Growing up, I preferred the plainest possible iteration of every food, yet my mom always liked to tell me that I had “champagne taste on a beer budget.” She was right. These two tendencies were at their neurotic best in my devotion to vanilla ice cream with “vanilla bean specks.” It was classy and unadorned, which somehow made me feel like it was ok to settle in on the couch with a gallon bucket-full from Costco and a spoon.
Thankfully, my palate and I both matured, but I never got over my thing for vanilla bean specks. Recently, after losing my source for vanilla beans, I convinced myself it was both prudent and economical to order what seemed like an inordinate amount of them online. Surprise! I’ve had no trouble getting through them and having them on hand has meant that simple things like this cornstarch pudding are much more likely to be gussied up with a vanilla bean.
This recipe followed a windy road to its inception—from a failed custard (totally my fault), inspired by the pots de crème in the La Tartine Gourmande cookbook, to an unapologetically simple recipe for vanilla pudding from the New York Times.
Milk & Honey Pudding with Stewed Rhubarb
- 2 cups whole milk, about 1/4 cup reserved
- 1 vanilla bean, pod split and seeds scraped
- 1/3 cup honey (I used a mild spring honey)
- 3 T cornstarch
- pinch salt
- 2 T unsalted butter
- 6 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) diced rhubarb
- 4 oz (about 1/2 cup) sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
- Prepare 6 small jars or bowls and set aside.
- Toss together the rhubarb and sugar in a small saucepan and let it sit until juice just begins to develop.
- When there's a bit of juice at the bottom of the pan, turn the heat on low. As the rhubarb breaks down and releases more juice, gradually increase the heat to med-high.
- Cook until all the rhubarb is broken down and the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat and divide evenly among your 6 jars, putting about a heaping tablespoon in each.
- Next, whisk together the reserved 1/4 milk and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a small saucepan over med-low heat, heat the remaining milk, honey, pinch of salt, and the vanilla bean until the mixture steams and just begins to start a gentle boil. Remove the vanilla bean.
- Reduce heat to low and add the cornstarch and milk mixture in a steady stream, stirring constantly. Continue to stir and cook on low for about 5 more minutes.
- Remove from heat and add butter, stirring until melted. Pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps.
- Pour the strained pudding into the jars, on top of the rhubarb, and refrigerate until set.