Sometimes I do things without thinking. Like eating an extra piece of cake. Or buying that pair of shoes that I might only wear once, but man oh man do they look pretty sitting in my closet.

I’m not sure if I was thinking when I emailed the people at Marx Foods and said “I want in!” when I saw this chocolate competition:

“This recipe contest is all about CHOCOLATE. Deliciously rich, wonderful chocolate.

The challenge is to create an original recipe for a chocolate dish that is either spicy, savory or sweet. You can make anything from cake to mole sauce to fudge, it just needs to be chocolate-based. We’ll provide the fixins, you provide the chocolate. You can use milk, dark, extra dark, or white (even though it’s not technically chocolate)…”

I might have been swayed by the fact that it is indeed a CHOCOLATE competition.

I might have been swayed by the fact that the winner receives 100 bucks to spend on Marx Food’s amazing website.

I might have been swayed by how much fun I had working with Marx Foods last time.

I might have ignored the fact that I had never even heard of some of the ingredients they would be sending me. Coconut sugar? Fennel pollen? You can cook with pollen? I thought it just made me sneeze a lot in the springtime.

The whole list of product samples we were sent is: fennel pollendried chiliescoconut sugargranulated candy cap mushrooms, and vanilla beans.

The first thing I did was buy chocolate.

The second thing I did was panic a little.

The third thing I did was call my mom. She’s a genius in the kitchen, and suggested truffles. However, truffles were listed on the challenge as a possibility (in an email I received), so I didn’t want to do truffles. I wanted something original.  I didn’t want them to think I was mooching off their ideas.

The fourth thing I did was research. I wanted to know as much as possible about each of the ingredients I had available for my use.

The fifth thing I did was put aside the coconut sugar and vanilla beans! I knew I was going to make a dessert and I wanted a real challenge. These were too “obvious” of dessert ingredients.

Then I started cooking. Pudding. I’ve never made homemade pudding. I found a great recipe on Smitten Kitchen that involved no tempering of eggs. And she gave it such rave reviews. I thought, I can do this! I knew I wanted to make three types so I divided the recipe in thirds because I didn’t want 18 servings of pudding.

Turns out I can’t do math. So my first two batches turned out runny. Maybe because my hair stylist and I have stuck close to the bleach lately. Blame it on the blonde? However, I did throw these first two batches in the freezer and…

oh. my. goodness.

Yum! It tasted like soft serve ice cream. Really good soft serve ice cream. If the pudding looks more like milk in the photos, it’s because I can’t do math. Don’t worry though. The recipe printed here is correct. I left the original serving size (for six servings) in case you only want to make one flavor. For the third flavor I stuck with a half batch because I want to make sure that I got the measurements right and that the recipe would turn out for you.

So, without further ado (and excuses), I present you with:

  • White Chocolate, Lemon and Fennel Pollen Pudding
  • Milk Chocolate Candy Cap Mushroom Pudding
  • Dark Chocolate Pudding Infused with Puya Chilies

If you’re skeptical, give these a try anyway. The flavors are all there but they work really well and give each pudding a special little twist. Candy cap mushrooms have a great maple flavor, and fennel pollen has a nice black licorice type flavor. If you’re still skeptical, the puddings can each be made without these special ingredients, but you’ll be missing out. Take my word on it! I think these would be great served in shot glasses on a small plate. My servings are a little bigger because I didn’t have 3 matching shot glasses. And because I’m a little piggy.

White Chocolate, Lemon and Fennel Pollen Pudding
adapted from Smitten Kitchen and John Scharffenberger

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons lemon zest
3 cups whole milk (I didn’t have whole so I used half skim and half heavy cream)
6 ounces white chocolate coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tsp fennel pollen, plus extra for garnishing

1. In the top of a double boiler (I use a heatproof glass bowl over a large saucepan with a small amount of water in it), combine cornstarch, sugar and salt. Whisk in the milk slowly and use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the lemon zest. Heat over simmering water, stirring occasionally and using a whisk if lumps form. (After I scraped down the sides, I usually used a whisk to take care of the lumps that would appear after scraping the bowl). Once the mixture starts to thicken and coat the back of the spoon (15-20 minutes), add in the white chocolate and continue to stir for 3-4 minutes until smooth and thick.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and fennel pollen.
3. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into serving bowls (or into a large measuring cup so you can pour more neatly). Note: I wanted the flavor of the fennel pollen and lemon to be infused and for the pudding to still be smooth. If you’d prefer a stronger flavor, stir in the lemon zest and the fennel pollen after straining the pudding.
4. Place plastic wrap on the top of the pudding if you do not want “skin.” Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and top with extra fennel pollen before serving.

Milk Chocolate Candy Cap Mushroom Pudding
adapted from Smitten Kitchen and John Scharffenberger

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tsp finely ground (I used a coffee/spice grinder) candy cap mushrooms plus extra for garnishing
3 cups whole milk (I didn’t have whole so I used half skim and half heavy cream)
6 ounces milk chocolate coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In the top of a double boiler (I use a heatproof glass bowl over a large saucepan with a small amount of water in it), combine cornstarch, sugar, salt and ground candy cap mushrooms. Whisk in the milk slowly and use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Heat over simmering water, stirring occasionally and using a whisk if lumps form. (After I scraped down the sides, I usually used a whisk to take care of the lumps that would appear after scraping the bowl). Once the mixture starts to thicken and coat the back of the spoon (15-20 minutes), add in the milk chocolate and continue to stir for 3-4 minutes until smooth and thick.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
3. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into serving bowls (or into a large measuring cup so you can pour more neatly).
4. Place plastic wrap on the top of the pudding if you do not want “skin.” Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and top with extra ground candy cap mushrooms before serving.

Dark Chocolate Pudding Infused with Puya Chilies
adapted from Smitten Kitchen and John Scharffenberger

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 whole puya chile, reconstituted and coarsely chopped
3 cups whole milk (I didn’t have whole so I used half skim and half heavy cream)
6 ounces dark chocolate (mine was 60%) coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
cayenne powder for garnishing

1. In the top of a double boiler (I use a heatproof glass bowl over a large saucepan with a small amount of water in it), combine cornstarch, sugar and salt. Whisk in the milk slowly and use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add in chopped puya chile. Heat over simmering water, stirring occasionally and using a whisk if lumps form. (After I scraped down the sides, I usually used a whisk to take care of the lumps that would appear after scraping the bowl). Once the mixture starts to thicken and coat the back of the spoon (15-20 minutes), add in the dark chocolate and continue to stir for 3-4 minutes until smooth and thick.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
3. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into serving bowls (or into a large measuring cup so you can pour more neatly).
4. Place plastic wrap on the top of the pudding if you do not want “skin.” Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and garnish with cayenne pepper before serving. (Or you could grind your own chile powder from extra puya chilies but I took a short cut.)

Verdict: Yum, Yum, and Yum.
Husband’s take: Only tried the dark chocolate variety–which I didn’t tell him included chile peppers (shh!), but he loved it. The flavor is muted and just subtly adds a complexity and deepness to the pudding. Note: Later, I told my (non-adventurous when it comes to food) husband what each of the puddings had in them. His exact words? “Eww!” Then, the next thing that came out of his mouth, “It was so good, I could eat it every day.” Let me know if you can figure that one out.
Changes I would make: None!
Difficulty: Lots of stirring and standing over a double boiler to make three types, but other than that, very easy!

PS: There is a vote for the winner, please consider voting for my recipes. Thank you!