Published January 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.
Our goal was to develop a fail-safe method for producing this dessert’s signature bittersweet flavor. While we were at it, we stumbled upon a better way to make pudding.
Most people opt for hermetically sealed puddings rather than try to make their own, which starts with a caramel. And it’s with good reason: Making your own caramel can be a fussy and temperamental process.
We wanted to take the scare out of making caramel, simplify the pudding-making process, and ultimately bring the flavor of true butterscotch back to the American repertoire.
Instead of relying on visual cues to tell us when our caramel is ready, we decided to break out the thermometer. Boiling our mixture of granulated and brown sugars, salt, and a little water until it reached the ideal temperature before adding the cream gave us too small a window. If it was even a couple degrees over, the caramel burned. But slowing things down and simmering the mixture over low heat took way too long. We struck a compromise: We used a hybrid method in which we boiled the butterscotch hard at first to get the caramelization going and then dropped the heat and gently simmered it to the finish line. This worked perfectly—and, surprisingly, produced a richer-tasting butterscotch than the high-heat method did.
A bit more research revealed that the longer the pudding cooks and the higher temperature it cooks at the more flavor that develops. To nudge along the browning even more, we added corn syrup and lemon juice to the butterscotch. These two ingredients provided extra fuel for the flavor-generating Maillard reaction.
All that was left to consider was the step in which we combine the butterscotch with the other pudding ingredients: yolks, cornstarch, and milk. We whisked those three ingredients together, poured the hot butterscotch mixture over them, and whisked vigorously. Rather than the lumpy mess we expected, the pudding was smooth and glossy.list of recipes