I think anyone who has been reading this blog for some time knows that I am very much attracted to sweet things, and that when I look for recipes to recreate here, gravitate towards desserts.
Well, it turns out that even when I am not looking for recipes, sweet stuff just finds me!
Some weeks ago I was looking through some very old issues of the 19th century women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book online, searching for inspiration for 19th century costuming (a story for another day) and the very short recipes sections came up and DANDY PUDDING jumped out at me.
It ambushed me, it piqued my interest, and before I realized what had happened I had made up my mind to make the recipe.
To be perfectly frank, it was the “dandy” in the name that drew me in. I figured something with that name had to be decadent.
In reality, the recipe is very simple, and in the making is mildly reminiscent of floating islands, the French dessert.
I had never heard of anything called Dandy Pudding, so I did some research and found some other appearances in other contemporary cookbooks but more or less nothing about modern ones except for a handful of online recipes that were all almost identical, and almost entirely the same as the ones from the 19th century, including the dearth of directions.
It appears that the recipe for Dandy Pudding remains almost unchanged since the 19th century, probably because rather than actually being made, the recipes just gets copied and pasted sporadically.
The recipe, in Godey’s Lady’s Book Vol. 101, No. 603, September 1880, page 291:
Five tablespoonfuls of white sugar,
Four heaping tablespoonfuls of brown sugar,
Two tablespoonfuls of corn starch,
One Quart of milk,
Beat the eggs thoroughly, first separating whites from yolks; to the whites add the five spoonfuls of white sugar; to the yolks add the brown sugar, and starch, and boiling milk; stir well and flavor with vanilla. Pour into the dish in which you serve it. Put the whites on top, and brown nicely in the oven. Can be eaten cold, and is very nice.
That’s the recipe.
Anyone who has ever made a custard is probably gasping right now, just as I did when I read about mixing the yolks, boiling milk, and corn starch all in one go.
Scrambled eggs; that’s what you’d have if you did that.
The few recipes I found followed the same steps, mixing all the things for the custard together, and the ingredient ratio was also more less the same.
For example, one of two Dandy Pudding recipes in the Royal baking powder company’s 1886 My Favorite Receipt (the other recipe has pretty much no instructions) has you mix the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch and then pour them into the hot milk, stir and take off the heat.1 Here at least the corn starch is diluted first, but still, scrambled eggs.
Another book from 1897 calls for the corn starch to be diluted in a little cold milk before adding it to the hot milk, but still has you dump the egg yolks in the hot milk.2
Egg issue aside, none of the recipes I found call for bringing the mixture back to a simmer after adding the corn starch, which causes the starches to thicken the liquid.3
I wonder how much of this is the assumption that a cook would know to temper the eggs, would know to simmer after adding the corn starch, etc. vs the absence of either of these practices from 19th century cooking. But even if the latter was the case, which I find difficult to believe, I would expect more recent recipes to diverge from the 19th century ones in these two aspects and employ both practices.
So, to avoid runny scrambled eggs in place of custard, I changed the execution of the recipe.
Here is the recipe as I made it; the ingredients are the same and I’ve kept them in the same order although I used them in a different sequence (I used regular/modern measuring spoons).
4 large eggs
5 tbsp white sugar
4 heaping tbsp brown (turbinado) sugar
2 tbsp corn starch
1 qt (4 cups) milk
1 tsp vanilla
Separate the egg whites from the yolks, being careful not to break the yolks. Set the whites aside.
In a large heat-proof bowl, whisk the yolks and the brown sugar. In a small bowl or cup, dilute the corn starch in 2 or 3 tablespoons of the cold milk.
In a saucepan, bring the rest of the milk to a boil. Slowly and in small, incremental amounts, add some of the hot milk to the egg yolk and sugar mixture, whisking, to temper the yolks. Continue until you have added half of the milk to the yolks.
Pour the egg yolk mixture and the vanilla into the saucepan with the remaining milk, and add the diluted corn starch.
Bring the mixture back to a simmer, stirring, and cook for 1 or 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and pour the custard into a serving dish.
Whisk the egg whites until they get foamy, then add the white sugar, one tablespoon at at time. Continue whisking until stiff peaks form.
Spread the egg whites over the still piping hot custard.
Place under the broiler for 30 seconds to a minute until the meringue is nicely browned. Alternatively, use a kitchen torch to brown the meringue.
Allow to cool on the counter, and refrigerate until cold.
Consume within two days.
A word on the browning of the meringue: MERINGUE BURNS FAST! (ask me how I know). If at all possible, go the torch route, although the broiler will also cook the meringue a bit, if you are worried about eating raw egg whites. I am not.
And while I am on the topping of meringue, it is important that the custard still be very hot so that it essentially cooks the bottom of the meringue, preventing the weeping that is, sadly, not uncommon in this sort of meringue applications. Interestingly, a recipe from an earlier publication calls for the custard to be cooled completely before putting the meringue on top.4
This recipe has not one but two thickening agents: egg yolks and cornstarch, so I expected the custard to be pretty firm once cooled. But it was not. It was spoonable, but not firm
As can be expected from such little amounts of sugar, this is not a very sweet dessert, but it is not NOT sweet either. It is pleasant, which, given that I like desserts to be sweet-sweet, was surprising.
When the recipes says to eat it cold, they mean it! Obviously it has to set, which happens as it cools, but once I took the photos and let the dished-out portion sit on the counter and it warmed up a bit, it turned into a watery mess.
The portion that I put back in the fridge did not keep very well and met the same fate, albeit a day later.
I guess I was expecting something … more… from this “dandy” pudding, something that it did not deliver. But what it did deliver, in the three seconds that it was visually appealing rather than a soup, was good.
If I was going to make it again to serve to company, I would dish it in individual serving dishes and piped the meringue rather than just plunk it on top, which would make it less messy to serve and, well, dandier.
- Royal Baking Powder Co., My Favorite Receipt (New York: Royal Baking Powder Co., 1886), 34.
- Mollie Huggins, Tried and True Tennessee Model Household Guide: Practical Help in the Household (Nashville: Publishing House Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1897), 149.
- For more on how starches (corn starch in particular) work in thickening, see Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (New York: Collier Books, 1984), 336.
- J. C. Croly, Jennie June’s American Cookery Book (New York: The American News Company, 1866), 163.