Butterscotch Pudding

Dilemma: I recently worked with a recipe that I wanted to love so much because I am obsessed with the book from which it came and consequently am also in pink-puffy-heart love with the authors of said book. Unfortunately, when I tried this recipe, I was underwhelmed and have debated sharing it with you. However, there was a part of this recipe that was truly spectacular and definitely needs your attention, like, today.

The dilemma is this: do I hack the recipe and just share the good part even though I have nothing but major admiration for the recipe writers? Or do I talk about the recipe as a whole and hope that the not-good part was just something I did wrong even though I followed the recipe to the letter and am still so bitter about it? Let me eat more of the delicious butterscotch filling out of this bland-ass tart shell and think about it for a minute.

When a book has photos as glorious as Baked, my expectations for a recipe are sky-high before I even preheat the oven. They're the sort of images that pull you away from whatever else you're doing and propel you to make a trip to the market at an ungodly hour to get that one ingredient you don't have on hand. In this case, that was Butterfinger candy bars. I already had Scotch whiskey. Naturally.

My point is, I really, really wanted the exact Butterscotch Pudding Tarts that were in the photo. That was not to be. Now, I don't know if the image in the book was heavily warmed and saturated in Photoshop or somesuch, but my tart seriously paled in comparison. Literally.

I still don't get it. I am shaking my head as I type this, in fact. The golden, tweedy, oaty crust I could practically taste when I looked at the picture fell apart like lumpy sawdust while eating, even though I'd been so careful to only pulse the oats just a touch to keep their texture intact. I thought it may have been due to my halving the recipe to make one larger tart instead of eight individual ones, but when a small amount of leftover dough was baked in a tiny tart pan, I got the same beige result. I had double-checked my mise before starting, my ingredients were on point. And we can safely assume it was not a baking temperature issue, given my Type-A dedication to that. Wah-wuuuhhhhh.

But the Piece of Cake kitchen thrives on pulling itself up by its bootstraps and foraging ahead in the face of adversity and recipe-induced confusion. And the future involves making the luscious, just-boozy-enough butterscotch pudding all by itself and eating it out of a mixing bowl with a giant spoon. People, this stuff is manna from heaven. For real.

Even though my disappointment with the crust had me feeling a little like I'd gotten my hair pulled by my playground crush, I still love this cookbook and the concept of this dish--a lush, deeply caramelized filling with an earthy, not-too-sweet crust (that alluded me. Okay, that's the last comment about the crust. I swear. I'm over it, okay?). Like many of the recipes in this book, this one runs on an innovative preparation, a lot of flavorful dark brown sugar and just the right amount of salt to make things interesting.

The crushed Butterfinger candy scattered on top of the pudding is kitschy, but oh man, it's just the thing here. The touch of chocolate and the toothy crunch and the sweet-saltiness of the candy pairs like a fine port and...whatever goes really well with a fine port. This is late-night straight-from-the-fridge noshing at its finest.

So after much consideration, I think I'll leave you with a recipe for only the good stuff--the awesomely delicious butterscotch pudding from the original tart recipe. My reasoning is that on its own, this pudding is a dish I will be making again and again and can add it with great confidence to the Piece of Cake Recipe Box.

But if you're feeling adventurous, open up your copy of Baked (you do have one, don't you?) and make this recipe as it was intended, crust and all. Make the whole thing perfectly delicious and beautiful, just like the photo in the book, and leave me a comment about it with a photo so I can sob and whine about my failure a little more. Sound good? Awesome, thanks.

Butterscotch Pudding
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Makes 8 servings

For this recipe, you will essentially making a caramel first, and then whisking that into a traditional pudding base. How dark you cook the caramel with determine the depth of color and flavor in the finished pudding.

Wait to garnish the pudding with the Butterfinger crumbles until just before serving, because the candy will begin to sort of dissolve and leak, er, Butterfinger juice (?) all over the surface of the pudding. Any leftovers will keep for about two days, refrigerated with plastic wrap pressed right onto the surface of the pudding. If you want to fill tart shells with this pudding, it will make 8 4-inch tarts. Halve this pudding recipe to fill one large 9-inch tart shell.

6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 Butterfinger candy bar, coarsely chopped

Put the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water and stir it gently with a heatproof spatula, being careful not to splash the sides of the pan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, then raise the heat to medium-high and boil the syrup until it begins to smoke and turns a deep amber color. Swirl the pan if necessary, but do not stir. Remove the pan from the heat, let stand for one minute, and then carefully stir in the cream--the mixture will bubble and may splatter. Transfer the caramel to a small bowl and set aside.

In another small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the milk and vanilla until well-blended. Put the pan over medium-high heat and whisk occasionally, until the mixture comes up to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the caramel. Now whisk one third of of this hot milk/caramel mixture into the egg yolks until smooth. Scrape the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the hot milk/caramel mixture. Turn the heat back up to medium-high, and whisking constantly, boil the pudding until it is very thick, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the pudding from the heat and whisk in the butter and the whiskey. Whisk about one minute more to help the pudding cool down. Let the pudding rest for about 10 minutes before transferring it to a large measuring cup (or similar vessel with a pouring spout). Pour the pudding into 8 ramekins or custard cups. Place squares of plastic wrap directly on the surfaces of the puddings, and refrigerate them for about 2 hours before serving. Just before serving, sprinkle the top of each pudding with some of the crushed Butterfinger pieces.

CustardsShauna Sever