Pudding On The Ritz

When it comes to the subject of desserts, having a child around the house is a lot like having a crackhead with a law degree as a roommate. The incessant negotiations, bargaining, and meticulous parsing of every word in a simple phrase like “If you eat your dinner” are exhausting in the extreme. How much of the dinner? During what time frame? Will the quantity of sugar correlate with the volume or percentage of dinner consumed? Can we renegotiate these terms after a nonzero percentage of said dinner has been consumed, pursuant to the the stipulation that the painful levels of hunger expressed during the preparation of said meal have in fact vanished mysteriously, leaving only a tiny amount of hunger that is exactly equal to the quantity of dessert, but no more? Will there be seconds?

One tactic that works pretty well is to allow for a teatime treat at about 4:00, once something nutritious has served as an after school snack. This takes a lot of pressure off of dinner. It does not, however, address the very real issue of how bad sugar appears to be for our bodies in quantity. I’m not draconian, but finding ways to not be a dick about it and still limit the consumption of crap can be taxing. Enter this pudding sort of concoction and its myriad variants.

I first invented this back in Brooklyn when I was messing around with some of the techniques espoused by raw food proponents. The fad never interested me, but some of the methods for transforming foods without cooking them did. Chief among them for a while was soaking nuts, for obvious reasons—who among us does not enjoy nicely soaked nuts? I made a pretty nice pine nut sauce that was wicked for marinating shredded kale in overnight. I should do that again, now that I think of it. And various desserty things also resulted, among them this recipe.

This works with all kinds of nuts—macadamia are excellent, if less healthy—and the sweetness and chocolate levels are easily adjusted to taste. I like cashews, so I tend to use them, but they all go famously with chocolate.

Soak some raw, unsalted nuts in water overnight in the fridge, then dump them in a blender or food processor with enough of the liquid to spin the blade freely. once they’re churning nicely, add a handful of pitted dates and some cocoa powder. I use organic, free-range, fair trade stuff because I’m an elitist and it tastes better. You can soak the nuts in milk (real or grain/legume) for added richness; soaking almonds in almond milk is a logical step. Maple syrup is an excellent choice in addition to or instead of the dates. Once it’s smooth, have a taste and add more chocolate or sweetness if you like. Other spices like cinnamon and cardamom can be great, too. A banana is another good idea, or vanilla, or a shot of espresso, or mint leaves in season. You can go a million different ways with this depending on what you or your kids enjoy.

I like to chill it in the fridge for a while afterward, but that’s optional. It can be superb if run through an ice cream machine for 20 minutes, a technique that also works with smoothies and helps fool even the savviest kid into thinking that they’re enjoying a real dessert and not some hippie bullshit like carob that will give them issues for the rest of their lives. I remember a LONG time ago—I must have been just a bit older than Milo—and I went on a day trip with my friend and his Dad, who was a health nut. This would have been the late 1970s, so health food was not as sophisticated as it is now, not by a long shot. We stopped at some store for provisions, and I ended up with this blunt brown sub-looking thing that contained “wheatmeat!” according to my friend’s father. I figured out years later that it was seitan, which I actually like when it’s cooked properly, but this limp dirigible was basically soggy wheat between two pieces of soggy wheat with a thin layer of wilted, vinaigrette-infused lettuce like slimy day-old salad. It still makes me gag to think about it.

This pudding is not like that; it is a response, a defiant fist shaking against both the sugary garbage unethically aimed at our children and strident, killjoy overcompensation for that phenomenon. It’s not chocolate pudding, so don’t sell it that way. But it can be very good, and filling, and something that they can help you make and tinker with to arrive at the ideal blend. It’s a great foundation for seasonal fruit, like these fall raspberries that are growing next to my studio. Grownups enjoy it, too; it works really well with a variety of booze, especially those in the cognac/armagnac spectrum. For non-child applications, adding booze to the mix works really well. Or just give your kids the pudding and drink cognac for dessert. Everybody wins!

14 comments to Pudding On The Ritz

  • Nice alternative to being the food police. Bravo.

  • Andrew

    I like this approach, Peter. Another one which I use that is in a very similar vein is peanut butter balls. If you want to make a joke here about enjoying a pair of salty balls (but Chef from South Park beat you to it), feel free. Take a jar of natural, unsweetened peanut butter (or any nut butter of your choice). If it’s unsalted, you may wish to add a touch of salt. Combine this with up to 2 cups of rolled oats (I use a grain flaker so to make these freshly from oat groats, which is a good way to go if you can). Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut. A tablespoon (or more, to taste) of honey or coconut. Add about a quarter cup of wheat germ (optional) and a few tablespoons of dried milk powder (also optional). You can add cocoa powder or other spices as desired at this point. Mix them all together till the ingredients are well combined and the oats are reasonably hydrated by the peanut butter. Once mixed, you should be able to roll these into walnut sized balls by hand. If they’re too moist, you can add more oats and continue mixing. Too dry, add more peanut butter. I like to let these sit in the fridge for a bit before eating them, and they’re even better if you put them in the freezer for a half hour or more to harden them before eating. One or two of these is plenty filling, and like Peter’s concoction satisfies one’s sweet/dessert craving with minimal sugar. And you can keep the batch in the fridge for a week if they last that long, rolling a ball or two when you’re ready to eat. Kids love them, and doubly so as they’re finger food. We also send these in to school with the kids for treats they can enjoy when a classmate is bringing in crappy grocery store cupcakes or the like to celebrate his or her birthday for the third time in a week, or their dog’s half birthday. Except when the school has a no-nut policy, because nuts can be unhealthy for some kids, unlike the cupcakes. Go ahead, try my balls. Put ‘em in your mouth and suck ‘em.

    • Peter

      The school party thing is a drag, no doubt. I’ll give these a shot sometime, though there is a nut issue at school so they won’t work for that either.

      • Andrew

        We’ve tried a number of things for the school parties. Sometimes just a square of dark chocolate or a dried fig or two does the trick. One of our other favored solutions is making a batch of healthy muffins, which I’ll often do using the buttermilk left after making cultured butter. They have freshly milled whole wheat flour and rolled oats, some honey, fresh fruit. We’ll eat them for breakfast but they’re sweet and moist enough to pass for dessert. Since I’m making a dozen at a time, I’ll freeze 3 or 4 of them individually and when a birthday is coming up at school (we ask the teacher for the birthday calendar or to let us know when junk food in the class is imminent), we’ll send one in as a substitute snack. Spread a little cream cheese on the top and it even looks like a cupcake. We used to worry that our kids would be subjected to peer pressure for not eating the same crap as the rest of the kids. This has come up a few times but with no major sequelae and we talk through it with our daughter. She understands it’s okay to be different, learns valuable lessons about tolerance, and if anything we consider it training for later challenges. Today it’s cupcakes and cookies. Tomorrow it’ll be cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and sex. May as well start preparing for it now. Just say no, right?

  • I’ve been a silent lurker of your blog for a while, but the commentary on negotiations with a child were hysterical. Going to try the “pudding” recipe someetime. Thx for sharing.

  • Peter

    Hi Jenn, I’m glad you de-lurked. It’s always nice to meet my readers.

  • Mo

    Awesome. I’ll have to try this. I’m always finding fun new ways to create healthy treats for my kids. My top favorite is Nourished Kitchen’s blueberry almond crumb muffins. They are like a meal in a muffin and taste soooo good. I love that my kids can eat as many as they want, I can be the awesome mom who lets them eat a bunch of muffins and they are basically eating an egg a muffin, mixed in loads of healthy almond flour with a touch of honey and berries. Yum. I also like doing cocoa powder, coconut milk and a touch of brown sugar for a rich chocolate pudding. I will be trying this dessert next!

    The first paragraph of your post is sooooo me and my 5 year old. Especially the part about how they are somehow frantically starving the entire time you are cooking, they are going to die and can’t possibly wait for you to finish, but the second you are done cooking that starvation mysteriously vanishes…

  • i hit the raw bandwagon for 6 months. i have every book. there were some high points…

  • Tanngrisnir3

    That may be the funniest bit of writing I’ve read in some time.

    Well done.

  • Hey Peter,

    I think the trip that you are referring to was with me and my dad! Brings back memories. He still cooks things that me gag!. I dont let him do that when I’m in the house.

    I just got back from a week on Nantucket visiting my father. We had a great time, and cooked some great food, too.

  • jan

    ok, i stumbled upon this blog and have been wasting my afternoon away laughing.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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