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A Tale of Two Puddings

My kids love pudding.  Truth is, so do I!  Pudding is one of those things that we think is but a memory when we decide to drop dairy.  Over the years, I've made many vegetarian and vegan puddings but none really measured up to the creamy goodness that I remember spooning out of the plastic pudding cups or licking off the beater blades after mixing that powder packet with a few cups of milk.  I think that soy milk is the root of the problem with the puddings that have come before.  The issue in my early attempts is a combination of a critically improper texture (teetering on the edge between rubbery and gluey) coupled with that overly earthy, beany, slightly burnt character that comes with soymilk.  As a vegetarian 20 years ago, I made it, ate it and liked it... that's my story and I'm sticking to it!  But secretly, it sucked and that pudding wasn't fooling anyone at all. 
Cooked on the left, Raw on the right
I am pleasantly surprised with the effort and I am happy to share.  This little experiment is also a chance for me to try adding video to a blog post... fun.  So, let's get down to business.  The first things we should address are 2 ingredients that may be new to you, Tapioca Starch and Chia Seeds. 
Tapioca Starch is ground cassava root.  I think most of us know about Tapioca from Tapioca pudding and think of it as being little pearl like beads.  In the past few years, tapioca has come into fashion in several ways.  Bubble tea's oddly chewy bubbles are large tapioca pearls!  Tapioca starch has come into the mainstream as a result of gluten free needs.  This versatile starch is useful in gluten free baking, giving structure and enhancing the texture of gluten free goods.  In vegan cooking, tapioca starch is a great pantry item because of it's gelling properties.  In gluten free vegan baking, tapioca starch can also work as a replacement for egg.  It's a handy starch, for sure.
Chia seed is also something that you are probably familiar with in another form.  I hate to say it, but the Chia seed that you know from Chia Pets is very similar to the chia seed we're talking about today.  The big difference is quality.  The seed is the seed, but the ones that are now packaged to eat have to be food grade.  I don't think anyone will recommend using chia pet chia seeds for a little nosh!  Navitas Naturals is the brand of Chia Seeds that I prefer.  Their description of the amazing Chia is clear and concise, so I'll share it with you:
"Long used by the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans as a staple food along with corn and beans, chia seeds are enjoying a large resurgence in the health food community due to their impressive nutritional profile. Chock full of healthy omega fats, protein, antioxidants, and dietary fiber, the little chia seed goes a long way to earn its qualifier of “power.” Try sprinkling these mildly nutty seeds in with your breakfast bowl, mix into a salad dressing or dip, or soak them in water or juice to form a gel and use as natural thickening agent for soups and other recipes."
All right, now that everyone is familiar with the newbies on our shelves we can get cooking.
Cooked Vegan Chocolate Pudding
 (makes 16 ½ cup servings or 8 stellar 1 cup servings) 
8 cups almond or rice milk
 ½ cup unsweetened cocoa
¼ cup stevia powder ¼  cup sucanat, maple sugar or raw cane sugar 10  Tbsp tapioca starch 4 Tbsp vegan margarine (Earth Balance) or coconut oil 4 ounces vegan chocolate chips
Put ½ cup of almond milk in a small bowl and mix it with the tapioca starch until it dissolves.  Set this aside.  Pour the rest of the almond milk into a large saucepan over low heat.  Add the remaining ingredients except for the chocolate chips.  Whisk this mixture over low heat for about 5 minutes or until the margarine/coconut oil and the sucanat/maple sugar/cane sugar have dissolved.
Add the chocolate chips and whisk until they are melted into the mixture, about 1 minute.
What you should have at this point is a gloriously dark and earthy pot of rich hot chocolate!  This is a great thing, but we’re going for dessert here, so we’re going to add the tapioca starch and give it a go.
When you’re ready, take the bowl of tapioca starch and almond milk that we set aside earlier.  Once we pour this slurry into the pot we are all about whisking.  We will not be leaving the pot until this step is done, so don’t start until you’ve got a few minutes to dedicate to the task.
Start whisking the chocolate milk and pour the slurry right in.  Turn up the heat to medium high and whisk, whisk, whisk away.  You will feel the liquid start to pull back on the whisk a little and then the pot of liquid will turn into something wiggly and near firm.  Take the pot off the heat asap or we’re going to have a burnt mess on our hands. 
Time to spoon the mixture into individual ramekins and get them in the fridge to cool.  Just like dairy pudding, we need to cover our pudding or a skin will form (if you like that kind of thing, leave yours uncovered and test it yourself!)
Chill for a few hours or overnight and then enjoy.  The pudding is thick, chocolaty and rich with a texture that is a little bit wiggly.  But we’ve just made cholesterol free, almost sugar free pudding… so what’s a little wiggle?    
Great garnishes for your wonderfully wiggly chocolate pudding include fresh berries and/or a sprinkle of nuts.
Raw Chocolate Pudding (makes 4 cups)
  2 small ripe avocados
1 banana
¼ cup raw cacao powder ** ¼ cup cocoa powder 2 Tbsp coconut cream concentrate (optional, adds richness) 4 large Medjool dates, pitted
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp Chia Seeds (start with less you first time and work up to more)
1/2 c Nut or Seed Milk
  pinch of sea salt 
1 tsp cinnamon (optional, but wonderful) – homemade if you’re sticking with raw , boxed if you’re not 
prepping the ingredients

*If you are sensitive to cacao you can skip it and increase the cocoa powder from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup.
Before we start the thing to decide is how adventurous we're going to be with the chia.  Remember, chia, if you're new to it, is a miracle of a seed (yes, it is basically the same as the chia pet chia seed).  The miracle of chia is that it absorbs liquids and makes a gel that is most useful in baking and in raw applications like this one.  When you need something to firm up or you're looking to replace eggs while keeping something moist, Chia is your go-to seed.  The reason we need to think about how much chia to use here is because chia has an earthy flavor that can be quite strong if you use too much.  So, I would rather have you start with a little less the first time you try this recipe but it's up to you.  A little extra maple syrup and vanilla powder/extract will do a world of good if you need to cover a strong chia flavor... I'm just saying!  Give it a little thought and then get started.
Combine all the ingredients in a Vitamix, other high powered blender or food processer.  You are looking for a smooth, creamy consistency.  Once blended, taste what you made and adjust for sweetness.  You can add a bit more maple syrup which will sweeten the pudding and loosen it up a little.
This pudding is ready to eat right away. 
Now that almond milk, with it's mild, creamy non-beany richness and rice milk, with it's super sweet smooth as silk lightness are regulars on the scene there is a world of decent, and dare I say, tasty and wonderful possibilities.  This brings me to my tale of two puddings.  I wondered what it would take to make two really great puddings with almond milk --- one cooked and one raw.  If you have nut allergies and can tolerate rice milk, give these recipes a try with rice milk.
The question now that we've got two puddings on the table is which one is better?  What an impossible question to answer!  If you are looking for traditional texture that borders on mousse like goodness then you're looking for the raw pudding; the bonus with the raw pudding is that you can get a quick fix.  If you are in the mood for luscious, rich and chocolaty goodness and can come to terms with a little change in texture from what you're used to then go for the cooked pudding.  Either way, you can't go wrong.  Each has it's merits and is worth a try.  Do let me know what you think!  I'm looking forward to hearing from you.