Let’s take dessert up a notch, shall we?
You can make the brownies, pudding and chocolate “curls” a day or two in advance, and then just assemble the day you are serving (or giving as gifts). Package in little Mason jars and attach wooden spoons with washi tape or ribbon, and you’ll really feel like you conquered this whole dessert thing.
Homemade pudding is fun to make. (Although I should note my idea of fun is no longer salsa dancing all night, but Netflix bingeing!) But if you want to eliminate a few steps from these, you can substitute butterscotch or vanilla instant pudding.
Let’s start with the pudding. To make the pudding, you’ll need whole milk, cornstarch, salt, one egg, sugar and vanilla extract.
In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the milk, 2 tablespoons of corn starch, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the egg. Set that aside.
In a saucepan, combine 2/3 cup of sugar with 4 tablespoons of water. Now set that over medium-high heat and let it come to a boil. Let it gently boil for about six minutes. Don’t stir it, but occasionally tilt the pan to swirl the mixture. Wait until the sugar turns a deep caramel color. Watch it closely so it doesn’t burn, and you’ll see it magically turn to amber.
As soon as it reaches the amber color, remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in the rest of the milk. When the milk hits the sugar it will bubble a bit and the sugar will start to harden. That’s okay, it’s meant to do that! Whisk in the milk and return the pan to a medium low heat. Let the mixture simmer about 10 minutes, whisking frequently, until the sugar has dissolved again and no more stickiness remains. The mixture will be foamy.
Slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture and heat over medium-low until the mixture thickens, about one to two minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Scoop the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate. To avoid a skin forming on the top of the pudding, place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface. Let the pudding chill four hours to overnight.
Now, let’s move on to the brownies. This part is easy! Just prepare the brownies according to package directions.. I find thinner brownies are easier to cut with my cookie cutter, but if you want thicker brownies, simply follow the instructions for the 9x9-inch square baking pan. We won’t use the entire tray of 9x13-inch brownies, so you can use a smaller size pan.
Bake at 350ºF for 24 to 26 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the brownies cool completely.
Meanwhile, make your chocolate “curls”. Traditionally, these are made by spreading melted chocolate thin on a sheet, freezing just a few minutes, and then using a spatula to curl the semi-hardened chocolate. But I like making faux curls instead because I find them way more interesting. (Not to mention easier to make!)
Line a baking tray with wax paper and set aside.
In a microwave-safe bowl, place 3/4 cup chocolate chips with a teaspoon of vegetable shortening. Microwave for 90 seconds at 70% power, stir, and continue to microwave for 30-second, then 15-second, intervals until totally smooth when stirred well. Pour the chocolate into a disposable decorating bag (found at the craft store) or a freezer-safe zip-top bag. Make sure the chocolate cools just a bit to the touch so you don’t burn your fingers!
Here’s a tip for pouring the chocolate in the bag: Place the bag in a tumbler and fold the top of the bag over the edges of the tumbler. Fill the bag with chocolate, twist the top and tie it tightly with a rubber band.
Snip 1/4 inch from the tip of the bag. Pipe squiggles to fill the entire baking tray. You can also pipe swirls or spirals or whatever. Just remember these need to fit in jars, so don’t make your chocolate pieces too big!
Stick the tray in the refrigerator to set for at least an hour. Keep the curls in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble your jars.
So you made your pudding and let it chill. You made your brownies and let them cool. And your chocolate curls are sitting in the fridge. Let’s assemble our jars!
Here I’m using small Mason jars (8 ounce size). If you have a circle cookie cutter just a bit smaller than the bottom of the jars (about 2 inches), you can use that to cut out close circles from the brownies. Otherwise, cut 1-inch cubes from the brownies and place in the bottom of the jar. I used only one layer of brownies, but you can use two if you like.
Use a small spoon to carefully dollop pudding on top of the brownie. Fill the jar about 2/3 with the pudding. And finish with a few chocolate curls. Close with a lid and attach a small, wooden spoon with washi tape or ribbon (if desired) and store in the fridge until ready to give or serve.
Bonus: If you only did one layer of brownies, you’ll have about half the pan left to enjoy!