This chocolate-rich pudding is one of my favorite recipes; it is redolent with the aroma of bay that lingers on your palate. Fresh bay leaves give the pudding a wonderful fragrance you don’t get when you use dried bay leaves. Most pudding is served cold, but I prefer mine at cool room temperature so I can really taste the flavors—this one is delicious even before it is chilled.
• 2 cups half-and-half
• 3 large fresh bay leaves or 2 dried bay leaves
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch
• 2⁄3 cup sugar
• 2 pinches salt
• 1⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa
• 1⁄2 cup milk
• 3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
• 1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• Whipped cream, optional
1. Heat half-and-half with bay leaves in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When half-and-half starts to bubble around the edges of the pan, remove from heat and cover. Let stand for 30 minutes.
2. After bay has infused the cream for nearly 30 minutes, combine cornstarch, sugar, salt and cocoa in a bowl and whisk in milk. Pour mixture into the warm cream and place over moderate heat. Continue cooking and whisking as pudding thickens.
3. When pudding begins to bubble and come to a boil, stir and boil for 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and whisk in chocolate pieces until they are melted. Add vanilla and stir well. Carefully remove bay leaves and pour pudding into six ramekins or custard cups.
4. Place custard cups on a plate or pan and allow them to come to room temperature. Refrigerate until chilled; at least 30 to 45 minutes. Serve at cool room temperature and garnish with whipped cream if desired.