Butterscotch Pudding, Once Removed

Last weekend, I attended what was affectionately called The Cousin Summit. It was hosted by Ann Marie, the family member who is not only closest to me in age but, conveniently, the closest to me in geographic terms, too.

She lives in San Francisco.

It was a potluck affair, by the way.

And, in case you were wondering, I’m younger.

I count myself fortunate that I adore my cousins, who hail from my father’s side of the family. To me, they’re rather like a big, genetic bonus, since I never knew they existed at all until I was ten.

When rifling through the cardboard Sunkist box we used as the family photo dump, I found a Kodak Instamatic print of seven children taken in my very own backyard just before I was born. Curious as to who these big-eyed, adorable looking people were, I took the picture to my mother for  identification. I had assumed they were friends of my brother and sister, or perhaps some neighbors who had long since moved away. I never would have guessed they were related to me.

“Oh, honey, those are the Coniglios… your cousins.”

“Cousins? Coniglios? Who? Where are they and why haven’t I ever even heard of them before?”

“Well, I don’t know why you’ve never heard of them. You’ll have to ask your father the next time you see him,” was all I could get out of her.

I was excited by the fact that my family had suddenly—almost magically—doubled in size. Seven Coniglio cousins. Given that the coniglio is the Italian word for rabbit, it seemed only fitting that there should be so many of them.

Of course, I was also rather upset that they should have been kept a secret from me for so long. If you would have asked me five minutes earlier, I would have told you I had only two cousins who lived in Beverly Hills. Two cousins who, in my limited world view, lived fabulous, nearly perfect lives. My opinion of their near-perfect status was based solely on the fact that they lived next door to Doris Day, had Bing Crosby’s children (the second litter) over for parties, and were lucky enough to have Ann Miller’s dog do its business on their lawn from time to time. To discover that I had nearly quadrupled my cache of cousins nearly blew my mind.

When I grilled my father, he seemed surprised that I had never heard of them, since they were regular wedding-and-funeral attendees. However, he filled me in a bit as to who they were, where they lived, and how, precisely they were related to me.

I was told they were the offspring of my Aunt Theresa and Uncle Jimmy, who lived in North Hollywood. My father then quickly corrected himself by saying that Aunt Theresa and Uncle Jimmy were actually not my aunt and uncle at all, but my cousins as well, since Theresa and my father were first cousins.

Did that make their children my second cousins or my first cousins, once removed? He didn’t have the answer to that question. We share great-grand parents, was all I knew. And I never got a satisfactory answer as to why they’d been such a well-kept secret.

I no longer care why. It isn’t important anymore. What is important is that they exist. I’m happy when I get the opportunity to see them when the occasion is not related to the saying of rosaries and the viewing of open caskets.

Except maybe when Ann Marie, who is a much better pastry chef than I will ever be asks me to bring dessert to The Cousin Summit. Then I hyperventilate.

If there are two traits we cousins have inherited from our shared ancestry, they are a) the ability to cook well and b) what we refer to as the “spot-the-flaw”gene. We are a critical bunch. Fun and friendly, but critical.

I flew into a mild panic. I was re-assured that this was going to be a simple affair. Ann Marie was going to make meatballs, my cousin Stephanie was bringing “the sauce”, and everybody else would bring wine, salad, and snacky things.

Getting stuck with offering up the last thing everyone would eat after they’d already stuffed themselves with soul-satisfyingly good pasta and meatballs was a nerve-wracking prospect. Perhaps, I thought, they’d no longer care at that point. Maybe they’d all be drunk and too pre-occupied with conversation to notice if my dessert sucked. Then again, too much wine could heighten their ability to spot flaws, as it regularly does with me. It felt like a no-win situation.

I didn’t want to look as if I were trying too hard. Then again, I didn’t want to seem as though I didn’t care. I decided to do what any sensible person in my situation might to, which was turn to the food blogosphere’s fairy godmotherfather of desserts, David Lebovitz.

I would make something homey and good. I would make something sweetly salty that didn’t require a lot of ingredients or time in the kitchen. I would make butterscotch pudding.

Only I’d use real scotch.

It seemed like a plan. Except that I screwed things up a little by not buying enough of one of the key ingredients. I was cooking for 14 people. I tripled the recipe. I’m bad at math.

So I winged it, added a couple of my own touches, and brought it to the party.

After dinner was served and I had stuffed myself with two plates of pasta and meatballs, everyone was feeling good. Stories flew around the table as fast as the wine. And, just before my dessert was served, we all discovered that Brian, my cousin Stephanie’s son, was considering an offer to join the WWE.

Suddenly, everyone was fascinated by prospect of having a pro-westler in the family. Someone at the table even suggested that he might want to develop a Winston Churchill-like character who would run around the ring smashing watercolors over his opponents heads while yelling something about “peace in our time.”

It was during this particular thread of conversation that the pudding was introduced.

“So, how exactly are we all related?” I asked, hoping to keep the conversation going so that there would be no time to pause an reflect upon our dessert.

There were cousins I was related to by marriage but not blood, like Catherine, who I discovered earlier lives in San Francisco and is, coincidentally, a waiter, blogger, and film lover; there were the cousins I knew, like John and Stephanie and Ann Marie; there were charming spouses and friends; and children like Brian who is no longer a child, which should hopefully seem obvious given his potential future in wrestling.

We went around the room and hashed things out. In my case, since our closest shared relatives were our maternal great-grandparents, we were second cousins. Ann Marie’s mother, it was later determined, is my first cousin, once removed, and Brian is my second cousin, once removed.

I was relieved to have our relativity clarified. I was also relieved to see that people were seeming to enjoy the butterscotch pudding, with the exception of Brian, who was in training and was on a strict diet. You know how budding pro wrestlers are.

And then I noticed Matthew, my other second cousin, once removed wasn’t touching his dessert. In fact, he frowned and pushed it over to Ann Marie, his mother. Eight year-olds always finish their dessert. Unless there’s something wrong with it because it is a well-documented scientific fact that eight year-olds are unable to appreciate the concept of diplomacy and politesse.

“He doesn’t like it because there’s scotch in it,” offered Ann Marie, seeing my concern.

My first thought was “How is that possible?” We were all subject to great aunts who soaked everything in booze and no one ever flinched.

And then I remembered that the booze we all ingested in our childhood desserts was rum. It was unfair of me to think that Matthew would be genetically pre-disposed to liking Scottish spirits. It took me years of intensive study to develop a taste for it myself.

I accepted the excuse. I was in too good a mood to let my ego become deflated by a child, relative or no. Everyone else loved the pudding, which made me happy.

And then I thought of one more, little thing:

He’s got the gene. He’s got the flaw-spotting gene. He’s one of us.

And that made me even happier.

Butterscotch Pudding, Once Removed

Aside from the obvious cousin reference, this pudding is once removed from the original recipe, birthed by David Lebovitz. Of course, since Mr. Lebovitz did not himself invent butterscotch pudding, his recipe is, of course the offspring of someone else’s, and so on, and so on. All butterscotch puddings are related somehow.

Whether it’s on the maternal or paternal side, I have yet to decide.

I would have made Mr. Lebovitz’s recipe as it was printed, but I ran out of dark brown sugar right in the middle of making a triple batch of the stuff, so I substituted golden brown sugar for the third batch. It isn’t as darkly rich as its sire recipe, but it happens to be the way I like it.  I was very pleased and, with the exception of Matthew, so were my cousins– especially Ann Marie, who enacted the kindest gesture possible.

She dove into the bowl for a second helping.

Serves about four cousins.

Ingredients:

• 4 tablespoons of butter, either salted or un.
• 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
• 1/3 cup golden brown sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 3 tablespoons corn starch
• 2 1/2 cups whole milk
• 2 large eggs
• 2 teaspoons of scotch. I used a single malt. If you hail from a specific region of Scotland, I suggest you go with whatever your clan drinks.
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• Whipped cream and crushed graham crackers for an upside down pudding pie-like quality

Preparation:

1. Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan, then add both brown sugars and salt. Stir until sugar is moistened through with butter and then set aside.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/4 cup of the milk so that it is free of lumps. then add the eggs and whisk further.

3. Add the remaining 2 1/4 cups of milk to the sugar and butter, whisking well. Next, add the corn starch mixture and whisk even well-er-er.

4. Return pan to the heat and bring your proto-pudding to a boil, still whisking. I might suggest at this point that you relax your wrist and let your hand to all the work, unless you really need to burn extra calories by wiggling your hips (which is what happens when one’s wrist is tense). On second thought, if you’re going to eat this dessert, burning a few more calories certainly couldn’t hurt.

Once it all begins to bubble, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about a minute or, as Mr. Lebovitz says, “until the pudding thickens to the consistency of hot fudge sauce.”

If your pudding does not reach this consistency, fly into a mild panic (whisking all the while, mind you) and wonder if you should just throw everything away and buy a Safeway cake.

However, since you have followed this recipe to the letter, your pudding will more than likely thicken properly, at which point you will remove from the heat and add the scotch and vanilla flavorings.

5. Pour into your serving vessels of choice and let refrigerate. I am in full agreement with El Lebo regarding the pressing of plastic wrap to the surface of one’s puddings: if you don’t like pudding skin, then why the hell are you making pudding in the first place?

Chill in a refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight.

6. Serve with a layer of freshly whipped cream and a thick (thicker than the photo above illustrates– I wound up eating most of the crackers before I could shoot the dessert) layer of graham crackers or shattered toffee or something equally and delightfully crunchy.

7. Submit dessert to a roomful of relatives who are never as hyper-critical as one fears. Especially after a great dinner. And lots of wine.

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25 Responses to Butterscotch Pudding, Once Removed

  1. Michael’s ButterScotch Pudding proved to be the WWE RAW Winston Churchhill watercolor-smashing bad-ass of all puddings. Let no one tell you differently.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      Thanks for the props, Catherine. I’m glad for the back up.

      And we really must get Brian to seriously consider the Churchill angle, don’t you think?

  2. I haven’t finished reading your (as always) delightful entry; however, I really must pause to ask you to share the method by which you grill your father – do you sear or slow-roast?
    …inquiring/ghoulish minds demand to know!

    • michaelprocopio says:

      My father prefers a simple rubbing of garlic powder and salt and then a quick grilling over a hot flame.

      He’s not the fussy type.

  3. ursula says:

    This sounds fabulous. I never thought of putting actual scotch in butterscotch pudding. How silly of me!
    And I don’t even know how ‘once removed’ or ‘twice removed by marriage’ actually means. I’ll have to look that up…
    Also, I love the little notes that you put in your recipes:
    “If your pudding does not reach this consistency, fly into a mild panic (whisking all the while, mind you) and wonder if you should just throw everything away and buy a Safeway cake.”
    ha.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      In my opinion, if one convey the proper state of mind in which to prepare a recipe, said recipe is incomplete.

      And, yes, despite what some children will tell you, scotch really works well in this recipe. Give ‘er a go.

  4. ruairi says:

    I always look forward to your Wednesday postings, I log in 1st thing in the morning and your post awaits me on the dashboard :-) This ( as everything) sounds fantastic, I must make this when I move back to the UK ..its a good excuse to visit Scotland… to get some proper scotch…nice :-)

  5. DW says:

    Very good. I’ve now found the dessert I will make for Thanksgiving what with the cousins and all. But here is a question for you. Do you think that just using turbinado sugar would come out about the right darkness? Or maybe turbinado and a wee bit of molasses? (My relatives never drink as much wine as they should, so I cannot count on blotting out any critical faculties.)

    • michaelprocopio says:

      Hi there, DW.

      Lebovitz mentions that the type of sugar he uses is cassonade, which has a higher acidity level than regular dark brown sugar. I am not certain how turbinado would work out. There’s only one way to find out, correct?

      Please let me know how it turns out. I’d be interested to know.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      • DW says:

        Indeed. I’ve never seen cassonade before, but after a quick look around it does seem that people think turbinado is very similar. So I’ll give it a go. After years of seeing turbinado at the Co-op but ignoring it, I’ve taken a big interest in it of late particularly since I’ve been trying to come up with some desserts that use whole grains and the like.

        • michaelprocopio says:

          I know very little about turbinado, apart from the fact that my friend Gary thinks it would make an excellent drag name. He likes to say the word in a throaty, 2-packs-of-Lucky-Strikes-a-day voice.

          Turbinado.

          And he doesn’t even smoke.

          I’d seriously like to know how the pudding turns out with it, should you choose to make it!

          Michael

      • DW says:

        Turbinado would be a wonderful drag name.

        And it made a good butterscotch pudding too. I was expecting the color to be a bit darker, but this is probably because the simple syrup I make with turbinado is surprisingly dark and will change the color of some drinks. I’ve been using that syrup in a “Kentucky buck” from Erick Castro’s Rickhouse recipe, so I like the turbinado in with bourbon. I was looking forward to pairing it with Scotch.

        Although the pudding was pale, it was flavorful and well balanced. I don’t know how to describe the flavor of turbinado other than that is softer and broader than brown sugar. This flavor was distinct as was the butter. And the Scotch kind of wrapped it all together but otherwise stayed in the background. Without this recipe, my first guess on Scotch would have been too much and would have ruined the effect. The recipe doesn’t need adjusting—it is spot on.

        So for Thanksgiving, I think I’ll make mini graham cracker pie crusts in a muffin pan and serve the pudding in those. Since the pudding is so rich, and since there is not that much color contrast between it and the whipped cream, I’m going to skip the whipped cream. Instead I’ll make a dark caramelized sugar syrup and drizzle a few thin lines across each mini-pie.

        • michaelprocopio says:

          I’m so glad that a) you like the recipe, b) it works with turbinado, and c) you took the time to send me a report of the results.

          Of course, I’m disappointed that you didn’t bother to send me a tasting sample, but life is full of little disappointments and I have learned to live with them.

          Thanks again for reporting back!

  6. freddie says:

    Very funny! And a terrific telling of how we all try to live up to our cousins! Brilliantly written and from a graphic design point of view, great layout!! And may I add that my husband once thought he’d make an apple pie from scratch (including the crust which we all know takes generations of trial and error) as the dessert for our friends who were coming over for dinner (Ann Marie, Alan, and Matthew). Well, Ann Marie didn’t have to say a word… by picking the apple filling out from under the pie crust said it all ~ she tried in earnest to be discreet, but seeing her plate with a pile of untouched crust just brought us to our knees in giggles. My husband thinks that because his surname ends in a vowel, he can cook anything, anytime, for anyone… After that night, however, he’s turned to apple pie once removed: apple cobbler!!

    • michaelprocopio says:

      Freddie,

      So you know the cousins in question!

      At least your husband was humbled by his hubris. I was in a relationship with someone who, the first time he made dinner for me, decided to make a berry pie for dessert. He just kept throwing in flour and butter and water without measurement and basically mixed the hell out of it. When I asked him what recipe he was following, he told me that he didn’t need a recipe because baking wasn’t that hard and that I needed to mind my own business and go read a book or something in the living room.

      I believe one of the dinner guests offered the helpful suggestion that his chunk of crust could be refashioned as a paper weight.

      The pie-making incident fairly well sums up our whole relationship.

  7. Susan says:

    I will definitely try this recipe!! It sounds like a really good dessert.

    And “single malt scotch, that was so classy mister. Haven’t had single malt since ’69″.
    (who said that and in what movie?”)

  8. Serene says:

    Lord help us if my family ever starts drinking. The criticism level is already at near-toxic levels as it is.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      But if you put a lot of wine in them, they might simply fall asleep (or pass out), thus rendering them unable to criticize.

      Just a helpful thought.

  9. The Butterscotch Pudding looks so delicious!
    and p.s. at michael: yes it’s true about the kilts! ;)

  10. MrJackhonky says:

    Hmm. Now I’m a bit glad that you didn’t make it to my dessert party, as you would have found that “flaw” in each of my desserts. Which is just as well, as I was rather stressed about having a gaggle of food bloggers there judging my desserts.

    The butterscotch pudding sounds fantastic though. I do like the addition of the scotch. However I am not fancy enough to have single malt scotch around the house. I may have to try this recipe out with the bourbon I bought for the pie that I had every intention of making, but never did.

    This, of course, would turn the pudding into butterbourbon pudding which just sounds ridiculous, but oh well…

    • michaelprocopio says:

      Dear Honky,

      But here’s the thing… I adore flaws. Flaws are like fingerprints; they express an unavoidable individuality. To me, a home made dessert with a little flaw thrown in is infinitely preferable to the factory-made, calibrated sameness of anything that is store bought.

      Long may the flawed flag wave.

      Now, if you think this butterbourbon pudding idea sounds ridiculous, I say you’re wrong. It’s totally worth exploring. If, however, you simply can’t get past the name, I say you move onto experimenting with butterschnapps pudding instead.

      • DW says:

        I ended up calling this bourbonbutter pudding. It was good, but not up to the standards of the scotch. The scotch flavor comes on more quickly while the bourbon lagged, so the taste led off with vanilla and the bourbon came along as an aftertaste. Not quite the effect I wanted. If I made it again, I’d use more bourbon and less vanilla—like 4 to 1.

        I’m not going anywhere near butterschnapps myself.

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