Creamy Caramel Pudding

by Cecily Wong

New to The Dish’s Dish, I was very excited to receive my first cooking assignment!  The week before, Jill showed me a scrumptious looking recipe in Food and Wine Magazine for a low-cal Creamy Caramel Pudding—one of their “Best Healthy Recipes of 2009”.  Unfortunately, after two failed attempts by Jill to make the pudding (one careful attempt, and one ambitious attempt at making pudding while simultaneously checking email and doing research) she was ready to pass the job to me.

Fairly confident in my pudding skills, I thought I could get this recipe right.  I measured precisely, kept a close eye on the clock, and patiently strained all four cups of pudding through Jill’s child-sized sieve.  As vigilant as I tried to be, the pudding turned out to be a disaster.  While a nice caramel color developed, it tasted like burnt sugar.  The texture was grainy at best, even after my diligent sieve-ing, and the pudding completely separated while chilling in the fridge.  Needless to say, it was not my best performance.

Here is a color photograph, multi-media journey through my battle with, and ultimate defeat to, Creamy Caramel Pudding….

Everything started off great.  My water and sugar was bubbling away on the stove, and I was confident it would turn to caramel.

As soon as the mixture began to “deepen in color”, I removed the pot from the stove in order to incorporate the milk. I was careful not to overcook the caramel because Jill reported a burnt flavor in her last batch.


This is where it began to fall apart.  As the milk and caramel cooked together, the texture became grainy.  With the addition of the cornstarch, the pudding did thicken, but the texture was off, and a taste test revealed the same burnt flavor.


After running it through the sieve, the final product looked almost like the magazine photograph, just, grainier. And worse, I suppose is the correct word.


I emailed Melissa Rubel, Food and Wine Magazine Recipe Developer and creator of this recipe, asking for help.  She kindly replied, not exactly sure what the problem was, but walking me through the critical parts of the recipe.  So I pose the question, what went wrong?? Was the milk too cold? Sugar cooked too fast?? Too much cornstarch??  These were all suggestions made by Culinistas, restaurant owners, and avid home cooks.

I’m eager to hear your responses, in hopes of getting this pudding right!

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  1. Josie Gordon says:

    so many things could’ve gone wrong. i’m gonna try it out and let you know how my batch turns out. i’m thinking that the pan you used may have not distributed the heat well, and some parts of the sugar mix caramelized faster and burned before the rest of it had a chance to amber. this would also affect the texture. if the sugar cooks to too high of a temperature, it will “candy” too much so when you cool it by adding the milk, you have large crystals.

  2. Jill Donenfeld says:

    Someone said this, which I thought made sense as well: “At a glance, the proportion of cornstarch to liquid looks about right for a pudding. Assuming that your friend’s problem with the pudding was that it didn’t set up, all I can think is that she didn’t cook the starch to a high enough temperature (as a rule of thumb, bring a pudding to a full boil and continue to boil for at least one full minute, stirring constantly, after the starch has been added) or that she didn’t portion the
    mixture when it was still hot. In the case of the latter, if she continued to stir the mixture as it cooled, or if she waited until it cooled considerably before portioning it into cups, the pudding wouldn’t set up the way it should.”

  3. [...] to a pudding-less existence. I used a different recipe this time—recommended by a Culinista after pudding disaster #1—guaranteed to work. Needless to say, it did not. And I can no longer blame the [...]

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