Homemade Jell-O Style Chocolate Pudding Recipe

All the creaminess and silkiness without the industrial shenanigans.

A bowl of chocolate pudding with spoon.

Serious Eats / Sarah Jane Sanders

Why It Works

  • Omitting eggs eliminates the unwelcome richness and yolky flavor that detracts from the chocolatey silkiness of the original pudding cup.
  • Setting with gelatin instead of cornstarch results in a creamy pudding that sits light on the tongue.

A single serving of Jell-O chocolate pudding, the kind we ate as kids*, came packed with the full spectrum of nutritional evil: an entire ounce of sugar and 10% of an adult's daily sodium, plus a handful of unpronounceables. Even so, it got to squeak by as a wholesome snack moms could feel good about 'cause the Cos reminded them that it was made from fresh milk.

*The recipe used at Jell-O nowadays has cut back significantly on sugar and salt.

Nutritionally abysmal, calorically empty, vitamin deficient, sugar laden, fatty McFatterson desserts are kinda my thing.

How did that work, exactly? Did 5% calcium go farther in the 80s? I don't mean to sound critical of Jell-O itself (a paragon of milk chocolatey satisfaction!) only the tactics once used to shill it. Nutritionally abysmal, calorically empty, vitamin deficient, sugar-laden, fatty McFatterson desserts are kinda my thing.

I just don't like operating under the delusion that some nominal calcium can act like a nutritional Band-Aid. I love nutrition. I'd just prefer to keep it in vegetables where it belongs. I live secure in the knowledge that I deserve a bowl of chocolate pudding. I don't have to justify it or excuse it.

So let's free ourselves from the prison of these wholesome delusions and enjoy chocolate pudding for its merits.

What made Jell-O pudding in the little plastic cup so exceptional compared to the instant variety, or even homemade, related directly to its texture. It had a slick silkiness that made all other puddings seem as thick and heavy as paste. You could suck up a spoonful through closed teeth, letting it flood your mouth with creamy chocolate wonder. And what can compare to the exquisite pleasure of licking clean the chocolate-stained tinfoil lid?

You can't make a chocolate pudding like that with eggs; they lend an unwelcome richness and a yolky flavor vaulting straight past pudding to pot de creme territory. And while cornstarch-thickened puddings have a lovely creaminess, they sit more heavily on the tongue. A major bonus when it comes to a slice of chocolate cream pie, but not so much when it comes to pudding snacks.

The Jell-O folks do it with an arsenal of industrial shenanigans (e.g., sodium stearoyl lactylate) which we can skip by using...wait for it...gelatin. An ingredient ironically not used in Jell-O pudding.

January 2012

Recipe Facts

Active: 5 mins
Total: 4 hrs
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 ounce powdered gelatin

  • 14 1/2 ounces milk, divided

  • 5 ounces sugar

  • 3/4 ounce cocoa powder

  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, half as much if iodized

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine gelatin and 2 1/2 ounces milk. Whisk with a fork to ensure no lumps remain.

  2. In a small sauce pot, combine sugar, cocoa, salt, and remaining milk over medium-low heat. Whisk constantly until smooth and the mixture begins to bubble around the edges, about 5 minutes.

  3. Pour the hot dairy mixture through a sieve into bowl of gelatin. Whisk gelatin into chocolate mixture. Stir in vanilla, and season with additional salt if needed (I've discovered the amount needed will vary according to the bitterness of the cocoa powder, which varies between brand and type).

  4. Set the bowl, uncovered, in the refrigerator. After 15 minutes, cover the pudding with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed against the surface and refrigerate until fully thickened, about 2 hours.

  5. To serve: Whip the thickened pudding with a hand or stand mixer for a full minute to restore its creamy texture. (Alas, stirring or beating with a spatula alone will not sufficiently break up the pudding into a creamy, homogeneous mixture.) Spoon whipped pudding into 4 serving dishes.

    If all the pudding is not eaten at this time, it will be necessary to re-whip the pudding before serving, as prolonged refrigeration creates an unpleasantly firm texture.

Notes

All measurements are in weights, as volume measures can be very imprecise. I strongly recommend using a scale for all pastry projects.

The flavor of this pudding changes dramatically depending on the ingredients used. Skim milk makes a pudding with the lighter taste and texture of the "low-fat" puddings whereas whole milk gives the full flavor of the original. High-end fancy cocoa powders like Valrhona will result in a really dynamic, flavorful chocolate pudding, whereas grocery store staples like Hershey's will have a simpler flavor more in line with the taste of the pudding you remember.

Special Equipment

Sauce pot, whisk, sieve, kitchen scale

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
226 Calories
3g Fat
44g Carbs
6g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 226
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 3g 3%
Saturated Fat 1g 7%
Cholesterol 9mg 3%
Sodium 213mg 9%
Total Carbohydrate 44g 16%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 41g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 134mg 10%
Iron 2mg 11%
Potassium 159mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)