Let’s all give thanks to the make-ahead dessert, the savior to every time-pressed Thanksgiving cook.
This year, instead of a pecan pie, a pumpkin cheesecake or an apple cake, consider this understated yet surprisingly dazzling alternative: pudding.
Not just any old escapee from the Jell-O aisle, but a luscious, deeply flavorful butterscotch custard.
Don’t stop there. Take it one more step over-the-top with a buttery caramel sauce. The finishes? A teasingly sour pillow of whipped cream-fortified crème fraîche, and the tang and crunch of decorative sea salt.
And then, because everything sounds so much more seductive when it’s said in Italian, call it by its rightful name: butterscotch budino.
The skeptical need only drop in at 112 Eatery (112 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-343-7696, www.112eatery.com).
Chef/co-owner Isaac Becker has been selling three or four dozen butterscotch budinos a day for the past seven or eight years, a windfall he owes entirely to Los Angeles pastry chef and cookbook author Nancy Silverton.
“I like simple desserts, and this is all I want in a dessert,” said Becker. “I wish I could say that I made it up, but I saw the recipe in the New York Times. What intrigued me was the sea salt. Back then, that was cutting edge, putting sea salt on top of a dessert.”
Since then, that idea may have gone mainstream, but it’s no less delicious. Enthusiastically reproduced in restaurants and home kitchens from coast to coast, Silverton’s recipe is possibly the most famous dessert to come out of an American pastry chef in recent memory.
“People come in, just for the budino,” said Becker. “That’s a hard thing for a restaurant, because you get tired of producing it. But people like it, so you keep producing it.”
Don’t be put off by the lengthy formula. It’s not a difficult process, it just requires patience and a watchful eye.
“It’s one of those recipes that might break the first time you do it,” said Becker. “But after you’d done it once and figured out what you’re doing, then it’s easy.”
Surprisingly, butterscotch budino is not the 112’s bestselling dessert. That distinction belongs to the (outstanding) tres leches cake.
“Another nemesis of mine,” Becker said with a laugh. “If I took it off the menu, we’d have to close.”
First-time custard-maker? Some tips
Plan ahead. Before starting, set out all of the required ingredients and equipment. “Because once it gets going, you need to keep moving,” said pastry chef Amy Beehler, a seven-year 112 Eatery vet.
Watch the heat. “The art of not having something separate can be challenging,” said chef Isaac Becker. “It’s moving the pot on and off the flame. You want it hot, but you don’t want it nuclear hot.”
Use dark rum. “The flavor really comes through,” said Beehler.
Be prepared to whisk. As the custard is tempered, “The more you whisk, the thicker it gets,” said Beehler. When whisking, steady the bowl on the counter by placing it on top of a kitchen towel.
Make it easy. Before filling the ramekins, transfer the cooked custard into a pitcher, an easy-to-handle tool for even pouring.
Think about color. At the 112, pink sea salt from Hawaii adds a final decorative flourish.
Cheat. Don’t have the time or inclination to prepare the caramel sauce? Use store-bought. One particularly pleasing brand is King’s Cupboard, available at Whole Foods Market.