Lunchtime was rough for a few years of lower school. I brought sensible lunches from home; my friends ate strawberry Pop-Tarts and Pringles and crustless PB&Js in little individual packages. My second grade teacher once caught me sneaking a plate of French fries in the cafeteria. She pulled me aside and sternly asked if my mother knew I was having those, and would she approve? Instead of meekly answering (no, of course she doesn’t, sorry), I gave a sassy "yup!", hurried to my table, and savored each salty bite.
Everyone else's lunchbox was a veritable treasure chest, turning up Lunchables and Gushers and sticky chocolate Hostess cakes.
I had peanut butter on homemade whole wheat. Sliced strawberries and powdered sugar. My mother’s calzones, oozing with mozzarella and from-scratch tomato sauce. Suffice it to say: I was not deprived.
But it did take me some years to appreciate those lunches. There was one food I always knew to be superior, even in second grade, and that is homemade pudding.
Pudding cups did not impress me. The slightly gummy texture and the barely-there cocoa flavor disappointed me, as if the Jell-o executives had just thrown in the towel, figuring a slight hint of chocolate was enough to win over some ten-year-olds. Not me. I’d already fallen hard for stovetop pudding: intense and rich, as chocolate-y as a molten lava cake. Make it yourself! It takes about 10 minutes, and you only need a few basic pantry ingredients.
And here’s the kicker: Chocolate pudding plays very nicely with a buttery pie crust and whipped cream.
Chocolate Pudding Pie
2 1/2 cups flour
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup ice water
Chocolate Pudding Filling
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar, divided
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a medium bowl, whisk together your flour and salt. Cut in the cold butter until the butter is in small lumps. Slowly drizzle in the ice water, stirring with a fork until the dough starts to come together. Add more water if it is too dry. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead a few times into a ball. Don't overwork the dough! It's okay if you can still see chunks of butter. Pat it into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for at least an hour.
Take the chilled dough out and roll it out into a circle about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer it to a pie plate and crimp the edges. Prick the dough all over with a fork and line it with foil and fill it with pie weights (or dried beans). Bake the shell for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake for 10 more minutes -- until golden brown.
While the crust cools, make the pudding. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, and salt. Slowly add the milk -- whisking as you do -- and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat slightly and keep stirring constantly until the pudding begins to thicken (about 2 to 3 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Let the pudding cool, then pour it into the prepared crust. Whip the cream to medium-stiff peaks, then spread it over the filling. Serve immediately.