Make Ahead

Bay-Scented Vanilla Pudding

February 22, 2011
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

  • Serves 4
  • 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)
In This Recipe
  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.
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Recipe by: AntoniaJames

When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)