So much so that I've been chasing it, like an elusive dream, ever since. Don't get me wrong. The pizza there is good, too. Just not as bliss-inducing as that sweet-salty, ultra smooth, caramel budino**. Now, if there's anything even remotely close on a restaurant menu, I'm all over it. The version at Fraiche is very good. They do a nice one at Jar, too. Like the pathetic addict I am, in order to get my budino fix I was roving all around town, suffering through gourmet meals at upscale restaurants just so I could have pudding for dessert. (Cue the crowd, screaming at their computer screens, "You could just SKIP DINNER or have like an APPETIZER or something. We do NOT feel sorry for you!")
When I found the recipe in a cookbook that someone gave me as a gift, I almost burst into tears. Eagerly, I set to work. The instructions were complicated, but I persevered. After what seemed like hours, I had pudding, but it was clearly not THE pudding. The color was maybe off-white at best, and the flavor was flat and a little chalky. I was very sad, but I accepted my lot in life***. I'm a cookie baker, not a budino maker. I was back to roaming the streets.
Thunk! New Bon Appetit in the mailbox. Entire section on Salt and Pepper Desserts, where, staring at me from the glossy pages of the magazine, was a Caramel Budino with Salted Caramel Sauce.
I had to try again. After all, this version had cookie crust.
Caramel Budinos with Brown Sugar Butterscotch Sauce
I wound up combining elements of the Mozza recipe and the Bon Appetit recipe, along with my own butterscotch sauce, and the results were marvelous. The crowd at Carpool Wars agreed. In a blow to the local economy, there will be one less diner on the LA restaurant scene, at least for a while.
For the cookie crust:
1 c. finely ground cookie crumbs (I used Trader Joe's bistro biscuits, which are cinnamon-y and addictive. The BA recipe used chocolate wafers)
2 Tbs. butter, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
For the budinos:
3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 c. milk
1 large egg
3 egg yolks
1/4 c. cornstarch
1 c. plus 2 Tbs. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. water
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
5 Tbs. butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 tbs. dark rum
1/2 c. of Brown Sugar Butterscotch Sauce (recipe here), or follow instructions in original budino recipe
Lightly sweetened whipped cream (use part creme fraiche if you have it!)
For the crust, combine cookie crumbs, butter and salt in a small bowl. Set aside 2 Tbs. of the mixture for garnish, then divide the rest among 8 8 oz. ramekins, mason jars or glasses. Press down gently to form a crust, then set aside.
Place brown sugar, water, and salt into a large saucepan (you need large because all that milk and cream will be added to it later), and stir over medium high heat until sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring, and allow mixture to cook, without stirring, until it is an even deeper amber color, and has a slightly nutty but not burnt smell. By the way, this will be really hard to tell, since you started with brown sugar so the mixture is brown to begin with. If you have a candy thermometer, it should read about 220 degrees. If you don't, 7-9 minutes should be about the right amount of time.
Immediately pour in the cream/milk mixture. The whole thing will bubble up, and the caramel may sieze (get hard in places). Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring while you do. Reduce heat to medium and keep stirring until the mixture is smooth. Using a ladle, add a little of the warm caramel cream to the egg mixture, whisking like crazy. Keep adding, a little at a time, until you have whisked about half of the cream into the eggs, and the egg mixture is warm to the touch. Remove the pot from the heat, whisk all of the egg mixture back into caramel cream that is still in the pot, and keep whisking until the custard is very thick, about 2 minutes.
Note: at this point, if you see any sign of lumps or curds in your pudding, press through a fine strainer into a mixing bowl before going any further.
Divide custard between your prepared ramekins. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least an hour or so, or for a couple of days, well covered. About an hour before serving, top each pudding with about 2 Tbs. of room temperature (not hot!) butterscotch sauce. (Mine was warm when I added it, and it slipped down to the bottom of the puddings. They were still delicious, but not quite the same effect as having the caramel sauce on top.) Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt, and return to the fridge. Just before serving, add a dollop of fresh whipped cream, and a sprinkling of the reserved cookie crumb crust mixture.
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* That's "pudding" in Italian, you know.** And FYI, don't think you can cheat and go to Osteria Mozza and get it. I tried that, and I was shut down, big time. Had to have some kind of cheesecake thing instead. Argh!! This was getting to be a really expensive habit.
*** Apparently, other fans have made peace with the pale pudding, and declared victory.