Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jell-O Pudding: "The funnest sacrifice"

I’m writing this post as quickly as I can because the clock is ticking. According to the ancient Mayans, the world is coming to an end. We’ve only got until 12-21-12, a few days from now.

Happily, there is something that just might save us from impending apocalypse. No, it’s not a heartfelt prayer and no, it’s not an arcane ritual. Quite on the contrary, it’s something you’re likely to have in your kitchen at this very moment.

Corn? Beans? Potatoes? No way. If you were a Mayan god—Quetzalcoatl, say, or Kukulkan —wouldn’t you be bored after untold centuries of agricultural offerings? How much succotash can a god eat, after all?

Now, you might be thinking that what the gods really want, what would really avert the doom that’s hanging over our heads, is some vital internal organ or other, or perhaps a liter or two of blood, or some other such result of human sacrifice, but once again, you’d be wrong.

Chocolate pudding. That’s what the gods want—at least according to the folks at Jell-O Pudding. Who ever gets tired of chocolate pudding? The new Jell-O commerical features a guy slogging his way through the jungle, wading across a river, and dragging a huge wooden crate up the side of a pyramid, all in order to present his offering to the gods in the hopes of averting global catastrophe.

“Call me loco,” he says, “but I think this is gonna work.”

Well, you can’t fault them for trying and those of you who like a bit of culinary history will be happy to learn that the Jell-O folks are in good company. In the late seventeenth century, a Frenchman by the name of Henri Misson visited England and, although he was far from ecstatic over the food he was served, you might be surprised by the one thing that he did wax poetic over: pudding.

Blessed be he that invented pudding, for it is a manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people; a manna, better than that of the wilderness, because the people are never weary of it. Ah, what an excellent thing is an English pudding! To come in pudding time is as much as to say come in the most lucky moment in the world!

One has to remember, though, that Misson was not referring to chocolate or butterscotch pudding, but to such traditional English fare as black pudding—rich with blood, fat, and spices, stuffed into lengths of intestine, and boiled in water. To be fair, he did also mention sweeter puddings of “flower, milk, eggs butter, sugar, suet, marrow, raisins”—which might put you in mind of Plum Pudding, found just about everywhere around Christmas Time, but still, even Plum Pudding is a far cry from the silky smooth chocolate puddings beloved by children and gods alike.

How such stodgy puddings were transformed into the creamy concoctions on offer at supermarkets today is a matter I considered in a post last year and if you’re interested in such transmogrifications, you can check it out here.

For now, I’ll simply note—ever aware that the clock is ticking and 12-21-12 is fast approaching—that if I were a Mayan god, I might indeed prefer chocolate pudding to Black Pudding (although there is that blood connection, so I might want to give the matter some more thought). But then again, if I were a Mayan god, I think I’d prefer something along the lines of a Mexican Chocolate Flan with Kahlua (there’s no beating Rick Bayless’s recipe from his Mexican Kitchen) to the instant puddings the Jell-O folks are hoping will keep the apocalypse at bay. 

Stay tuned. As the commercial voice-over says, “Fingers crossed, we’ll see you on the 22nd.”

Mexican Chocolate Flan with Kahlua
(adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen)
(makes 6)

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
4 ½ ounces chopped Mexican chocolate (Ibarra is the brand I use)
1 inch cinnamon stick
1/3 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp Kahlua
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract

Pour the cream and milk into a medium saucepan. Pulse the chocolate in a food processor until pulverized. Add to the milk & cream, along with the cinnamon and 1/3 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally’ then cover, remove from the heat and let steep for 20 minutes.

Whisk the eggs, Kahlua, vanilla and almond extracts in a large mixing bowl until combined. Slowly whisk in the hot milk mixture; return to saucepan and stir until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup. Then pour into custard cups, cover with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming), and chill until firm.

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