Well, it’s official: snow has come to Chicagoland. We haven’t been hit the hardest (not like Madison or Southern Utah or, gosh, poor Minneapolis), and we’re starting much later than usual (remember last year’s October snowfall?), but we have begun what will probably be a months-long relationship with icy roads and longer commutes, one every Chicagoan is familiar with, one I am sorry to say you will probably hear about here again.
Yesterday, in a fit of there-must-be-a-new-way-of-seeing-stuff-like-snowstorms, I Googled “reasons to like snow” and this is what I found: activities—things like sledding, making snowmen, making snowangels, skiing, tubing, getting days off school. However, this only compounded the problem, particularly that bit about getting snow days, because, when you no longer get weather-provoked time off and when the only daylight that you can claim as your own lies in your morning commute and Saturdays and Sundays, snow angels and sledding don’t seem to find their way into your winter routine.
But maybe there are other things. My friend Jacqui said there’s something beautiful about the silence snow creates, the way it insulates the buildings and roads and cars and makes the world a little more magical, quiet and serene. I guess that’s true. And someone wrote here that winter in general gives us the gift of pushing us inside, towards people we love, the heat in the house, the warmth of the stove. That’s true, too.
I need these reminders because let me tell you, when you’re gripping the steering wheel and crawling along the highway, spending what feels like much more time on the road than doing anything else, it’s good to have something warm and comforting to drive home to. Like homemade chocolate pudding, for example.
Chocolate pudding is one of my earliest comfort foods. In a pinch, my mom and I love the packaged Jell-O Cook N’ Serve that is a simple as combining with milk and heating on the stove: hot and smooth and chocolatey. But when you have a little more time—and, let’s be honest, you’ll be stuck at home at least once this winter, at least if you’re from around here—this recipe is the one to try. It is perfection.
What started as an attempt to use leftover egg yolks one night a few weeks ago became this pudding: a discovery of just how incredibly delicious and addicting ooey-gooey, hot, chocolate pudding can be. While it bakes in the oven, it develops an almost crust above its custard-like interior, the kind you break when you dip your spoon inside. It is sweet, satisfying and, seriously, I dare you to eat just one. As soon as I tasted it, I never looked back—well, except to remember and want to make it again, which is exactly what I did last night. I hope you will, too.
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Adapted from NPR: All Things Considered, where it was reprinted with permission from Recipes from Home, by David Page and Barbara Shinn (Artisan Books, 2001).
4 cups heavy cream
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large heavy saucepan (I used my Le Creuset), bring the heavy cream to a simmer and remove from heat.
Place the chocolate chips in a large stainless-steel bowl, and add 1 cup of the warm cream; let stand until the chocolate is melted. Stir the chocolate mixture until it is smooth; then stir in the remaining cream.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and salt. Gradually add the chocolate mixture to this, whisking it all together. Strain the combined mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and skim off the froth on the top (I didn’t really have any froth, so don’t worry if you don’t either).
Pour the pudding into eight 6-ounce ovenproof ramekins*, filling each about three-quarters of the way full. Place them in a deep baking pan and put the pan in the oven (I also set the pan on a baking sheet to make it easier to take in and out). Add enough hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins, then cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake the puddings for about 50 minutes to an hour. When gently shaken, they should look set around the edges but not quite set in a quarter-size area at the center.
Remove the ramekins from the water bath, and you may eat the puddings hot (the way I love them best) or cool at room temperature before refrigerating for several hours or overnight.
*I didn’t have the required ramekins, but I had six smaller ones (pictured) as well as two mini coffee cups. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?