When I first moved to Taiwan 10 years ago one of the first things I ever tried was egg pudding, courtesy of my Korean roommate. Packaged in a plastic cup, it was silky, smooth and sweet with a dark layer at the bottom (caramel? Not really sure). It was the best thing I had had so far in Taiwan (I had a very big sweet tooth when I was younger).
I was never allowed to be a picky eater, but one thing that helped me take to Taiwanese food with enthusiasm was having people around me that ate it and loved it. One of my first friends in Taiwan was a girl from Chile who had lived in China previously; she was familiar with the style of dishes, so I just followed her lead. I know of a few people who struggled in the first weeks, not knowing what to buy, what to try so they just stuck to McDonald’s or KFC. So in a way, first my Korean roommate and then my Chilean friend opened the doors to food heaven. Now, had this same roommate not told her classmates (of which one was my Chilean friend) that I was messy (seriously? At least I didn’t leave a banana in the fridge until it was solid black, nor did I tell everybody about it), we might have become friends. As it was, it was downhill after that pudding.
Taiwan’s National Day is quite soon, which made me eager to try a Taiwanese recipe to get this blog back on track. I found a simple recipe on Taiwan Xifu’s blog, which has been a good source of information in the past. The only thing I would change about this recipe is the jelly layer. I don’t have access to Taiwanese dark sugar (黑糖), which gives it a much darker color. I used plain brown sugar, but I wasn’t really happy with the result. Not enough jelly to make a substantial layer and it was quite hard to scrape from the bottom. Maybe I’ll stick with caramel. The custard, once set, was spot on: silky, smooth, sweet enough.
The custard itself was easy to make, having done creme caramels before. Almost the exact same process, except the Taiwanese ones have gelatine mixed in and are set in the fridge instead of being baked in a bain marie like creme caramels are.
Considering how easy creme caramels are to overcook, the Taiwanese alternative is basically foolproof. Also, considering the Taiwanese egg pudding uses only milk and no cream, it’s a slightly healthier alternative for dessert (less rich anyway). I will say, though, that caramel goes better with custard than jelly. Since creme caramels are unmoulded, the caramel “juice” oozes down the sides, making it all come together. Whereas with the Taiwanese egg pudding (at least the ones I made), stay in their pot (so I can take some for work, yay!). Jelly wouldn’t ooze anyway, if unmoulded (or at least it shouldn’t).
For me, the clear winner is the Taiwanese egg pudding with a different topping, mostly because it’s a quick and easy fix for a dessert which doesn’t require keeping an eye on the oven. It’s definitely a dessert I can tweak, from using alternative milks to different flavours in the custard to different toppings. This pudding is my oyster.