There is something very comforting about about a bowl of homemade vanilla pudding. I ate it all the time as a kid – usually made from a handy box of pudding mix, which I could easily make myself – and still enjoy the way a bowl of pudding will bring a little happiness into my day now. These days, of course, I make my vanilla pudding from scratch, which makes it a little more satisfying over all. It is easy to make and requires just a few ingredients. From start to finish the pudding takes about 15 minutes to make, then you’re ready to eat a bowl of creamy, smooth and very vanilla-y pudding.
I give this homemade pudding an extra vanilla boost by using a vanilla bean for flavor, rather than relying on vanilla extract. I first infuse the milk with the bean and then scrape the seeds into the pudding mixture. You get a great vanilla flavor and capture some of the floral notes of the vanilla bean by doing this, and it doesn’t take any more time than stirring in vanilla extract (which does still make a good pudding if you don’t have whole beans). I also tend to use whole milk when making this pudding, as it gives the finished custard a thicker, richer consistency. The recipe will work just as well with low fat milk, but if you are using low fat milk and prefer your pudding on the thick side, add an extra 1/2 tbsp or so of cornstarch for extra thickening power.
Once your pudding is finished, you can eat it warm or serve it chilled. It is more delicate (i.e. less thick) and custard-like than some puddings, but it will be slightly thicker after it has been completely chilled. If you like the “skin,” leave your pudding uncovered as it cools. If you prefer skin-less pudding, press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of each of your pudding cups and leave it there as they cool.
Vanilla Bean Pudding
1/4 vanilla bean*
2 1/2 cups milk (pref. whole milk), divided
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise with a sharp knife.
In a medium saucepan, combine vanilla bean, 2 cups of milk and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove the vanilla bean and scrap out the seeds using a small knife. Put seeds back into the milk mixture.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, remaining 1/2 cup milk and salt until smooth. Whisking constantly, gradually stream in the hot milk mixture until all of it has been incorporated.
Pour mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a spatula, until the pudding just comes to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes until pudding thickens.
Remove from heat and divide evenly into four dessert cups or ramekins.
Pudding will continue to thicken as it cools.
Serve slightly warm or chilled.
*Note: If you prefer to use vanilla extract, omit the vanilla bean and stir in 2 tsp vanilla extract to the pudding after it has thickened, just before you remove it from the heat to pour into dessert cups.