Archive for the 'custards & curds & puddings' Category


Cranberry Indian Pudding (Baked)

[ Equipment: oven or slow cooker. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

This Indian pudding has a smooth, smooth texture with strong notes of corn and caramel from multiple infusions of milk and a long slow baking.  The cranberries float on top of the pudding, not in it, and hold onto their individuality through the baking process. Cranberry essences flow down with the milky infusions and scent the pudding, but don’t overpower it.

I made it to celebrate this year’s Independence Day holiday (July 4), having resolved to bake something associated with early America, with both the native peoples and the European settlers. The idea for an Indian pudding evolved from a study of early American baked dishes in Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, published way back in 1796 and billed as the first American cookbook. Just about all of those recipes are well suited for LTB, because oven temperatures in early homesteads were never accurate and recipes had to be flexible.

The section on puddings caught my especial attention, because I’d never tried baking a pudding. Rice pudding had the most variations. Indian pudding was second with 3 recipes. Except in New England where it’s served as daily fare in restaurants, Indian pudding in the rest of the country turns up generally on Thanksgiving dinner tables in November (or maybe on February 17, which is National Indian Pudding Day – who knew?).

An Indian pudding on Independence Day is celebratory of the several cultures that helped early America to flourish (though I do see a taint of irony too). The dish is a culinary fusion of Native American and European roots. “Indian” is a reference to the cornmeal ingredient, because Native Americans taught the European settlers to grow corn, and they made a boiled porridge from cornmeal called suppone, which the settlers may have adapted to the form of an English hasty pudding.

Of the innumerable Indian pudding recipes online, the one from Boston’s ancient Durgin Park restaurant, established decades before American Cookery was published, is famous. The recipe has allegedly passed down unchanged for those hundreds of years and is remarkable for its long baking time (5 to 7 hours) and the omission of any spices (no ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg) and extras like dried fruits.

However, I wanted some embellishment for my pudding. Of the 3 recipes for Indian pudding in American Cookery, I thought the first one best represented the modern trend of Indian puddings with provision for spices and dried fruits. Here it is below in all its brevity.

A Nice Indian Pudding

No. 1. 7 pints scalded milk, 7 spoons fine Indian meal, stir well together while hot, let stand till cooled; add 7 eggs, half pound raisins, 4 ounces butter, spice and sugar, bake one and half hour.

My recipe draws inspiration from those two recipes, as well as one in Fanny Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book of 1906 and a recent pudding from the 2002 Cook’s Illustrated American Classics cookbook. Like the Durgin-Park, my pudding is baked for over 5 hours and contains no spices. Like the American Cookery, my pudding has a high egg-to-milk ratio and an embellishment: dried cranberries. The idea for pre-cooking the cornmeal over a double boiler comes from Fanny Farmer’s recipe for Indian pudding. The presence of flour in my pudding is a variation of a technique from the American Classics recipe.

The American Classics recipe calls for cornstarch to prevent  curdling (it has the same function in custards) and produces a creamier pudding. Cornstarch is gluten-free, but wasn’t available in early America, so I substituted flour. The flour isn’t traditional in an Indian pudding and it could be omitted, but then the pudding’s texture won’t be as silky smooth.

I believe that the purpose of the pre-cooking the cornmeal in Fanny Farmer’s pudding is to speed up the baking process. In my recipe, the purpose of the pre-cooking is to create a very thick batter, so that the cranberries will float on top of the pudding and not sink into it. I’ve made puddings where the cranberries were mixed into the batter. The cranberries plumped up mushy and sweetened the surrounding pudding with too strong a cranberry flavor. I much prefer the dried cranberries to hold onto some of their toothy bite and intense flavor as a fruity burst in contrast to the earthier molasses and cornmeal.

In spite of the pre-cooked cornmeal, I have found that a long, long baking really does mellow out the flavors and soften the texture. After the first 3 hours, the changes are more subtle, but the improvement is noticeable. Plus, the extra time is an opportunity to infuse the pudding with more milk for a richer taste and a thick layered crust. A batter with the full quantity of milk at the start would have been too liquid float the cranberries. The procedure in my recipe of piercing the pudding for the milk to soak in isn’t too different from Durgin-Park’s method of stirring more milk into a partially baked, unset pudding.

Although the cranberries aren’t baked into the pudding, they do scent the pudding each time milk is poured over them and soaks into the cornmeal. I tried reducing the number of infusions, but the flavoring is important to the whole pudding. The dried cranberries I had were Ocean Spray Craisins, which are pre-sweetened and resemble raisins (see the end of this recipe for pictures of this pudding made with actual raisins). If the Craisins are replaced with unsweetened dried cranberries, another 1/2 tablespoon of molasses or maple syrup could help to counter the tartness.

Speaking of sugar, I opted for a blend of molasses and maple syrup. As they did with the cultivation of corn, Native Americans taught the settlers how to tap maple trees and process the sap. Sugar cane was brought by the European settlers. The blend not only represents the early cultures, but adds a dimension of flavor. Re-balancing the sweeteners to be 100% molasses or 100% maple syrup is perfectly acceptable.

Makes 2 servings
– 260 calories per serving
– Oven temperature: 250°F/121°C

  • 1-1/2 cups milk (2% reduced fat or regular)
  • 3 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour or 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch (see text)
  • 1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses (see text)
  • 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup, grade A amber (see text)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon dried cranberries (see text)

Optional: Pre-heat oven or cooker to 250°F/121°C.

1. Combine corn meal, butter, salt and 3/4 cup of milk in a metal bowl or in the top of a double boiler.

2. Put the bowl over a sauce pot of simmering water (the water should not touch the bowl) and cook covered until mixture thickens to a glop, about 10 minutes. Stir with a whisk every 5 minutes to break up any lumps. Remove from heat and let the cornmeal mixture cool for about 5 minutes. If the cornmeal is cooked too long, it will stiffen and the lumps will be hard to remove. Then add 1 to 2 teaspoons of water or milk to loosen the cornmeal.

3. In a cup, mix the egg and flour until well combined.

4. When the cornmeal mixture has cooled, add in the egg, molasses and maple syrup and mix until smooth.

5. Pour batter into a 1-1/2 cup ramekin and sprinkle dried cranberries over the top of the pudding. Put pudding in the oven or cooker and set for 250°F/121°C. If baking in a cooker, place moisture-absorbing towels under the lid.

6. After 1 hour (or 1-1/2 hours if oven was not pre-heated), open oven or cooker, removing any moisture-absorbing towels. Puncture deeply the top of the pudding in several places with a fork, taking care not to press any cranberries into the pudding. Measure out 1/4 cup of hot milk and slowly pour over the top of the pudding, letting it sink in, until it starts to puddle on the top. The pudding may not drink in all of the milk before it puddles. Close oven or re-cover the cooker (replacing the moisture-absorbing towels) and continue baking. If baking in a cooker and the temperature has dropped below 250°F, adjust the heat settings to bring the cooker quickly back up to the target temperature.

Repeat this step two more times every 1-1/2 hours, for a maximum infusion of 3/4 cup of milk (less milk is fine too).

7. After 6 to 7 hours total baking time, remove pudding from oven and serve hot. The picture at the beginning of this recipe shows a serving of the pudding sprinkled with more dried cranberries. Fresh fruit, like diced apple, is also a delicious accompaniment. In the picture below, the pudding is served with scoops of homemade nutmeg-chocolate-chip ice milk.

Here’s the raisin version of the Indian pudding. It’s shown served with a drizzle of sweetened light cream or a non-diary cream.


Apricot Almond Chai Cheesecake w/ Black-Tea Biscuit Crust (Baked)

[ Equipment: oven or slow cooker with temperature control. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths. ]

Revised Jan. 1, 2011.

This rich tasting (yet low fat), gooey texture, 7-inch cheesecake combines the smooth silkiness of cream cheese with the tang of active-culture yogurt, dotted with chunks of apricots, on top of a crunchy, smokey crust of black tea, almonds and molasses. It’s baked at 3 temperatures: 250°F/121°C for the crust alone, 220°F/104°C for the first layer of filling and 200°F/93°C for the second layer of filling. The thin uncooked batter cannot hold the apricot bits in suspension, so a barely set bottom layer provides a platform for the apricots. Once the top layer sets, no seam can be discerned between them. Because it’s an LTB cheesecake, it never cracks (at least it’s never cracked when I made it).

Cheesecake ingredients purchased in large quantities for testing recipes can be expensive, so I postponed thinking about a LTB cheesecake for a long time. I began the planning when a local market had a 50%-off sale on McCormick bottled spices. I stocked up like crazy. All the bottles I purchased were discounted except one labeled Chai Spice Blend, for which I paid full price. Chai tea is one of my favorite beverages.

Coincidentally, another market near me was almost giving away American Neufchâtel cheese (a.k.a. low-fat cream cheese) at 75% off the regular price. I purchased several pounds of Neufchâtel cheese. The neural gears in my brain put these ingredients together: Neufchâtel cheese plus chai spices equals a chai-spiced cheesecake! Like the tea that inspired it, this cheesecake would be light, aromatic and refreshingly sweet.

Between sour cream and yogurt to dilute the cream cheese into a batter for the filling, I went with a low-fat active-culture vanilla yogurt as a more balanced pairing with the finer flavor Neufchâtel cheese. A low-fat plain yogurt will work too by increasing the amount of sugar to 3/8 cup and mixing in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Low-fat homemade yogurts (1% or 2% milk) tend to be softer and thinner, but could be drained in a cheesecloth to thicken or if fermented for over 12 hours, will thicken to the same consistency as a firm commercial yogurt with a very strong tang.

As an alternative for the bottled McCormick Chai Spice Blend, McCormick’s website has a recipe that consists of 1/2 teaspoon each cardamom, cinnamon and ground gloves plus a pinch of white pepper. It’s definitely not the same as their bottled Chai Spice Blend. The label on the bottle just says: “spices including ginger, cinnamon and sugar”, so there are one or more secret ingredients. If I were going to try and create a substitute, I would mix cardmom, cinnamon, ground cloves, ginger and white pepper. eHow has a chai spice recipe with all these ingredients.

To add a little complexity, I mixed almond and apricot flavors into the filling and crust. The chai spices played well with the muted fruitiness of the apricots, and almonds were a natural fit with apricots (apricot pits are also called bitter almonds). At one time, I thought of layering ground almonds into the filling, but wasn’t sure that the abrupt change in texture inside the creamy filling would be welcome in a cheesecake. The chopped apricots varied the texture without grit or hard edges.

Normally, fillings with fruit or nut add-ins must be highly viscous (the cheese diluted with eggs only) to hold them in suspension or the add-ins will sink to the bottom. The 2-layer assemblage in this recipe simulates that capacity in a thin batter and may actually speed up the baking time, because the center of the filling has been exposed to more heat than if it had been all poured in a single layer. The one caveat is the first layer should be filled as soon as it can support the apricot bits. The longer the first layer bakes, the more likely it will overbake before the second layer is done.

I found no-crust and ready-made-crust cheesecake recipes online that bake below 200°F – well into the range of sous vide cooking, so LTB was not issue for the filling. The main challenge in this recipe was the crust, what style and whether to bake it separately or as a single unit with the filling. I wanted to try something other than the traditional crushed graham cracker crust. The first cheesecakes I made had a cake-like crust, based on a Pennsylvania-Dutch cheesecake called a smearcase cake. However, I came to realize that I like the contrast in textures of the smooth cream cheese against crunchy graham cracker crusts.

I developed my own crust based on a shortbread cookie dough fortified with almond meal, chai spices, specks of powdered black tea and molasses. There very little mixing in preparing the dough (the ingredients gently combined like in a pie crust) for a tender yet crunchy texture. The powdered black tea thematically complements the chai spices and gives the biscuit crust a hint of smokiness. (Powdered green tea in previous crusts colored the dough, but the delicate green tea flavors receded against the other robust and pungent ingredients.) To make black tea powder, I finely ground Twinings English Breakfast Tea in a coffee grinder. The Twinings is a blend of Kenyan and Assam black teas, but just about any black tea suitable in a chai tea should be a good substitute.

In the final analysis, it’s the molasses in the dough that brings in an echo of the traditional graham crackers. I hadn’t intended it at all – molasses is a complementary sweetener in chai tea. Then I looked up graham cracker recipes, and there they were: molasses and cinnamon (also a component of the chai spices) as the key flavor agents. Well, the benefit of making a crust from scratch is choosing the ingredients and baking it the LTB way. My local markets don’t sell graham crackers made with almond meal, black tea and chai spices (and probably no place else does either).

For this recipe, the crust was prebaked and then coated with an almond butter to waterproof it against the liquid filling, so that remained crunchy when served. In the pictures, I substituted a natural peanut butter for the almond butter, but the peanut flavor asserted itself a little too much. A mild peanut butter blend (I saw one containing flax meal and flax oil) might work too.

When the filling bakes, the crust must not overbake, so the trick is to finish the crust’s prebake quickly. The crust in the picture was baked for the full 40 minutes. Although dark (from the molasses and black tea) and crunchy, it didn’t taste burned. For a softer crust, I’d try baking it for around 30 minutes, when the biscuit center could still be a little bit fragile. It should firm up as it cools.

After the crust prebake, the oven is cooled to 220°F/104°C to bake the first layer of the filling and then cooled again to 200°F/93°C for the second layer. The lower temperatures are meant to protect both the filling and the crust from overbaking, so that the filling comes out moist and gooey, the modern standard for a good cheesecake. I actually like a very firm cheesecake, but everyone else online seems to prefer a so-soft-it-could-collapse-on-the-plate texture. Well, so be it. In my defense, I must say that a firm (if overbaked) cheesecake can be easily cut, wrapped and stored in the fridge. These super-soft cheesecakes fall apart if tightly wrapped in plastic, unless they’re frozen first.

Makes 8 or 12 servings
– 262 calories per serving (8 servings) or 175 calories per serving (12 servings)
– Oven temperatures: 250°F/121°C, 220°F/104°C, 200°F/93°C


  • 3/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon black tea powder (see text)
  • 1 teaspoon McCormick chai spice blend (see text)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground flax seed or flax meal (optional binder)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter or other nut butter (see text)


  • 8 oz. American Neufchâtel cheese (low-fat cream cheese)
  • 1 cup low-fat active-culture vanilla yogurt (see text)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (optional)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons McCormick chai spice blend (see text)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 6 to 8 dried apricots

Crust Method:

1. Into a medium bowl, sift the flour and almond meal. Then whisk in the sugar until well combined. As an alternative to the sifting and mixing, I will put the flour, almond meal and sugar in the bowl and rub it between my hands to combine them and eliminate any lumps.

2. Add chai spices, baking powder, baking soda and ground flax seeds.

3. Cut butter into small cubes and add to flour mixture. Cut in the butter with a fork or rub the butter and flour between hands to get an evenly crumbly texture. With the hands method, work fast so that the butter doesn’t melt and lump up the flour.

4. Add the molasses 1/2 tablespoon at a time and toss-press with the flour mixture until evenly coated and it forms a dough. The technique is like that for making a pie crust.

5. Grease a 7-inch springform pan or cake pan with removable bottom. Cut out a 7-inch diameter circle from wax paper or parchment paper and place in bottom of pan. Grease the top of the paper.

6. Break off pieces of the dough, and pat them evenly onto bottom of pan.

7. Bake crust at 250°F/121°C for 30 to 40 minutes, until the edges are a light brown. Remove from the oven and let the crust cool. Check that the crust is firm and the surface is dry before proceeding to next step.

6. Spread the almond butter or other nut butter in a thin layer over the top of the crust.

Filling Method:

1. In a small dish, cover the dried apricots in boiling water and allow to soak for at least 1 hour. Drain and finely chop the apricots. Set aside.

2. In a bowl, mash cream cheese and yogurt with fork until well blended.

The reason for mixing with a fork in steps 1 to 3 (and not an electric mixer) is to minimize the amount of air whipped into the batter. If the batter has too much air, the cheesecake could rise during baking and collapse as it cools, leaving a depression in the center. An electric mixer is applied briefly in step 4 to break down any lumps.

3. Mix in the sugar.

4. Mix in the flour, salt, chai spices and almond extract. Now is a good time to taste the batter and adjust flavorings.

5. Mix in the beaten eggs.

6. Briefly puree the batter with an immersion blender or electric mixer to break up any lumps.

7. Heat the oven to 220°F/104°C. Place the pan with the biscuit crust back in the oven.

8. Pour 1/2 of the batter (about 1-1/4 cup) into pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the filling has set just solid enough to support the weight of the apricot bits. Test the firmness by dropping a piece of the chopped apricot onto the filling. If it floats in the filling, proceed to the next step.

9. Sprinkle the chopped apricots evenly over the filling.

10. Pour remainder of batter into the pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F/93°C and continue baking for another 60 to 80 minutes or until cheesecake is firm when the pan is shaken EXCEPT that the center (about 3-inch diameter) wobbles a little.

11. Remove from oven and let cool.

12. Slide a knife along the edge to loosen the cheesecake from the pan and unmold.

13. Slice and serve with a sprinkle of brown sugar, chai spices and some chopped apricot.