My eldest son, almost four, loves pudding — a dessert found at every convenience store and most bakeries in Taiwan that is kind of like a creme caramel. It is a special treat for my boy after soccer. He was so upset last weekend when we forbade him from having what he wanted, even when he said please. There was, you see, another food safety scandal — this time involving the starch used as a thickener in many processed foods including puddings.
This isn’t the first time that Taiwan foods have been found to contain nasties. Despite high consumer expectations about good quality produce (you just need to look at the number of organic shops springing up everywhere), Taiwan has been plagued by problems with cheap and dangerous additives. First there was the mainland Chinese melamine milk scandal in 2008, then in 2011 the shock news that a type of plasticisers was found in probiotic drinks, jellies, and sports drinks, amongst other things.
So I thought it was a good opportunity to learn how to make home-made pudding. It wasn’t actually hard, but I was surprised at how few recipes there were on the internet — at least in English. Eventually I found one and tweaked it a bit. Well, quite a lot (halving quantities for one.) My pudding recipe is basically a type of set custard. Old fashioned puddings were more eggy, i.e. more like a traditional baked custard with a sugar caramel on top. Then manufacturers adopted gelatin based versions instead, presumably because it was easier and cheaper. These days, I have noticed that many pudding are incredibly rich, much more like a cream based panna cotta, which I think is where the inspiration has come from.
I have always wondered about the history and origin of ‘pudding’ (bùdīng, 布丁) in Taiwan. Mr Taiwanxifu swears it is a Taiwanese dish through and through: many Taiwanese grew up eating pudding. But I always wondered if it was a cultural relic of the short Spanish presence in northern Taiwan. More likely it was introduced by the Japanese, who also have a steamed cream caramel/flan desert also called a pudding, which they presumably learnt through their exposure to European culture during the Meiji period.
2 tablespoons brown sugar (Taiwan ‘black’ sugar is best)
1/2 teaspoon gelatine
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 1/2 cups full cream milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup of white fine (castor) sugar
1 package gelatine (14g)
- Combine the brown sugar and gelatine in a bowl. Pour over the boiling water and still to dissolve. Spoon into small glasses, pudding dishes or pudding glasses and set aside to cool. If you have time, refrigerate overnight.
- Pour the milk into a saucepan, add the vanilla and cook over a low heat until it begins to simmer (i.e. a few bubbles but not quite boiling).
- In a separate, medium sized bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick. They will increase in volumne.
- Gradually pour the hot milk mixture onto the eggs, whisking constantly. The mixture will start to look like a buttercup coloured milkshake.
- Then transfer the milk and egg mixture back into a clean saucepan. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, for around five minutes or until slightly thickened.
- For a more professional and smooth texture, strain the egg mixture through a colander. (I was lazy and didn’t do this step, and my puddings turned out fine albeit with a slight homemade texture.)
- Dissolve the contents of the gelatine packet in a small amount of hot (boiling) water. Add to the hot custard mixture and stir until combined.
- Transfer the custard into a pouring jug, and allow to cool slightly. Then carefully pour on top of the brown sugar jelly layer on the bottom on the pudding glasses. Allow to set, and refrigerate until needed. Enjoy!