Dessert of Champions

This is an ending to all endings. This is a dessert that’s gonna make you go ‘ooh la la’. This is a dessert that makes you happy for spring and the arrival of those summer days sandwiched in between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Also, you can now wear white shoes. But if you’re a rebel like me, you may have already broken out those white strappy numbers (or flip flops).

Need to make use of bread in your freezer? Make this bread pudding. Or maybe this one, which has alcohol in it. And caramel.

Tired of cereal for breakfast? Have leftover bread pudding. With or without the ice cream. Probably don’t put an egg on top though; this is one breakfast recipe where that might not work so well….

Basically, this is good for just about everything in life.

Come to think of it, ice cream alone solves all of life’s worries. Did the hot sun get you all sweaty and stinky? Eat ice cream – you’ll forget you smell. Did you get in an argument with your spouse? Ice cream makes that seem so unimportant. Did you wake up with a hangover? Yup, ice cream probably makes that go away too. But don’t eat it too fast, because brain freeze is nothing lovely either.

Of course, it helps if that ice cream involves cardamom and vanilla bean. With a side of bread pudding.

On the other hand, a spoonful of caramel powder is probably quicker and easier to make, which is pretty much awesome if all you have at home is a canister of sugar. When all else fails you in this world, you still have sugar. And as long as you have a food processor, you can spin that sugar into pure magic.

And if you can’t quite decide what you need in life, you can make all three – which is exactly what I did. I feel much better about things as a result, and you would too.

Rhubarb-Ginger Cardamom Bread Pudding w/ Cardamom-Vanilla Ice Cream & Salted Caramel Powder

printable version (all 4 components)

Rhubarb, Ginger, & Cardamom Bread Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2010; serves 10-12

printable version (bread pudding only)

ingredients
rhubarb
1 c seedless raspberry preserves
1/2 c water
1/3 c chopped crystallized ginger
1 T finely grated orange peel
2 1/2 lbs rhubarb (preferably bright red), ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch-wide pieces

pudding
3/4 c sugar
3 large eggs
2 c 2% milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
cooking spray
1 loaf cardamom-spiced bread (recipe below) or storebought  brioche or challah
(1/2 t ground cardamom, if you don’t make the spice bread)

instructions
rhubarb
Whisk preserves and 1/2 c water in heavy large skillet over medium heat until preserves dissolve (if using seeded preserves, strain seeds out and toss seeds; add rest back into skillet). Sprinkle ginger and orange peel over. Scatter rhubarb evenly in skillet. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, occasionally stirring very gently, until rhubarb is slightly tender but still intact, about 10 minutes. Pour mixture into large sieve set over large saucepan. Let drain 15 minutes. Cover each separately and chill. Can be made at least 1 day in advance.

pudding
Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk sugar and eggs in medium bowl. Place milk in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Gradually add hot milk mixture to egg mixture, whisking custard to blend, but doing this slowly so as not to scramble eggs (add ground cardamom here if using).

While heating milk (above), place bread cubes on a sheet pan and toast for about 7 minutes. However, if you have “old” bread that’s somewhat dry/stale, skip this step.

Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish. Arrange enough bread cubes in dish to cover bottom (will have some gaps). Spoon half of rhubarb evenly over. Repeat with bread and rhubarb. Pour custard over. Place baking dish in roasting pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of dish.

Bake pudding until just set in center, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven. Let stand in water bath 30 minutes; remove. Meanwhile, boil reserved syrup until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Keep warm.

Brush top of pudding with some rhubarb syrup. Spoon warm pudding into bowls; top with syrup and ice cream (or whipped cream, or nothing).

Cardamom Spice Bread
Adapted from Saveur Issue #128; makes 2 loaves

printable version

ingredients
1 1/3 c warm milk
2/3 c sugar
4 t g cardamom
2 1/4-oz. packages active dry yeast
3 eggs, lightly beaten
5-5 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 t kosher salt
5 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes, room temp
1 T cream or milk
1 egg yolk

instructions
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine milk, sugar, 3 t cardamom, and yeast; stir together and let sit until foamy, 10 minutes. Add eggs; mix to combine. Add flour (may not need full amount; add until dough forms) and salt. Replace paddle with hook attachment; knead dough on medium speed for 2 minutes. While kneading, slowly add butter in batches, mixing until incorporated before adding next batch, 3–4 minutes; continue kneading for 4 minutes more after last of butter is added.

Transfer dough to a bowl oiled or sprayed with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down dough; cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 375 F. Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Set 1 piece aside and divide other piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16″ rope. Braid ropes together to form a loaf, following the instructions below. Transfer loaf to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat with second dough piece. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes. (For fancier braids, search You Tube.)

Whisk together remaining cardamom, cream/milk, and egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over loaves. Bake, one loaf at a time, until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to a rack; let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Cardamom-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Adapted from The Spice House; serves 6-8

printable version (ice cream only)

prep time: 1-2 days before serving

ingredients
1 c half & half
1 c organic 2% milk
1/2 vanilla bean
5 green cardamom pods, crushed slightly
4 egg yolks
3/4 c sugar
1/8 t g cardamom

instructions
pour half/half and milk into medium-sized heavy saucepan. scrape seeds from vanilla bean, and toss into milk with cardamom and vanilla bean pod. slowly bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover to steep for about 20 minutes.

slowly heat milk mixture up, just to a boil. meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar together until light yellow. when milk is just boiling, remove from heat and slowly add milk, whisking simultaneously, into the yolk/sugar mixture. whisk constantly until all milk is incorporated (you can slowly add milk, then whisk if you’re less coordinated; but work quickly!), then pour mixture back into saucepan. over low heat, stir almost constantly until it thickens (forms a custard). the mixture will coat the back of a spoon at this point, and this means you are ready to go!

pour mixture back into bowl from egg yolk mixture, add ground cardamom, and place that bowl over an ice water bath to cool custard quickly. for best results, chill overnight to develop flavor. once ready, freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions (usually 15-20 minutes). freeze overnight.

Salted Caramel Powder
makes at least 1 cup

printable version (caramel powder only)

ingredients
2 c sugar
Maldon sea salt

instructions
Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil. In a large heavy skillet, heat sugar over medium heat. Swirl sugar, but try not to stir. Once sugar melts, it will slowly caramelize. If clumps form, stir to melt sugar. Remove from heat once caramel is light gold.

Pour hot mixture, carefully, onto sheet pan. Move around to make a thin sheet. Let hot caramel cool and harden, about 30 minutes.

Once caramel is cooled, remove from sheet pan and break into small chunks. Add chunks into a (dry!!) food processor and blend until a powder forms. Place in a dry container and refrigerate. Stores for 1 month, if it lasts that long!

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My Name is Puddin’ Tain

top view bread pudding

Yes, I’ve been to culinary school. I like to consider myself a pretty decent (alright, a damn good) cook. Sure, I know how to make pizza from scratch, and I can achieve the creamy custardy consistency required to make ice cream taste so smooth it feels like silk in your mouth. Heck, I can even bake (and braid, mind you) a fantastic loaf of challah bread and I know, if given a second chance and the right types of flour, that I can knock a gluten-free pie crust outta the freakin’ park. Yes, siree.


I felt downright proud making it through the last year and learning the intricacies of baking, the mother sauces derived from classic French cuisine, and even how to butcher a chicken, duck, cornish hen, or any other two-legged bird I could get my hands (or my knife, rather) on. Instead of all of those things, do you wanna know what I get most excited about? You wanna know my favoritist thing of all time to make?

sugar to caramel part two

Caramel. Yup. I could make it every single day and I would not be any less fascinated by it. Chris would verify that – every time I make it, I call him into the kitchen to ‘watch the magic show’. And maybe it isn’t that cool to you – but I can’t get enough of it. I love watching powdery, snow white sugar morph itself, with only heat as its’ instigator, into a smooth, creamy, golden river – a river that tastes so enchantingly exceptional I’m sure it must be an outright criminal offense to eat it in some countries.


Is it hard to make? Well, no. And yes. For the most part, you turn on the heat, sugar in pan, and watch it do its’ thing. But getting the right color may take practice – the darker it gets, the more bitter it tastes – which isn’t a bad thing, depending on what you’re making. Bitter, dark caramel is tastiest as crème caramel, but the lighter kind is my favorite.

vanilla, rum, bananas

This recipe was unequivocally meant for me, as it contains caramel, for one, and bread pudding, for two. To complete the trifecta, it definitely doesn’t hurt to add in something derived from molasses. Have I mentioned bananas yet? Oopsie – yeah, bananas are in here too. In fact, Bon Appetit described this recipe as being “bananas foster in bread pudding form”. Bon Appetit don’t lie.


Fo shizzle. The second I tasted it (let’s be real here – the second I tasted the caramel and realized that was only the drizzle), I kicked myself for holding out for so long. But this is the kind of recipe that’s meant to be shared – as much as I would have loved to eat it all by my lonesome, I also knew that wouldn’t be fair – this dish is rich, wholesome, and meant to be loved and enjoyed by many.

bread pudding

[Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same.]



Rum, Caramel, & Banana Bread Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2009; serves 8





ingredients


caramel sauce
2 c powdered sugar
1 1/4 c heavy whipping cream, divided
1 T dark rum
1/4 t salt
1 T unsalted butter

pudding
7 c 3/4 inch cubes challah bread (from 1 lb loaf)
6 large eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/8 t plus 1/4 t salt
1 c heavy whipping cream
2 c whole milk (or half & half, for even richer goodness)
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 c packed dark brown sugar
3 T unsalted butter
2 T dark rum
1 T fresh lemon juice
4 medium just-ripe bananas, peeled, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/3 inch pieces


instructions


Spread powdered sugar evenly in large nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat without stirring until sugar begins to melt and caramelize on bottom (sugar layer will slide when skillet is tilted), then stir until all sugar is melted and deep amber and caramel is smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 cup cream, rum, and 1/4 teaspoon salt (some clumps will form). Stir until caramel is thick and smooth, about 1 minute. Mix in remaining 1/4 cup cream. Remove from heat and add butter; stir until sauce is thick and smooth, about 1 minute. Strain sauce into small bowl. [Cool, cover, and chill. Rewarm, stirring over low heat, before using.]



Preheat oven to 350 F.


Spread bread cubes out on rimmed baking sheet. Toast until beginning to feel dry but not hard, about 7 minutes. Cool on sheet. Whisk eggs, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Bring cream and milk to simmer in medium saucepan. Very gradually whisk cream mixture into egg mixture. Strain custard into medium bowl; mix in vanilla. Cool to lukewarm, about 30 minutes.


Whisk brown sugar and butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until smooth sauce forms, about 1 minute. Whisk in rum, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add bananas and toss just until coated, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat.


Lightly butter 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish (8-cup capacity). Scatter 1/3 of bread in dish. Top with half of bananas and half of syrup from skillet. Scatter half of remaining bread over. Top with remaining bananas and syrup from skillet, then remaining bread. Pour custard over. Let pudding stand 30 minutes, occasionally pressing down bread to submerge and to absorb custard.


Meanwhile, get the oven back to 350 F. Place dish with pudding in 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Add enough warm water to pan to reach halfway up sides of pudding dish. Cover baking pan with foil. Bake pudding 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until puffed and set in center, about 45 minutes longer. Remove from water bath and let stand 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with warm caramel sauce.