A Match Made in Chocolate: Chocolate Pudding with Bay Leaf

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<em>Serves 6</em>
<p>This rich chocolate pudding is redolent with the aroma and flavor of bay. Fresh bay leaves give the pudding an especially nice fragrance that’s different from dried bay leaves. I generally harvest bay leaves and keep them in an unsealed plastic bag on the door of the fridge for up to three months, but they taste best if used within a day or two of harvest. Most pudding is served cold, but I prefer mine at cool room temperature to accentuate the flavor. This one is delicious at any temperature.</p>
<p>• 2 cups half-and-half<br />
• 3 large fresh bay leaves or 2 dried bay leaves<br />
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch<br />
• 2/3 cup sugar<br />
• 2 pinches salt<br />
• 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder<br />
• 1/2 cup whole milk<br />
• 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces<br />
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract<br />
• Whipped cream, optional</p>
<p>1. Heat the half-and-half with the bay leaves in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When the cream starts to bubble around the edges of the pan, remove from heat and cover. Let stand for 30 minutes.</p>
<p>2. Combine the cornstarch, sugar, salt, and cocoa in a bowl and add the milk. Whisk the contents together. Pour the mixture into the warm cream and place over moderate heat. Continue cooking and whisking as the pudding thickens.</p>
<p>3. When the pudding begins to bubble, boil it, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from heat and whisk in the chocolate pieces until they are melted. Add the vanilla and stir well. Carefully remove the bay leaves and pour the pudding into six ramekins or custard cups.</p>
<p>4. Place the custard cups on a plate or pan and allow them to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 30 to 45 minutes. Serve at cool room temperature and garnish with whipped cream, if desired.</p>
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