Got 9 Minutes? Make This Salted Dark Chocolate Pudding

This pudding is used as a cake filling at a famous New York bakery, but it’s also a brilliant back-pocket dessert.
Chocolate pudding being poured into a small bowl.
Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Micah Marie Morton

I like to consider myself pudding’s number-one hype girl. A constant proponent of mushy foods, I have taken on the role of defending that which is devoid of snap, crackle, and pop and pump up things that wiggle, smush, and spread. Pudding—and specifically chocolate pudding—is deserving of all the accolades when it comes to soft desserts.

More seasonally transitional than ice cream and heftier than chocolate mousse, pudding boasts a velvety texture making it just as satisfying served solo as it is dressed with toppings or layered into other desserts. With the right recipe it can take less than 10 minutes to whisk together (and I’m not even talking about using anything labeled “instant”)—all the flavor of a homemade dessert with the expediency of a boxed treat.

Take the salted dark chocolate pudding that appears as a component of Ovenly’s Brooklyn blackout cake from Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga. In traditional versions of blackout cake, chocolate pudding is used as a filling between the cake’s layers, and a separate chocolate buttercream is slathered over the exterior. But Patinkin and Kulaga did something extraordinary: In this dish the pudding serves as the base for the cake’s charcoal-colored buttercream frosting. The thick pudding creates a stable foundation, and once it’s been reinforced with butter, dark cocoa powder, and powdered sugar, it will hold up for hours without stiffening or sinking.

The pudding actually found its way into the cake somewhat by accident, first intended for another treat. Kulaga says that when Ovenly first opened, they partnered with an ice cream company and produced “huge vats” of the pudding and chocolate stout cake to mix into one of the ice creams.

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Micah Marie Morton

“We often had extra pudding leftover that we typically snacked on throughout the day because it was so damn irresistible—salty, sweet, and utterly comforting,” Kulaga tells me. “One day we were experimenting in the kitchen and decided to mix the pudding into some buttercream and layered it on the chocolate stout cake. The black-as-night color of the buttercream matched the chocolate stout cake color perfectly and quickly evolved into our version of the Brooklyn blackout cake.”

Those who are searching for a celebration cake recipe should look no further, but Ovenly’s pudding recipe is just as valuable to home cooks looking for a quick treat. Its mesmerizing color is all thanks to a super-dark version of Dutch process cocoa, an ingredient so brown it’s essentially black. This cocoa is not only perfect for Halloween recipes galore, it boasts a more mellow, earthy flavor than its lighter, sweeter counterparts, ultimately making for a more complex-tasting pudding with no extra effort. However, if you only have standard cocoa powder in the pantry, it’ll work just fine here. In fact, this recipe is endlessly riffable: Most nondairy milks sub perfectly well for the whole milk, and the chopped dark chocolate can be anything from mellow semisweet to intense bittersweet.

The technique here couldn’t be simpler. Many classic pudding recipes rely on eggs to thicken the dessert, which involves multiple bowls for tempering. This pudding, on the other hand, uses cornstarch as a thickener. When mixed with milk to create a slurry and heated, the cornstarch molecules swell and absorb liquid at a rapid pace, quickly taking the pudding to its wiggly destination.

You could eat salted dark chocolate pudding straight from the pot (and I’ve done that plenty of times), but I prefer it cold, where it stiffens a bit without losing any of that perfectly silky texture. From there you can keep it as simple as possible or play pastry chef by turning the pudding into a layered trifle. Kulaga has topped the pudding with espresso whipped cream and a pinch of flaky salt and swirled it into trays of brownies and blondies, which “adds a pop of flavor and just-the-right-amount of gooey texture.”

You could shower it with toasted nuts or granola, top it with crumbled cookies (or just dunk cookies straight in, as Kulaga likes to do), even slather it between slices of a store bought pound cake for a lazy layer cake. As Kulaga puts it, “the pudding party is endless!”