Let’s all give thanks to the make-ahead dessert, the savior to every time-pressed Thanksgiving cook.
This year, instead of a pecan pie, a pumpkin cheesecake or an apple cake, consider this understated yet surprisingly dazzling alternative: pudding.
Not just any old escapee from the Jell-O aisle, but a luscious, deeply flavorful butterscotch custard.
Don’t stop there. Take it one more step over-the-top with a buttery caramel sauce. The finishes? A teasingly sour pillow of whipped cream-fortified crème fraîche, and the tang and crunch of decorative sea salt.
And then, because everything sounds so much more seductive when it’s said in Italian, call it by its rightful name: butterscotch budino.
The skeptical need only drop in at 112 Eatery in Minneapolis.
Chef/co-owner Isaac Becker has been selling three or four dozen butterscotch budinos a day for the past seven or eight years, a windfall he owes entirely to Los Angeles pastry chef and cookbook author Nancy Silverton.
“I like simple desserts, and this is all I want in a dessert,” said Becker. “I wish I could say that I made it up, but I saw the recipe in The New York Times. What intrigued me was the sea salt. Back then, that was cutting-edge, putting sea salt on top of a dessert.”
Since then, that idea may have gone mainstream, but it’s no less delicious. Enthusiastically reproduced in restaurants and homes from coast to coast, Silverton’s recipe is possibly the most famous dessert to come out of an American pastry chef in recent memory.
“People come in, just for the budino,” said Becker. “That’s a hard thing for a restaurant, because you get tired of producing it. But people like it, so you keep producing it.”
Don’t be put off by the lengthy formula. It’s not a difficult process, it just requires patience and a watchful eye.
“It’s one of those recipes that might break the first time you do it,” said Becker. “But after you’d done it once and figured out what you’re doing, then it’s easy.”
Surprisingly, butterscotch budino is not the 112’s bestselling dessert. That distinction belongs to the (outstanding) tres leches cake.
“Another nemesis of mine,” Becker said with a laugh. “If I took it off the menu, we’d have to close.”
First-time custard-maker? Some tips:
Plan ahead. Before starting, set out all of the required ingredients and equipment. “Because once it gets going, you need to keep moving,” said pastry chef Amy Beehler, a seven-year 112 Eatery vet.
Watch the heat. “The art of not having something separate can be challenging,” said chef Isaac Becker. “It’s moving the pot on and off the flame. You want it hot, but you don’t want it nuclear hot.”
Use dark rum. “The flavor really comes through,” said Beehler.
Be prepared to whisk. As the custard is tempered, “The more you whisk, the thicker it gets,” said Beehler. Steady the bowl on the counter by placing it on top of a kitchen towel.
Make it easy. Before filling the ramekins, transfer the cooked custard into a pitcher, an easy-to-handle tool for even pouring.
Think color. At the 112, pink sea salt from Hawaii adds a decorative flourish.
Cheat. Don’t have the time or inclination to prepare the caramel sauce? Use store-bought.
Butterscotch budino with caramel sauce
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. Adapted, via the Los Angeles Times, from chef/co-owner Nancy Silverton and pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.
For the budino:
3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
For the topping:
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup creme fraîche
1 1/4 tsp. fleur de sel
To prepare budino: In a large bowl or pitcher, combine cream and milk and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolks and cornstarch and set aside.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, combine brown sugar, 1/2 cup water and salt. Let sit until edges start to brown, then tilt pot as needed to even the browning until mixture becomes a smoking, dark caramel, about 10 to 12 minutes. Sugar will smell caramelized and nutty and turn a deep brown.
Immediately whisk cream mixture carefully into the caramel (the mixture will steam and the sugar will seize). Reduce heat to medium, whisk until caramel is smoothly incorporated into cream and bring mixture to a rapid boil.
Add a cupful of caramel at a time to egg mixture, whisking constantly, until half is incorporated. Pour tempered egg mixture back into remaining caramel. Remove from heat and whisk constantly until custard is very thick and cornstarch is cooked out, about 2 minutes. Whisk in butter and rum.
Pass custard through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps and divide among 10 (6-ounce) ramekins, leaving one-half inch at the top. Cover with plastic wrap, allow to cool and refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours or up to three days.
To prepare topping, and assemble: In a chilled bowl using a wire whisk, whip cream until it begins to thicken. Add creme fraîche and whip until thick and fluffy.
Before serving, warm the caramel sauce (see recipe) over medium heat. Spoon 1 tablespoon caramel sauce on each budino, add a dollop of whipped cream/creme fraîche topping, sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon fleur de sel, and serve.
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
Add cream to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Scrape vanilla bean seeds into cream and cook until simmering, about 3 minutes. Add butter and remove from heat. Whisk until butter is melted and incorporated, and set aside.
Fill a large bowl (large enough to accommodate a large heavy-bottomed saucepan) with ice water and set aside.
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, combine corn syrup and sugar. Add enough water (3 to 4 tablespoons) to make a wet sandy texture and cook, swirling the pan just slightly to gauge the caramelization, until sugar becomes a medium amber color, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, carefully whisk cream mixture into caramel (be careful – it will steam and bubble). Whisk to combine. Place saucepan in prepared bowl of ice water to cool. Refrigerate, then reheat before serving.