Joyce Cornwell in Lamoine set us off on an exploration for Pompadour Pudding, a custard topped with a chocolatey meringue that she made some recently because her husband enjoyed it as a kind of comfort food growing up. She wrote and asked, “Have you eaten this and/or made it? Do any of your food friends make it? I’m really curious what you might add.”
I’d never even heard of it, but Joan Bromage of Mt. Desert had and sent along a recipe clipped from an article about Wellesley College desserts. Joan is a Wellesley alumna and reports that the college was still serving Pompadour Pudding when she attended a few years ago.
Pompadour pudding belongs to the same family of desserts as floating islands—usually a custard with a meringue resting on top—which have been around for a couple or three centuries. Variations on them call for poached and unpoached meringues and usually there is little or no flavoring except vanilla, though one of the best ones I ever tasted was a version that called for currant jelly to be whipped into the uncooked meringue. It was so pretty, pink, and just the right amount of sweet and tart.
For a long time in our food history, chocolate was primarily a beverage along with coffee and tea, but chocolate puddings of various sorts appear in the later 1800s and then proliferate in the early 1900s when less-expensive and easier-to-cook versions of chocolate moved chocolate into the list of baking and cooking ingredients. Sure enough, there are floating island variations using it.
I poked around in some of my old cookbooks, and in one entitled Southern Cooking published in 1928 by Mrs. S.R. Dull, whose cooking was definitely not dull, I found “Cup Custard with Meringue” followed by Chocolate Cup Custard in which plain meringue was floated on top of chocolate flavored custard. In my 1943 edition of Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer there is a Chocolate Custard with Meringue, described as “the delight of all children” not to mention chocolate loving adults. Same deal, chocolate custard, plain meringue.
So it looks to me that some innovative Wellesley College cook switched the chocolate flavoring from the custard into the meringue. I can’t explain the name Pompadour.
Now here is a big old cautionary note: back not that many years ago, a square of chocolate was one ounce. Now a whole bar of common baking chocolate is four ounces, so make sure you use a quarter of the bar, or better yet, get out your cooking scale and make sure you have a full ounce.
Alas, I have relieved myself of custard cups and use little ramekins when I hanker for custard. Being a little unsure of how much the meringue would puff, I used eleven of my ramekins and apportioned the meringue among them. I ended up with rather, er, dainty portions with modest crusty little meringues on top. The recipe Joan sent along definitely makes eight portions. Had I been less cautious I might have achieved what Joyce did. She tried this Wellesley version and reported, “It is currently in the oven and the meringues have pouffed and twisted up in Elvis-like bangs!” She sent a picture.
Still they are just delicious. And worth getting every other pan in the kitchen dirty and spending quite a bit of time stirring the custard which gets thick and smooth but not that thick: it will coat the back of a spoon, not thickly exactly but it passes the test when you draw your finger through it and note that the edges do not ooze. I whisked the cornstarch and sugar together before adding it to the milk, and I also beat the eggs with a little of the milk before adding them.
I can’t conceive of the dorm cooks making such a grand little dessert for a college full of young ladies. Weren’t those the days?
P.S. My editor Sarah Caron and I will be at The Briar Patch bookstore in downtown Bangor on Thursday from 5-7 p.m. signing our respective cookbooks. It would awfully good to see you if you can stop by.
- 3 cups milk
- 2 egg yolks, beaten
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 ounce of baking chocolate
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 egg whites
- Heat the oven to 325 degrees and set a kettle full of water on to get hot.
- To make the custard: Combine the milk, eggs, sugar and cornstarch in the top of a double boiler and cook for five to ten minutes until it is thick and smooth, and coats the back of a spoon.
- Remove from the heat and add the vanilla.
- Pour into 8 custard cups.
- To make the meringue: Melt the chocolate with the sugar and milk in the top of a double boiler.
- Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
- Fold into the chocolate mixture.
- Spread the meringue on top of the custard.
- Put the custard cups into a baking pan and pour hot water in from your hot tea kettle up to about halfway on the cups.
- Bake for thirty minutes, remove from the oven and cool.