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Pace Bill Cosby, there is no excuse for using a boxed mix to make chocolate pudding. No, there isn’t. Seriously.

I don’t care how frazzled and spaced-out you are. The homemade stuff takes almost no time or coherent thought and can be made even when your pantry is next to bare. I made this in twenty minutes at 10:00 at night because the overpriced Marjolaine cake I bought from a patisserie in our most yuppified neighborhood was an utter disappointment. The layers were as dense as polyurethane foam, the ganache was spackle-esque, the mousse was gummy, and the whole thing had such a terminal flavor deficit that I actually left half of it in the beribboned box. Disgruntled and still needing chocolate, I whipped up this pudding and staved off a theobromine-deprived tantrum.

The beauty of this pudding recipe is that it’s versatile on top of being stupidly easy. You can create flavor variations with spices, extracts, or liqueurs. You can play around with the dairy component, using soy or rice milk to make it vegan, or coconut milk for a tropical undertone. You can use every gradient of chocolate, from milk to ultra-super-mega-dark, according to your preference.

Although you must use the good stuff.

You can leave it after-school plain or go elegant by folding it into whipped cream for an instant mousse. You can challenge your guests with chiles or flirt with twee by adding coffee or black tea and spooning it into demitasse cups with a spoon-shaped cookie on the side.

For those who would protest that they need the mix to make Great-Aunt Rosalie’s Chocolate Fluff Pie or whatever, I still say no. You should use this and a pint of whipped real cream instead of a box full of powdered wrong and a tub of hydrogenated trans-fats. Trust me, your taste buds, your arteries, and even Rosalie’s spirit will thank you.

If this is still just too much work for you, you might as well buy the premade stuff that comes in tubs, allegedly from a “shack” of some kind, because you’ve already abandoned all standards and let yourself go. I’m just saying.

No Excuses Chocolate Pudding
(Adapted from Bionic Chocolate Pudding in Didi Emmon’s Entertaining for a Vegetarian Planet)
Serves 4

1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
Pinch of sea salt
1 1/2 cups milk, preferably whole but lowfat will work fine
2 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Amaretto or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/3 cup heavy cream, whipped with 1 tablespoon sugar
3-4 amaretti cookies, crushed

Whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup of milk, continuing to whisk until smooth.

Bring the remainder of the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Pour about a third of the hot milk into the cocoa, whisking briskly to distribute, then stir in the rest of the milk. Return the mixture to the pan and bring back up to a boil, stirring frequently. Continuing cooking for several more minutes, still stirring, until the pudding thickens.

Remove from the heat and add the chocolate and Amaretto or vanilla, stirring until the chocolate has melted. Pour the pudding into a shallow bowl or into individual glasses. Cover with plastic wrap, pushing the wrap down to the surface to prevent a skin from forming (unless you like that sort of thing), and refrigerate until cool.

When ready to serve, top with whipped cream and the crushed cookie dust.

Notes:

The cooling step is not absolutely mandatory. If it’s a chocolate emergency, you can let it sit in a shallow dish for about ten minutes, just to get it down to room temperature. You could also put it in the freezer, either just to cool it enough to eat or as a deliberate choice. Frozen chocolate pudding has the consistency of a fudgesicle, which is no bad thing, I can assure you.

Small edit to add a bit of advice for vegans: Since non-dairy milks can be a little more sensitive and prone to curdling at higher temperatures, you may want to be conservative and only bring the soy, almond, or rice milk just up to scalding, but not a boil, before adding it to the cocoa mixture.  Once you mix the milk with the cornstarch, the starch should stabilize it and you should be fine to proceed as directed.

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