Budino is Italian for pudding.  I think that's reason enough to make it.  Add a generous dollop of rich caramel flavor and a soupçon of coffee and you have no excuses not to serve it at your next dinner party.

It's also terrifically easy to put together and gluten free to boot.

Like I said, no excuses.

(makes 2 1/2 cups)

For the pudding

1 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup water
squirt lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
5 egg yolks
1/4 cup tapioca starch or tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coffee extract or 1 teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg yolks, tapioca starch, salt and coffee extract.  Whisk to combine.

In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar, water, and lemon juice.  Stir over low heat until the sugar has completely melted.  Stop stirring and increase heat to medium/high.  Continue cooking the sugar mixture until it darkens in color, about 2 shades darker, it thickens a bit and the bubbles start to get smaller.

Add the cream and milk, stand back as the mixture will bubble vigorously, and continue stirring over low heat to melt the caramel as it will have "seized" from adding the cool cream/milk.

Seized caramel!  Melt away you gloppy mess!

With the mixer running on medium speed, carefully pour a small amount of the hot caramel mixture down the side of the bowl and into the eggs.  Continue pouring in the mixture until it's all added.  Transfer the mixture back into the saucepan and whisk over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise, about 5 minutes.

Thick enough.

Take from the heat and immediately add the butter.  Continue whisking until the butter is incorporated.  Immediately divide the pudding among individual serving containers and top each with a piece of plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the pudding so that it doesn't form a skin.  Refrigerate until cool, about an hour.

For the topping

1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract (optional)
pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whisk until the cream achieves medium stiff peaks.  Dollop a generous spoonful of cream onto each budino and serve immediately.

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