A Classic Indian Pudding
Indian Pudding is the second sweet I learned to make as a child. A classic, homely, comforting New England dessert, I would order the molasses-rich pudding at restaurants whenever possible. When my mother suggested it could be made at home (imagine the moment I realized I could have free access to a favorite dessert any time the craving struck!), I was happy to give it a try. First she laid out the ingredients – cornmeal, milk, molasses, butter, spices – then she armed me with her early 1970s paperback copy of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and set me loose in her kitchen.
As a starter dessert for a budding cook, this couldn’t have been an easier recipe to tackle: first the cornmeal is stewed to creaminess in a couple of cups of scalded milk and the rest of the few ingredients are folded into this mush; then the spiced cornmeal mixture is turned into a baking dish, a couple of cups of cold milk are poured over the top, and in it goes into a low oven for a long, slow bake. Elementary, yes, but along the way, I learned to recognize when milk was properly scalded, how to gently cook over a double boiler, and to have the patience of a saint while waiting three hours for my first taste of warm pudding served with cold vanilla ice cream.
As far as I am concerned there are two ways to make the pudding: Fannie Farmer’s way and James Beard’s way. Beard’s is probably closest to what early settlers would have enjoyed – cornmeal, milk, molasses – while Farmer’s embellishes those basic main ingredients with brown sugar and butter. Both versions are good. Both are probably very close to being historically correct. A classic New England Indian Pudding should be not much more than a spicy, sweetened, baked cornmeal mush, using ingredients that would have been readily at hand in colonial times.
Every winter I still get the urge to make Indian Pudding. I left it a little late this year, but it is still cold and damp enough inside and out to warrant this pudding’s robust flavors of smoky molasses and tinglingly sharp ginger.
The recipe I used for today’s pudding comes from my well-used 1979 Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
- 4 cups whole milk, divided use
- 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 4 Tbsp. softened butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. powdered ginger
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter a 2 quart baking dish and set aside.
Scald 2 cups of the milk over medium heat (until the surface of the milk shimmers and small bubbles form around the edge of the milk where it meets the pan). Place a double boiler insert over a pan of simmering water. Add the cornmeal to the double boiler and pour the scalded milk over. Whisk to blend and continue stirring until the cornmeal-milk mixture is thickened and smooth (about 20 minutes).
Remove the insert from the pan of simmering water. To the cornmeal mixture, add the molasses, sugar, butter, salt, and spices, and mix well to thoroughly blend. Pour the pudding into the prepared baking dish.
Set the baking dish into a hot water bath (a large shallow baking dish filled with simmering water). Pour the remaining 2 cups of cold milk over the top of the pudding.
Place the baking dish in its water bath in the preheated oven. Bake undisturbed for 2 to 3 hours, or until all the milk has been absorbed and the pudding is still wiggly but set.
Let rest for up to 30 minutes before serving warm with vanilla ice cream.
©2011 Jane A. Ward