~In loving memory of Ashley~
September 17, 1984 – March 11, 2006
This time last year, I was perched at a rooftop bar in Naples with my grandmother, drinking a glass of champagne. As I gazed directly below, hurried taxis, colorful old buildings, and Italians speaking rapidly, with all of the wild hand gestures that they’re so well known for, passed before me. To my right sat the Tyrrhenian Sea—its calm, sparkling waters juxtaposed perfectly against the frenzied city life. And amidst the conflicting scenes, the sky hovered bright and proud. With hues so perfectly pink and purple—it was almost as if it were reveling in its own serene beauty. The scene could have ended there and been remarkable. But the inclusion of a bright silvery moon set high against the magenta background gave it a unique kind of beauty. One that more closely resembled something you’d see in an Impressionist painting, but that is unattainable in real life.
It was that trip that largely sparked my interest in beginning this blog. The dream was always there, in my indelible love of food, writing, people, travel, and photography, but it was then that I realized it as a genuine piece of myself that I could no longer deny. And though I feel so far away from that time and place in my life, I also feel connected to it each and every time I sit down here to put pen to paper. Well I suppose I should really say, “put finger to keyboard” since I rarely write with pens anymore.
As I began to think about what I wanted to prepare for this post, I realized it’s been a while since I indulged in preparing something for the sweeter side of life. Like a really long time. So I figured today I’d do a little spoiling of myself with an indulgent dessert—a silky, smooth bourbon-butterscotch pudding, topped with freshly whipped cream and crumbled graham crackers.
I could have stopped there. Some might say I should have stopped there. After all, anything with bourbon, butterscotch, whipped cream, and crumbled grahams seems like a reasonably decadent dessert. But today, I wanted perfection. I wanted a dessert that felt like the Impressionist sky that I spent the evening under exactly one year ago. And so, I opted to indulge just a smidge (or two) more with the addition of crispy bacon bits. And after just one bite, I can promise you that they are the perfect addition. Like adding a sparkling silver moon to a fierce fuchsia sunset on a warm summer day.
Bourbon Butterscotch Pudding
- ½ stick (1/4 c.) unsalted butter
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- ¾ cup light brown sugar
- 4 cups of heavy cream, divided into 2 parts of 2.5 c and 1.5 c
- 1 cup of whole milk
- 1 tablespoon of bourbon
- ½ teaspoon of kosher salt
- 6 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup of cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons of light brown sugar
- 3 graham crackers, crushed (for serving; optional)
- 5 slices of bacon, cooked until crispy and then crumbled (for serving; optional)
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Once butter is melted, separate seeds from the vanilla bean and add the seeds to the saucepan. Cook until you notice the butter start to change color to a golden brown, about 2-4 minutes. Add brown sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until sugar starts to dissolve, about 2-3 minutes. Add 2.5 cups of cream, milk, bourbon, and salt. At this point, some of the undissolved sugar my stick to the saucepan. Just keep stirring while it cooks and they will eventually break off and dissolve. Once the ingredients begin to simmer (tiny, infrequent bubbles), after about 3 minutes, remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, and sugar until smooth. Slowly add hot cream mixture, continuing to whisk as you add. Clean out the saucepan and then strain mixture through a mesh sieve back into the now clean saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until you notice the mixture begin to bubble and thicken, about 5-6 minutes. At this point, you may see some clumps emerge. That is okay.
Remove from heat and use an immersion blender or a handheld mixer to blend on low until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Place 4-6-ounce ramekins on a rimmed baking tray and carefully pour mixture evenly into the ramekins. Place uncovered in the refrigerator to chill and set, about 3 hours.
When ready to serve, top with fresh whipped cream, graham cracker crumbles, and/or bacon crumbles (optional).
For the fresh whipped cream, pour the remaining heavy whipping cream (1.5 cups) into a large bowl along with 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Mix on high until you notice soft peaks forming, about 3 minutes.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine.