BraveTart: Pudding Pops Are Back and Better Than Ever!

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Growing up in the '80s, I spent my summers on the back porch, Pudding Pop in hand. Equal parts icy and creamy, every bite was borderline perfection, whether classic vanilla or banana or even butterscotch swirl. "Borderline," because I had the most ridiculous chocolate habit as a kid, so I always doused mine with a squeeze of Magic Shell. Now that was perfection.

Technically, the concept of pudding on a stick dates back to 1967, when Jell-O first advertised its chocolate fudge pudding mix with a simple recipe that turned every packet into a batch of frozen treats. Ready-made Pudding Pops™ wouldn't show up for another 12 years—the start of a golden era that lasted from 1979 to 1993.

For those of us who grew up during their glorious reign, the abrupt discontinuation of Pudding Pops came as a tragic blow. For others, Pudding Pops were nothing more than a blip on the culinary radar, if they even registered at all. Regardless of whether you consider frozen pudding a curiosity or a vital part of your childhood, let me assure you that they're most certainly worth re-creating at home.

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Despite originating with Jell-O, my recipe doesn't contain any gelatin at all—just a super-basic, four-egg pudding, made from tapioca starch because it keeps custards silky and thick, even in the freezer (which turns cornstarch custards into chalky goo). While the directions for this recipe involve steeping the milk and cream with a vanilla pod, you could just as easily supplement (or replace) the vanilla with a sliced banana or a handful of toasted nuts to add a little flair.

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Whatever the case, it's incredibly easy: Combine sugar, eggs, and starch with vanilla seeds; whisk in some hot milk and cream; then cook until bubbling-hot and thick enough to heavily coat a spatula. Strain to remove any bits of chalazae (or pieces of fruit/nuts/tea leaves/whatever), then stir in a little more milk. Without that addition, the pudding would just be super cold and rubbery upon freezing, so a bit of extra milk is vital to achieving the right texture. Adding it last means the custard cooks and cools faster, a win/win scenario for us all.

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Divide the pudding between 10 to 12 popsicle molds; the yield will depend on capacity, which varies from brand to brand. (Mine come from The Friendly Yeti, because I'm obsessed with the perfectly smooth design; most other brands have ridges, which ruin the sensory experience of a copycat pudding pop.)

If you don't have proper molds, a few three-fluid-ounce Dixie cups will do in a pinch. Freeze until the pudding just starts to firm, about 45 minutes, then insert the popsicle sticks; this prevents them from tilting to one side or the other while the pudding is soft. Sure, you can avoid that problem altogether by using the stick/lid combination that comes with most molds, but what can I say? I just want an old-school Pudding Pop.

Once they're frozen solid (which takes between six and eight hours), stand the molds in a deep pan of hot water until the pops are loose enough to pull free, about 25 seconds. For plain pudding pops, that's it! But for eight-year-old BraveTart, or anyone else with a chocolate craving, return the pudding pops to the freezer while you prepare a batch of DIY Magic Shell.

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My version is similar to Max's old recipe, but even simpler: It's just a mixture of melted chocolate and refined coconut oil, or virgin if you'd like to add a hint of tropical flavor. The type of chocolate is entirely up to you, but whether it's dark, milk, or white, it's vital you choose one that you enjoy eating out of hand. For pudding pops, I like the kid-friendly flavor of milk chocolate, but one that's on the darker end of the spectrum, to keep the combo from tasting too sweet; Endangered Species 48% is my go-to, because it's hella tasty and the local supermarket sells it two-for-one.

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Pour the warm chocolate mixture into a container that's just a little deeper than your popsicles are tall. For long, skinny popsicles, try a pilsner glass, but squat popsicles do well in a Pyrex measuring cup. Dip the popsicles one by one, let the excess chocolate drip off, and dunk them in rainbow sprinkles, cookie crumbs, cocoa nibs, toasted coconut, or whatever sort of crunchy garnish strikes your fancy. ("Nothing at all" is a completely valid choice.)

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Arrange on a parchment- or wax paper–lined tray and freeze until the chocolate coating is perfectly hard, then dig in or transfer to individual sandwich bags for long-term storage; these puppies will last about a month. Hypothetically, of course. After you add that thin layer of crispy chocolate, the result is like a cross between an original Pudding Pop and a Klondike Bar, which tastes every bit as awesome as it sounds. Trust me, they won't last long.