I have been wanting to blog about the wonderful qualities, the spicy sweetness, and the versatility of the lovely bay leaf for a number of days now. The popular herby’s publication, Herb Companion, published a lovely little article on Bay, highlighting its associated legends and lore, including the story of Daphne, who transformed into a laurel tree when being pursued by Greek God, Apolllo. Bay is the herb of poets, oracles, warriors, statesmen and doctors ~ truly a noble herb!
Bay is a perennial native to the Mediterranean, and as such, requires wintering indoors for those living in colder zones. Susan Belsinger’s article in Herb Companion tells us of its medicinal qualities, for treating headaches, stomachaches, wounds and insect bites. Today it is used externally for muscular aches and pains, including arthritis. The leaves are antimicrobial and fungicidal, and so bay is a valuable aid in treating colds, flues, congestion, and viruses. It stimulates digestion, regulates menstruation, soothes inflammation, fights infection, stimulates urinary elimination and calms the nervous system.
Along with many other great factoids about this lovely herb, Susun published a wonderful recipe for bay-infused chocolate pudding that I just had to post! This is the real thing, and very easy to make. The subtle fragrance of fresh bay (find at your local grocery store), rather than dried, is all you need to make something special out of a big pot of chocolate pudding, as if it wasn’t special enough already. My toddler and I took out comforting spoonfuls of one of the loveliest comfort foods around.
Chocolate Pudding with Bay (serves 6)
2 cups half-and-half or light cream
3 large fresh bay leaves
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
2 pinches salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup milk
3 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (no imitation stuff here!)
Whipped cream (not the canned stuff either!), optional
1. Heat half-and-half with bay leaves in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When half-and-half startes to bubble around the edges of the pan, remove from heat and cover. Let stand for 30 min.
2. After bay has infused the cream for nearly 30 minutes, combine cornstarch, sugar, salt, and cocoa in a bowl and whisk in milk. Pour mixture into the warm cream and place over moderate heat. Continue whisking and cooking and pudding thickens (this doesn’t take too long)
3. When pudding begins to bubble and come to a boil, stir and boil for 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and whisk in chocolate pieces until they are melted. Add vanilla and stir well. Carefully remove bay leaves and pour pudding into six ramekins or custard cups (or a nice sized bowl!)
4. Place custard cups on a plate or pan and allow them to come to room temperature. Refrigerate until chilled; at least 30-45 min. Serve at cool room temp and garnish with whipped cream if desired (or you can pour it into a bowl and pop it in the fridge)