Friday, May 17, 2019

Lutz Bacher's Butterscotch Pudding


The pudding.

In 2008, Lutz Bacher, the relentlessly inventive artist who died on Tuesday, presented a recipe for butterscotch pudding as the press release for her show at Ratio 3 in San Francisco. Last night, I made it for the first time, and I cannot recommend it enough. It's extremely rich—1 cup of cream, 2 cups of milk, half a stick of butter—and quite boozy. (Two tablespoons of whisky, scotch, or brandy—I went with Hennessy cognac.) A beguiling depth and a heady kick: that's not unlike Bacher’s art.

Does the recipe tell us anything about her famously varied, enigmatic practice? It’s a fairly straightforward text, but there are two intriguing flourishes.

In its first step, the recipe says that, as you are melting the butter in a saucepan, “Do not let the butter sizzle and separate. If this happens, discard it and get new butter.” Start with the right base, in other words. Do not proceed until it is just right.

But then, in its final step, the tone shifts slightly. After explaining how to avoid having skin form on the pudding’s surface, the text states, “I like a little skin, as it is a defining characteristic of home cooked pudding to me!”

There’s a push-pull there between a taut, concise foundation and letting a little bit of chance, of imperfection, sneak in. It’s tempting to spend some time teasing that out. But then there is also this: a Google search suggests that the recipe originated in a 2006 blog post by the pastry chef Dana Salls Cree.

Did Bacher like the language of the recipe, the resulting pudding, both? I’ve reached out to Cree, who runs a delectable-looking business in Chicago called Pretty Cool Ice Cream, for more information and will update this if I hear back.

Update: Reached by email, Cree told me that she did not know Bacher and was not aware that her recipe had been used in the press release. "I feel incredibly honored to have been woven into her world in some small way," she said.

"In the culinary world you almost always see who you are impacting directly, it is a very personal transaction," she continued. "But with writing your audience is invisible. What a delight to see where one of my recipes landed, and how it took on a new life with this artist's press release. I wonder where it went from there!"

As for her source for the recipe, Cree said that she thought she based it on one by the pastry chef David Lebovitz. "Maybe I’ll make some butterscotch pudding this weekend," she signed off. Having already made a decent dent in my batch, I think I might join her.

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