When I was growing up, the one good thing about coming down with the flu was the guarantee that there would be pudding. My mom firmly believed that it was good for tender stomachs and since it was made with milk, it offered enough nutrition to get us back on the road to recovery. She’d alternate between a basic stovetop rice pudding and vanilla pudding from a packet.
For years, I thought puddings and custards were only good for those sick days when you needed something slightly sweet and easy to slurp. However, thanks to Faith Durand and her new book, Bakeless Sweets, my eyes have been opened to the many possibilities that exist in the world of puddings (as well as in panna cottas, jellies, and fluffs).
The book ranges from simple, homey puddings and real fruit jellies that you can serve to your kids and their friends, to more elegant options like crème brûlées and budinos that are perfect for date nights and dinner parties.
Another particular joy of this volume is that it is intensely allergy-friendly. The bulk of the recipes are gluten-free (who needs wheat when you’ve got cream!) and many are egg-free as well. For those who can’t manage dairy, try the recipes that feature coconut milk in place of the bovine version.
I took three recipes from the book for a little spin and was entirely delighted with both the clear instructions and the results. The Lemon and Sour Cream Custard was pillowy, tart, and perfectly smooth. It’s one I imagine would be particularly good topped with a handful of ripe blueberries.
The Salted Caramel Risotto was just as advertised. The caramel was sweet, with a slightly bitter edge, and the rice grains were plump and tender. This is one best eaten still a bit warm, with a drift of hand-whipped cream.
My last pick was the Coffee Fluff with Chocolate Flakes. I’ll confess that I’d never before tried a fluff (a combination of a flavored jelly and whipped cream) and so was uncertain what to expect. However, having made this one, I’m now a firm fluff believer. It’s a light, not-too-sweet dessert that is perfect finisher for hot days. This coffee version is like a latte in spoonable form.
I predict that this summer, I’ll be skipping the oven-baked crisps and cobblers and opting instead for a world of bakeless sweets.
I recently caught up with Faith Durand for a few more insights on no-bake cooking:
What is it about stovetop desserts that so captured your interest?
Pudding! Who doesn’t love pudding? I know very few people who do not fall headlong for the seductive, burnt-sugar allure of butterscotch pudding. And yet, whenever I stir up a pot, people look up at me wide-eyed and say, “Did this come from a box?”
It became clear to me that pudding and panna cotta had become something of a lost art, relegated to restaurant pastry chefs and store-bought mixes. This seemed such a shame to me, since pudding and other no-bake desserts are often much easier, faster, and lower in sugar than cakes and cookies, as well as naturally gluten-free, too. The old-fashioned pleasure of pudding, and the simple luxury of panna cotta and other no-bake desserts, deserved a book of its own. We all love to bake, but bakeless needed a moment (or more!) in the limelight.
Do you have a favorite genre of no-bake desserts?
I love them all – fluffs, puddings, panna cotta, jellies, icebox cakes. But I probably make panna cotta most frequently, since it’s really the simplest dessert that also happens to be the most luxurious. My Sour Cream Panna Cotta can go from ingredients to chilling in the fridge in literally 5 minutes flat, so it’s a very handy dessert to know by heart for impromptu dinner parties.
Was there any particular recipe that took you by surprise during development and became a new favorite?
I adore jellies (also known as Jell-O, if you want to invoke childhood memory!), but I was surprised at how sophisticated and pleasurable they could be. There’s a recipe in Bakeless Sweets for Lemonade Jellies with Basil. These are deeply tangy and grown-up, aromatic with fresh, spicy basil, and they make a really luxurious dessert after a summer dinner of roast chicken and grilled vegetables, especially when served with dollops of whipped cream and candied mint leaves.
Lemon and Sour Cream Custard
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup cream, divided
- 2 ounces cream cheese, very soft
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 lemons, zested and juiced (about 6 tablespoons juice)
- 1 cup full-fat sour cream
Make a cornstarch and cream slurry: Put the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl and whisk out any lumps. Slowly pour in ½ cup of the cream, whisking constantly until there are no lumps. (To be really sure, reach into the bowl and gently rub out any lumps between your fingers.)
In a separate medium bowl, whisk the cheese vigorously until it looks whipped and soft. Slowly add the remaining ¼ cup cream, whisking until the mixture is smooth. Pour in the slurry and whisk until smooth. Whisk in egg yolks.
Warm and flavor the milk: Place a 3-quart saucepan on the stove and whisk the milk, sugar, and lemon zest together in the pan. Turn the heat on to medium. (Resist the urge to turn the heat to high, as this puts you at greater risk of scorching the milk. The higher the heat, the more attentive you should be.)
As the milk comes to a simmer, stir constantly but slowly with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan evenly so that the milk doesn’t scorch or form a thick skin on the bottom of the pan. When the surface of the milk beings to quiver and vibrate, turn off the heat.
Temper the slurry: Pour 1 cup of the hot milk into the bowl with the slurry. Whisk them together. The mixture should come together smoothly, with no lumps. Pour the tempered slurry slowly back into the pan, counting to 10 as you do and whisking vigorously combine them.
Thicken the pudding: Turn the heat back on to medium. Bring the pudding to a boil; this will take 2 to 5 minutes. When large bubbles slowly pop up to the surface, reduce the heat and let the pudding simmer for 2 full minutes. Continue to whisk vigorously Turn off the heat.
Chill the pudding: Immediately pour the hot pudding into a shallow container. (If you notice lumps in the pudding, you can pour it through a fine-mesh strainer to make it smoother.) Gently fold in the sour cream. Place plastic wrap or buttered wax paper directly on the surface of the pudding to cover it. Put a lid on the dish and refrigerate.
Flavor the pudding: Chill the pudding for 1 hour, then stir in the lemon juice. Return it to the fridge and chill it completely. It is best refrigerated overnight and eaten when every cold.
Makes 4 cups or 8 servings. Gluten-free.
Salted Caramel Risotto
- ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ cup short-grain white rice, such as Arborio
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup cream
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Unsweetened whipped cream, to serve
Toast the rice: Heat 2 cup water. Melt the butter in a heavy 3-quart pan over medium-high heat. When the butter foams up, add the rice and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring until it is translucent and golden.
Cook the rice: Pour in the milk and the hot water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a steady simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes, or until the rice grains have softened and are al dente (completely cooked through but still some chewiness).
Make the caramel: While the rice is cooking, mix the sugar and ¼ cup water in a 4-quart or larger heavy pot with tall sides. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Stop stirring and watch the syrup; when light golden streaks appear, carefully swirl the pot to help the sugar caramelize evenly. Continue boiling until the mixture turns a dark amber color. The sugar will begin to smoke; this is normal.
When the caramel has been smoking for about 15 seconds, pull the pan off the heat and carefully add the cream in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Be careful, as hot steam will bubble up furiously. Whisk this mixture until smoothly combined. (If the caramel seizes and becomes a solid mass when the cream is added, return the pan to low heat and continue whisking until it is melted and smooth. You can minimize the chance of seizing by heating the cream prior to pouring it in.)
Sweeten the rice: Add the rice to the caramel, stirring well. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes until much of the liquid has evaporated. Stir frequently to keep the rice from scorching.
The liquid will reduce and get darker, and the rice will soften a little more. The pudding will look soupy and thin, but it will thicken considerably as it cools. Stir in the vanilla and the salt. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until the pudding is at your desired consistency and temperature – about 30 minutes for a warm pudding, and 2 hours for a cold pudding. (If the cold pudding is too firm, thin with a little whole milk.) Serve warm with unsweetened whipped cream.
Makes 3 cups or 6 servings. Gluten-free.
Coffee Fluff with Chocolate Flakes
- ¼ cup ground coffee
- ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
- 5 teaspoons powdered gelatin
- 2 cups cream
- 3 tablespoons whiskey, such as Jack Daniels (optional)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Bittersweet chocolate bar, for shavings
Heat 2 cups water to boiling. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes, then pour it over the ground coffee and steep for 5 minutes. Strain (use a French press or a very fine-mesh strainer) into a bowl. Whisk in the sugar and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let the gelatin soften for 5 minutes, then whisk vigorously until it is thoroughly dissolved. Pour the mixture into a wide, shallow dish. Refrigerate until it is set, about 2 hours.
Pour the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a large bowl and a hand mixer). Whip until it holds soft peaks. Fold in the whisky, vanilla, and salt. Remove the cream to a separate bowl and whip the coffee gelatin, which should be quite firm by this point, until it is frothy and creamy. It will look like a thick, dark mocha espresso drink, or a creamy café au lait, speckled with darker flecks of coffee jelly.
Fold the coffee jelly into the cream. Spoon the mixture into individual cups or a mold and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until set. The texture will still be quite soft and creamy. Use a vegetable peeler to shave chocolate flakes off the bar to garnish.
Makes about eight ½-cup servings. Gluten-free.