I developed this chocolate pudding in opposition to those wasteful, vapidly-flavored little cups that always tempt my kids. They see those damn things and practically go into hysterics. Paying good money for chocolate(ish)-tinged puddlewater emulsified with deoderized oil is a culinary sham. Not to mention the landfill hoarders those little cups become. I said as much to my daughter (Hello soapbox middle-class white lady in the middle of Target!), and she rolled her eyes: “Then why don’t you just make some that’s better?!?” Duh?
The goal was to make something sumptuous enough for me that would also fulfill my kids’ vanilla-heavy, stand-on-the-spoon, chocolate pudding-cup fantasies. And of course, I wanted a recipe easy enough to throw together the night before and have ready for the lunchbox.
In a medium saucepan, before coming to the stove, whisk the sugar, cocoa, salt, and cornstarch together until any clumps of dry ingredients are blended into a powdery concoction. Pour about ½ cup of the milk into this mix and whisk vigorously to make a glossy paste. Keep whisking until no lumps remain. Pour in the rest of the cold milk, and put the saucepan over medium-high heat.
Stir, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, until the pudding starts to thicken and bubble in hefty, molten bursts. This should take about 5 minutes, but go ahead and let it cook for another minute or two until there’s no raw cornstarch left in sight. Remove from the heat, and immediately add the chopped chocolate. Stir briskly until all the chocolate has melted and settled back into the mixture. Add the vanilla and stir until smooth.
Transfer the pudding to a medium bowl and take a minute to think on your feelings about pudding skin. If you happen to like the way pudding valiantly tries to make itself an armor by toughening its outer layer, then just put the bowl in the fridge to cool. If, on the other hand, you like your pudding to put on the air of being ultra smooth at any given moment of the day, press something onto the top of the pudding before putting it in the fridge. Some people use plastic wrap, but that never seems right to me. I often press a piece of buttered parchment paper over it.
When the pudding is cool, which will take at least 2 hours, mix it around (or spoon off the voluptuous skin and serve that to yourself as cook’s choice) and put it into containers for the lunchbox. Depending on the size of your containers, this will make about 6 to 8 servings. It will keep for about 5 days in the fridge, but it never seems to last that long.
It bears noting that you can eat this pudding warm, as my kids always remind me on the day I make it. They like it with a splash of cold cream or a little crème fraîche if we have some hanging around. It also bears noting that if you need a grown-up dessert fast, you can throw this pudding together in a flash, add a nip of your favorite alcohol, and serve it as a rousing ending to a meal. Savor with delight and gratitude.