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Skidmore College

The proof is in the pudding

March 19, 2024
by Tory Abbott '23

For many students, Skidmore’s famous chocolate chip cookies represent their first taste of the College. Made from scratch daily, each admissions tour through Murray-Aikins Dining Hall is offered the opportunity to partake in this sweet and chewy introduction to College life.  

Braedon Quinlan '24 holds up a fresh chocolate chip cookie.

No Skidmore tour would be complete without a stop by the bakery's display cases.

But while there’s no denying that much of award-winning Dining Services’ hard work and community-focused mindset is embodied by the classic cookie, the proof of Skidmore’s student-centered dining excellence, for many of us, is in the pudding. 

Malva pudding is a baked dessert with South African origins; it is similar to bread pudding in consistency and has a creamy, caramelly flavor. It is also a reoccurring favorite on Murray-Aikins Bakery’s dinner menu, beloved by students, faculty, staff, and alumni.  

“Every single time it is time for dessert, I run over to the bakery expecting there to be malva pudding,” says Lucy Hill ’26, one of several adoring fans who clustered around the bakery cases when the pudding was recently served. “I love it so much, but I had never heard of it before Skidmore’s dining hall. You can’t see me right now, but I have two plates of it; it’s delicious.” 

Hill is not alone in her enjoyment; the bakery goes through 11 hotel pans of malva pudding every night it is offered — usually once every couple of weeks. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly 275 portions of pudding consumed over a few hours.  

But the trick to the gooey delight of malva pudding isn’t just apricot jam and a deluge of heavy cream but another set of not-so-secret ingredients: Skidmore Dining Services team’s passion for their work, their eagerness to innovate, and — most of all — their emphasis on putting students front and center.

Shelly Carpenter holds up a tray of fresh cookies.

Shelly Carpenter is one of the faces behind hundreds of cookies baked from scratch daily at Murray-Aikins.

I want to continually put the students first: What they want to eat and what they want to see. They are the reason we are here. I personally try to listen to them as much as possible, while constantly improving and learning.
Shelly Carpenter, baker

Shelly Carpenter works with Stephanie Swett and Lacey Bleau on the baking team. “We get to know the students and become invested in their time here,” she says. 

D-Hall, as Murray-Aikins is affectionally known, centers students in its very design, catering to various needs and preferences by implementing stations like its Noodle bar, featuring fresh-cooked ramen with numerous customizable toppings; Emily’s Garden, offering vegan and vegetarian options; and several stations where students can prepare their own food. Chicken Finger Friday, a popular Skidmore tradition, takes place weekly. Dining Services also organizes regular theme nights in Murray Aikins (past instances have included LEGOs, “Harry Potter” and “The Office”). 

“We’re continuously learning, trying to make every day a little bit better than it was yesterday, and creative thought really does matter,” Director of Dining Services Mark Miller explained. “So, we're always allowing students and staff to give us recipes that we can feature on menu cycles because we don't want to be stagnant. We always want to be changing, and we always want to try new things.” 

Students enjoy samples from local vendors at a farmers market themed dinner.

Students enjoy samples from local vendors at a farmers market-themed dinner.

Members of the Dining Services team are encouraged to experiment — to test out new recipes and respond in real time to students’ needs and tastes.

The Dining Services team puts their talents and creativity on regular display at “Chopped”-style American Culinary Federation competitions, where they have won eight gold medals, most recently in January.

All Dining Services employees form a tight network of creativity and passion. The bakers are united by their shared love for baking and by the students whose lives they are working to make a little bit sweeter, each day.

“We judge by what is being eaten and what is loved, and we keep doing that,” says Swett, who has held the position of evening shift baker for 12 years. “And then anything that seems less popular among students, we say, ‘okay, let's change it up’ — which we have the power to do.”  

Lacey Bleau scoops cookie batter.

The baking team regularly tests out new ideas and tweaks old recipes to accommodate students' changing tastes.

And that’s exactly how malva pudding came to campus: The dish was first served in 2016, when Dining Services was asked to help prepare an African Heritage Awareness Dinner sponsored by a student club. The recipe for malva pudding was supplied by one of the club’s organizers. It was love at first bake, and attendees soon requested that the pudding be served in Murray-Aikins, where it became a Skidmore sensation. 

“I do it every two weeks now. It used to be once every other month or every three months, but now if I don't make it, I begin getting questions from students: ‘Hey, when is malva coming up?’” said Swett.

We started out making four large pans but have had to seriously bulk up the recipe over the years. I have to make 11 now because they fly, fly off the shelves, and I can't really make them any smaller because that just wouldn't be fair to everyone who wants a piece.
Stephanie Swett, Baker

As a malva-loving alum and current staff member myself, I can attest that even Skidmore employees are not immune to the pudding craze.   

“I was working late one evening when I stopped by the dining hall to have dinner between video shoots,” recalls Chris Cruz, Skidmore’s staff videographer. “It was that fateful night when I happened upon one of the best things I have ever eaten at D-Hall. It presented as such an unassuming and modest cube of cake. But, hidden within its soft crumb was an explosion of creamy, buttery delight." 

Cruz loves it so much that he has even made the Dining Hall’s 20-serving recipe at home. 

“Once you try it, there’s no going back,” said Anna Wallengren ’26.

Except for seconds, it seems.

Malva pudding

MALVA PUDDING

(Recipe used by Skidmore Dining Services)

Servings: 20 
Cake Ingredients: 
  • 19 ounces sugar 
  • 5 eggs 
  • 1/4 cup apricot jam  
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter 
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar 
  • 15 ounces all-purpose flour  
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda 
  • 2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1 cup milk 
Soaking Liquid Ingredients:  
  • 1 quart heavy cream  
  • 4 ounces butter 
  • 8 ounces sugar 
  • 1 1/2 cup water  
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla  
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Cream eggs and sugar together. Add jam, butter and vinegar, then add the dry ingredients. Finish with your milk.  
  2. Pour into an ungreased 13-by-9-inch pan and bake for about 45 to 50 minutes or until a butter knife can be inserted and come out clean.  
  3. Meanwhile, combine the soaking liquid ingredients and heat on a stovetop. The soaking liquid should be kept warm during the baking process.  
  4. Pull the cake out of the oven and immediately soak by pouring the liquid on top of it.  
  5. Refrigerate and serve when chilled.

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