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MICROWAVE

Fast, Smooth Puddings

December 13, 1990|JEAN ANDERSON and ELAINE HANNA | Anderson and Hanna are nutritionists and cookbook authors specializing in microwave cookery. and

If you've given up on egg- and starch-thickened puddings because they always lump or curdle, have we got news for you. With a microwave, you can say goodby to lumpy puddings, scorched milk, water baths and double boilers. And to those sticky, eggy pans that are the very devil to scrub.

The microwave cooks custards, cornstarch and tapioca puddings with stunning speed and ease. For best results, however, follow these guidelines:

* Use only Large eggs in the recipes that follow, never other sizes such as Medium or Extra-Large; they can affect both the cooking time and the degree of thickening.

* Never double these recipes; they may curdle or boil over. Whenever you need double amounts, prepare two batches.

* Space custard cups or ramekins one inch apart in a circle on a microwave-safe tray or platter. Then turn the whole tray, saving the bother of turning each cup individually. Better yet, use a mechanized turntable so no hand-turning is needed. When custard cooks in a single casserole, you must use a mechanized turntable for it to cook evenly without curdling; hand-turning every minute or so isn't practical.

* So that custards cook uniformly without curdling, use LOW power levels. Never try to hurry cooking of egg-thickened desserts by raising the power level to HIGH. In ovens of 700 watts or more, egg mixtures may cook more evenly on 10% to 20% power. Whenever a mixture seems in danger of curdling, reduce the power level at once.

* Always watch egg mixtures carefully as they microwave and check for doneness after the minimum cooking time; microwave times will vary according to the oven's power. When it comes to delicate egg-thickened mixtures, seconds--not minutes--can spell the difference between success and failure.

* Remember that egg-thickened mixtures continue to cook as they stand, so remove them from the microwave the instant they test done (each of our recipes tells how to test for doneness).

* To stop cooking of egg mixtures altogether, quick-chill them in an ice bath or whisk briskly for several seconds.

VANILLA CORNSTARCH PUDDING

1 3/4 cups milk

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

Pour 1 1/2 cups milk into microwave-safe 6-cup measure and microwave, uncovered, on HIGH (100% power) 3 minutes.

Blend cornstarch and sugar with remaining 1/4 cup milk and whisk into hot milk. Microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes, whisking at half time, until mixture boils and thickens.

Blend little hot mixture into egg, then stir back into measure and whisk vigorously. Whisk in vanilla and butter and beat 5 seconds. Pour into dessert dishes and serve warm. Or place circle of wax paper flat on pudding. Chill and serve cold. Makes 4 servings.

Variations:

Chocolate Pudding: Prepare as directed, but omit butter and beat in 1 (1-ounce) envelope unsweetened no-melt chocolate after adding egg.

Caramel Pudding: Prepare as directed, but substitute brown sugar for granulated sugar.

Low-Cholesterol Vanilla Pudding: Prepare as directed, but substitute skim milk for regular. Increase cornstarch to 3 tablespoons. Omit egg. Use margarine in place of butter.

Tapioca Pudding: Omit cornstarch and instead mix 3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca with sugar and 1/4 cup milk. Let stand while remaining milk heats. Proceed as directed but omit egg.

Note: In ovens of less than 600 watts, increase cooking times about 15%.

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