Earlier this year, I visited Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton’s famed Los Angeles eatery Pizzeria Mozza with my two friends Kat and Cat, who introduced me to the restaurant’s butterscotch budino for dessert. The experience was just a hair short of orgasmic. I could not stop raving about the rich, decadent dessert, and when I later learned that it was a signature item on the menu beloved by many, many patrons, I was far from surprised. The dessert is in fact so notoriously wonderful that its recipe was printed in the New York Times.
Well, the day after our meal, Cat sent me the aforementioned budino recipe (budino, fyi, is basically Italian pudding) and dared me to make it (at which point it was understood that Cat and Kat would then trek to my apartment and sample the good for themselves). There was only one problem: I had a debilitating fear of making caramel — something this recipe required at two different junctures. All the bubbling and scalding liquid, not to mention the threat of burning the sugar and/or scalding my hands — it just seemed too advanced for me. But after having made two apple tarte tatins this week, both requiring the creation of caramel, I’ve been emboldened. At last I felt ready to take on the budino.
Before I go any further, however, I have to take a moment to address my mother, who is undoubtedly reading this right now. Mom, what you are about to see is not for the faint of heart. It is probably the most cholesterol-laden dish I’ve ever made in my life. But do not worry: I don’t plan to eat it all (at least not in one sitting), and I continue to lead an otherwise healthy lifestyle.
Now that all disclaimers are out of the way for concerned parents, let’s move on to all the exciting pictures.

The adventure begins. I’m immediately encouraged by the relatively few items of cookware this recipe requires. Less dishes = more happiness.

Let’s start the cholesterol fun now. This here is a bowl filled with three cups of heavy cream and one and a half cups of 2% reduced fat milk.

In another bowl, I whisk together one egg… and three egg yolks. You know, for maximum cholesterol impact.

Into the egg mixture go five tablespoons of cornstarch. I don’t know much about cornstarch, but I’ve heard it’s not great for you. Seems to be the theme of this dish.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan I add some brown sugar, some salt, and some water. COMMENCE CARAMELIZATION!

Now, here’s the thing. The recipe says I’m to basically boil this mixture until it turns a rich amber color. The only thing is… IT’S ALREADY BROWN. This is going to be a challenge.

Nevertheless, the sugar water bubbles away benignly on the stovetop.

Soon, things become frothy and mildly tempestuous.

At about the ten minute mark, the bubbles seem a bit stiffer. I sense that caramelization is indeed occurring. I pull the pan off the heat and brace for the next phase: pouring the cream mixture in. Of course, my caramel experience is limited, but from what I’ve seen on the Food Network, it tends to violently bubble up when cream is added to it. I’m not excited about this prospect, and if I hadn’t been alone, you would’ve seen photos of me decked out in protective pot holders with a look of extreme anxiety on my face.

Lo and behold, I pour in the cream and… nothing! No violence. No bubbles. No 3rd degree burns. After accepting the fact that I’m a slight pussy, I get to the business of whisking the caramel and the cream together. The sugar had seized with the addition of the dairy, and now it was clumping onto the whisk. No worries though. I just whisk repeatedly over the heat until the caramel loosens up and dissolves into the mixture. I then remove the whisk and bring the cream to a boil, as per the instructions.

No surprise here. The cream bubbles up like an angry dairy monster. I turn off the flame in an effort to tame it back down, but it seems unwilling to relent.

A moment of suspense. The bubbling cream perches at the top of the saucepan, threatening to spill over. Will the surface tension be strong enough to resist the uprising within?

No. We have spillage.


Once calmed down, I return the pan to a low flame and then temper about half of it into the egg mixture, one ladle at a time. Since this required my left hand to whisk and my right to ladle, no pictures were taken. Ultimately, I then pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pan and whisk away. It thickens up near instantly.

For a little pizzazz, a tablespoon and a half of dark rum enters the budino…

…and so do (close your ears, Mom) five tablespoons of butter.

Witness the ferocity of my whisking.

With everything incorporated and whisked in, I pour the budino into a casserole for what will be an extensive chilling experience in the fridge.

Macro shot! The budino at Mozza tends to be darker. They must let their caramel brown a bit longer.

Of course, some plastic wrap to guard against a skin forming.

But we’re not done yet. Later in the evening, I prepare the essential caramel sauce to go on top. In this pan is half a cup of heavy cream mixed with some vanilla extract.

And here comes more butter! Two tablespoons, specifically.

You know what would be great? Yet another famously unhealthy ingredient. Enter the CORN SYRUP, which goes into a separate saucepan.

I add sugar and a few tablespoons of water to the pan, and soon we are on our second journey to caramel land.

I’m becoming a regular Johnny Caramel these days.

It’s not long before this mixture is bubbling rapturously.

Really, it’s like chemistry class — which, it may surprise you to know, I was a wiz at. That’s right. 5 on the AP exam. Bring it. BRING IT.

Amber hues appear in the mixture, and because I used granulated sugar this time, I can actually SEE it.

Unfortunately, I have no pics of the ensuing exciting stuff as it required both my hands. Here’s what happened. When the caramel was a nice medium to dark brown, I poured the cream/vanilla/butter mixture into the pan, and unlike earlier in the day, this bad boy DID bubble up. Don’t worry though — I again had my protective layer of pot holders keeping me safe. Well, as I whisked the cream mixture into the sugar, causing further angry froth, my phone rang. It was jash, who had come by to sample the budino and watch TV. Worst timing EVER. I couldn’t abandon the caramel to answer the phone at this critical juncture. But if I ignored the phone, it would lead to cranky bleating from jash (and believe me, it’s a very unpleasant experience). In a fit of dexterity, I managed to grab the phone, ignoring the caramel for about two seconds. Then, while I rang jash up with one hand, I whisked with the other, and for a moment I felt like the best multi-tasker in the world. Then I realized there was nothing particularly difficult about answering a phone and stirring a pot; so I stopped congratulating myself and returned to the caramel, which ultimately wound up looking like this:

Ta da! Caramel sauce.

A rather lovely confection, if I do say so myself.

And so two servings of budino were doled out, each with the essential caramel topping. The recipe also calls for a dollop of whipped cream/crème fraîche, but we opted to forgo it because honestly, we just wanted to eat the damn thing.

And the results were fantastic. It’s hard to beat the original at Mozza, but this was pretty damn close. This dessert is certainly restaurant quality — rich, complex, delicious — and what’s most surprising is how easy it is to make. All it takes is some mixing and boiling. Even more intriguing is how such a multi-faceted taste experience can come from such a small number of basic ingredients. I can’t recommend this recipe enough. It’s not for the health conscious though…
Kat and Cat, your serving awaits…

14 replies on “ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Pizzeria Mozza's Butterscotch Budino Edition”

  1. Looks really good. However, my stomach is cramping just looking at the pictures. It has a lot of rich ingredients. I don’t know if I could take it. Oh who am I kidding of course I would eat that.
    I like your note to your mom it cracked me up!
    I have to be a little momish and tell you it’s time to do some scrubbing on your stove top. Unfortunately white shows everything!

  2. hmm, if your mom is reading, maybe lighten up on the use of PUSSY in your posts?
    oh, and this was delish. amazing even. and i’ve never said that about anything you’ve made!

  3. Why use some fancy Italian name for this desert? Just be honest and call it the “Cloginator”!
    Just kidding. I admire the effort you put into cooking.

  4. I think this dish would even be good enough for Paula Deen! (Especially if you fried it somehow.)
    Btw you inspired me to make some caramel. I tried the Ina Garten Apple Cake – it was great, but very, very sweet!

  5. I’ve had that Mozza budino recipe for ages yet I have not conquered my paralysing fear of the caramel… I am also afraid of corn syrup. Nice to see this decadent dessert can be made without a candy thermometer (also strangely spooky, to me).

  6. What a great post. Awesome photos, and you have a great storytelling style. We too love Pizzeria Mozza, though very few of the dishes there would be considered “healthy.” Still, it’s worth the drive over the hill.

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