.) They also have cumin and cinnamon, but the bay and vanilla are what you smell when you pop them -- one a time, slowly, please -- in your mouth. I also make a rice pudding with this combo that is divine. Will have to post that recipe one of these days. ;o)
Cook T. February 23, 2011
I love the source of your inspiration. Isn't it true that the best ideas are so often discovered by accident? I vividly remember mistaking powdered ginger for garlic powder when making chili con carne in my teens. To this day, both get added to my big pots of meat and beans. (I'm super-curious about the alternate bay infusion method!)
AntoniaJames February 24, 2011
Alas, I won't be able to test it properly until this nasty head cold passes . . . as I cannot taste very well. I have done a fair bit of thinking though, and have observed some qualities of bay that I'd never noticed before, so I actually think that (based on this new knowledge), the new infusion method will actually be a hybrid. Stay tuned . . . . . ;o)
dymnyno February 23, 2011
This must smell divine!
AntoniaJames February 23, 2011
Thanks so much. It does! The intoxicating aroma of my crispy vanilla/bay/cinnamon/cumin brined cashews is what inspired this. The smell alone is addictive. ;o)
hardlikearmour February 22, 2011
I really love love love the sound of this. Once I've recovered from my current pudding coma, I'm gonna make a batch!
AntoniaJames February 23, 2011
Too, too funny!! Pudding coma! Yes, I can certainly relate to that. Egg white frittata, anyone?!! You make me laugh, HLA. ;o)
dymnyno February 23, 2011
I know what you mean! I have been craving plain my body trying to tell me something?