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Many home cooks thank the heavens for pudding desserts on a regular basis. They are inexpensive, easy to whip up, and lend themselves to an elegant presentation with a little extra effort. Like its close cousin custard, pudding makes a satisfying dessert on its own, perhaps topped with a bit of whipped cream, but other options abound. Rice and tapioca puddings are variations that add texture, pudding chilled in a prebaked pastry crust makes great pie, and pudding can even be added to cake batter or mix for extra-rich and cakey pudding desserts that are sure to please.
Boxed pudding is quick and easy, and while some cooks insist upon making theirs from scratch, others don’t find that much difference in flavor. Either way, there are dozens of flavor choices. The old standby favorites — vanilla, chocolate, and butterscotch — have been joined over the years by fruity flavors such as banana, strawberry, and raspberry, and even by citrusy blasts from lemon or lime. The simplest pudding desserts can be topped with a few slices of fresh fruit and perhaps either whipped or poured cream.
Fans of either rice or tapioca puddings have strong opinions about which of the two reigns supreme. Both offer a textural variation. Tapioca pudding desserts contain bits of cassava starch that, when cooked, form into translucent pearls that offer a chewy note. Rice pudding, as its name suggests, adds a bit of cooked rice to the pudding; this old-fashioned favorite is considered the ultimate comfort food by many.
An easy way to up the yummy ante is by adding chopped nuts and cream cheese, as well as whipped cream, and layering these ingredients onto a buttery shortbread crust. Sliced bananas or a handful of raspberries or strawberries just makes it better. Some home cooks substitute a graham cracker crust instead.
Clever cooks also know that pudding makes a great taste and texture foil when spooned between layers of cake. A couple of drops of almond, orange, or hazelnut extract add an elegant touch, and a scattering of in-season berries is another tasty option. Topping the cake with a final dollop of pudding finishes it nicely.
An even more clever way to marry cakey pudding desserts with pudding is to add the pudding directly to the batter. The results are almost mind-bogglingly rich and delicious. Chocolate pudding added to a chocolate cake mix deepens the flavors, especially if some fresh or dried cherries are involved. Many home cooks like to experiment with a range of pudding flavors to determine the best cake and pudding combinations.