Pudding on the Ritz!
21 custardy desserts — from pudding to budino to pot de crème — that are as chic as they are comforting. These bowlfuls of creamy goodness are exactly why spoons were invented.
Every culture has a custard. Sweet, soft, and redolent of loving moments from childhood, these desserts provide instant access to the gentler, more tender parts of ourselves. That’s why, though you’ll rarely see them on the cover of a magazine, they remain perennial favorites in any form — whether mixed quickly from a packet, or made thoughtfully from scratch and served in a vintage cut-glass bowl. No one turns down a luscious bowl of pudding.
And this chic yet cozy dessert can come from anywhere: The collection of recipes below pull favorites from Italy, with boldly flavored budini; French pots de crème that are small but mighty; puddings from America, both her First Nation peoples and the Euro-inspired custards that followed; and today’s Mason jar craze, which delivers a festive see-through dessert experience that’s ready for adventure whenever it strikes.
And while the ease of ripping open a powdery packet cannot be denied, a decadent custard made from scratch is something anyone can learn to prepare (see the kitchen tips below). Give it a go — and let us know if you didn’t lick the bowl clean!
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Tips and tricks to make custard dreams come true
Custardy treats are ideal no-bake options, often meet the needs of gluten-free diets, and are fun to eat out of a jar with a tiny spoon. Follow these simple suggestions for fast, fabulous, easy desserts.
Do I need a double boiler to make these? Or a strainer?
A double boiler can be nice to have, but isn’t necessary for any of the dessert recipes below. The steam that gently and evenly heats the contents of the pot on top can easily be recreated if you have a metal bowl you can set on top of a pot without it touching the simmering water below. Congratulations! You have a jerry-rigged double boiler of your own.
However, a sieve or strainer may be important to have on hand. Tempering eggs for custard (more on that below) can still sometimes result in tiny curds, so for a silky smooth budino, pudding, or pot de crème, a strainer is necessary — though a cheesecloth-lined colander can work in a pinch.
What does it mean to “temper eggs”?
In the context of puddings and the like, tempering refers to taking a ladleful of the heated milk or cream on the stove and stirring it quickly into the eggs (usually just the yolks), then pouring while whisking that egg mixture back into the pot on the stove before completing the cooking process.
While it might seem the purpose of this is to prevent the eggs from scrambling when they hit the heat, the real benefit is that adding the liquid dilutes the proteins of the raw egg, which makes them less able to link up and turn into clusters when cooked. Science!
If you don’t have enough bowls for pouring egg mixtures back and forth, you can put the custard ingredients together in the pot at the start — but from the second you turn on the heat, you must constantly whisk it to ensure it stays smooth! Luscious lemon curd is one thing, curdled, lumpy custard is a whole different story.
A budino can refer to a custardy, pudding-like mixture or a molded dessert with varying degrees of firmness. The budini below fall into the first category.
Inspired by one of Los Angeles’ hot restaurants, this decadent dessert can be quite the showstopper when you pile it into your loveliest cut-glass bowl, sprinkle it with flaked sea salt, and give it a drizzle of your fruitiest extra-virgin olive oil. Yes, you read that right: This truly Italian dessert sings with a bit of olive oil on top.
This tempting budino with caramel-times-two has an easy crumbled chocolate cookie crust that adds a crispy textural contrast to the soft and cozy pudding above. The luscious salted caramel sauce on top is so luscious you might find yourself making it again. And again.
Dessert doyenne Nancy Silverton wisely adds the butter and rum after the custard stops cooking so the sweet dairy flavor (and booziness) of these decadent butterscotch finales isn’t lost. The thin layer of reserved caramel sauce on top creates a color and textural contrast that only heightens the eating experience.
Set that jar of Nutella aside: Chocolate and hazelnuts form a beloved Italian confection that’s been made in the city of Turin since the 1600s. Little triangular bars of gianduja, called gianduiotto, can be found in specialty chocolate shops and online. Melted and stirred in with the other six ingredients, this easy budino will have you crying, “Bravo! Bravo!”
There’s no traditional custard to whisk over a double-boiler in this simple recipe; whipped egg whites provide the lift, and two kinds of lemon juice provide clean, sweet citrus flavor.
Pots de crème
Each pot de crème is a small, intense pleasure. If the American approach to dessert is “More is more,” the French approach every spoonful as a rare treasure.
Using a vanilla bean pod ensures an ephemeral, nearly floral flavor, with the delicate speckles scraped free into the custard to boost the profile of the white chocolate. The leftover pod is used to flavor roasted seasonal fruit, for a delicious dessert for all seasons.
Nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves combine with vanilla and pure maple syrup for a rich pot de crème that’s warmly spiced and naturally sweet, with a caramel-y depth from the brown sugar.
Cinnamon and cayenne give this chocolate pot de crème a warm kick. If you can find Mexican chocolate at your local store or online, the spices become optional. The warm custard mixture gets blitzed in the blender while melting the chocolate chips in the process.
Simmering up a homemade lemon syrup is worth the effort for the tart yet sweet flavor it gives the pots de crème (and any extra syrup is great in iced tea or cocktails). The bright sunshine color and burst of citrus ensure this Springtime dessert will be welcome on your table all year long (and for Easter, at a minimum!).
Pumpkin is celebrated two ways in these little spiced custards: inside, with the whisked in pumpkin puree, and on top with a crunchy pepita (pumpkin seed) brittle. Chai tea and grated citrus peel provide spice and brightness to each bite. It's the perfect alternative to pumpkin pie.
Pudding, at its core, is about sweet comfort. These yummy simple classics are a food hug for your heart — and great for serving a crowd. Set up a toppings bar with crumbled brownies or red velvet cupcakes, marshmallow bits, graham crackers, and fresh raspberries for a build-your-own, interactive affair.
The original peoples of the Americas utilized corn, or maize, in a variety of delicious ways for millennia before any Europeans arrived. Their culinary talent is on display in this cornmeal-based pudding that’s flavored with classic American sweeteners like maple syrup and molasses.
This beloved Southern classic gilds the lily with a delicate meringue hovering on top. However, it still hews close to tradition with purchased vanilla wafers, sliced bananas, and a homemade vanilla custard. The longer it chills, the more the banana flavor dances.
This classic pudding gets a sweet bump from honey added two ways: first, stirred into the dessert, then drizzled on top. It’s also easy to swap in real maple syrup for the honey — go for B grade syrup for a more intense maple flavor.
This simple DIY pudding recipe goes both ways: Whichever direction you choose, you’ll have perfect, from-scratch chocolate or vanilla pudding that’ll put those pre-packaged cups to shame.
Some of the greatest comforts are simple. A fuzzy blanket. A friend’s hand. And a pretty bowl of tapioca pudding. Milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt join small pearl tapioca to bring a childhood favorite back to present-day life.
Eight to 10 minutes of dedicated whisking will tire the arms, but is a workout with a true reward: Butterscotch pudding made with brown sugar, the likes of which a packet cannot compare. A little butter stirred in at the end (and an optional splash of Scotch, whiskey or rum) and richly golden dessert dreams can come true.
Mason jar desserts
Whether it's a custardy treat or anything else, dessert just tastes better when you spoon it out of a jar; add a lid and why yes, you can take it with you.
Purchased sugar cookies make these no-bake, parfait-style desserts in Mason jars come together with fresh strawberries, whipped cream and a hint of vanilla in a jiffy, for a sweet taste of summer.
A childhood favorite gets the Mason jar treatment! Sliced bananas and two kinds of ice cream, all drizzled with sweet syrups, plus whipped cream and pecans, offers a new perspective on a classic.
Pulverized vanilla wafers and Oreos quickly create the coarse sand for this beachy dessert. Layered with pudding and floated with shell-shaped chocolates, all you need to do is add a lid and it’s a great addition to your beach cooler! Or crack one open and bring a taste of the beach to you.
Three ingredients make these crispy and crunchy, sweet, cold, and fudgy Mason jar desserts a snap to put together and a delight to dig into.
These slushies are the perfect frozen treat when it’s just too hot to make a dessert, and good Italian syrups deliver elegant flavor. A few drops of food coloring make these Mason jar coolers luminous in the summer sun.
Craving more dessert recipes?
Check out these Yummly articles for more special treats you can make at home: