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.