cups whole milk
large egg yolks, beaten
teaspoons vanilla extract
Stir-ins (optional), see below for suggestions
Heat 4 cups of the milk in a large saucepan over medium heat until steaming. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks and the remaining 1/2 cup milk. Whisk half of the hot milk into the egg mixture until smooth, then gradually whisk the egg-milk mixture into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture boils. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until it has thickened to a puddinglike consistency, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Cool slightly, stirring a few times to prevent a skin from forming. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding and refrigerate until completely cooled and thickened, about 4 hours. Before serving, whisk the pudding vigorously until smooth and creamy. Stir-ins: Cookies and Cream: Crush 20 chocolate wafer cookies, stir some into the pudding and top with the rest. Fresh Berries and Gingersnaps: Fold in 2 cups of fresh, mixed berries and top with about 12 finely crushed gingersnaps. Vanilla-Banana: Fold in 3 sliced bananas. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Fold in 24 crushed vanilla wafer cookies and top with more sliced bananas. Rocky Road: Fold in 1 cup each mini marshmallows and toasted chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips. Sprinkle with more chocolate chips. Peanut Butter* and Jelly: Fold in 1 cup quartered red grapes and 1/3 cup each chopped roasted peanuts and peanut butter chips. Top with whole grapes.