Chocolate Bread Pudding

Some time ago I had a marvelous, individual serving of a chocolate bread pudding, at a catered event. Too much time elapsed before I decided to make said bread pudding and I couldn’t find the caterer. I don’t know that they would have parted with the recipe in any event. That’s ok, I like a challenge. It was a bread pudding unlike any I’d had before. It was light and moist with no discernible cubes of bread. It had the texture somewhat like a flourless chocolate cake.

So why not start with recipe for a flourless chocolate cake? Well, for one, I wanted to take the catering server at his word and assume he knew he was serving a bread pudding and not a flourless chocolate cake and two, it was studded with dry fruit and I figured a flourless chocolate cake wouldn’t support those fruits. So, I hit the internet and found recipes from Cooks Illustrated, Dorie Greenspan and others. I tried them all and none really made the dessert I was looking for. Once again, on my own looking for the bread pudding in my memory.

There were multiple choices I had to make: what kind of bread to use, fresh or day old or toasted; the ratio of chocolate and/or cocoa powder, whole eggs or yolks only, cream and/or milk, leavened or not, and whether or not to bake them in a large pan and cut them to size or bake them individually. After I made a promising batter, I cooked some in a high sided pan oblong pan, some in ring molds and some in muffin cups. I cut out individual cakes from the batch in the high sided pan but didn’t like the exposed edge. The muffin tins were too short without liners and I didn’t like the ridged edge when I did use liners. Ring molds seemed to be the way to go. You get a bit of leakage coming out of the bottom but not too bad if your tray is completely flat. The silpat seems to help stop the leakage as does a cold sheet pan.

Individual ring molds 3″ x 1.75″ or 9″ square straight sided cake pan.

  • 125 grams of lightly toasted brioche ( you’ll need to start with a 12 ounce loaf of an all butter brioche).
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 1 cup superfine sugar (remove and reserve 2 tablespoons to sprinkle on the top of the cakes)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 3/4 oz dutched cocoa powder
  • 4.5 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • Pinch of salt
  • Butter to grease the rings or pan and parchment paper if using a square pan
  • 4 oz dried tart cherries or golden raisins or prunes or 2 oz each of stem ginger and dried apricots. If using cherries, cut them in half. If using apricots and ginger or prunes dice them.
  • 2 oz dark Rum if using raisins, Kirsch if using cherries, Armagnac if using prunes and nothing if using apricots and stem ginger.
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. line a sheet pan with a Silpat. Grease ring molds with softened butter and put on the sheet pan and then put the pan in the freezer. If using a square pan, grease the sides and line the bottom with parchment.
  3. Remove crust from the brioche and cut into 1″ cubes. Place cubes on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for about fifteen minutes for 15 minutes until dry to the touch and slightly toasted.
  4. Place the dry fruit in a sauce pan with 2 oz water and bring to the simmer. Cook until the fruit has absorbed all the liquid.
  5. Bring milk to a simmer and add the cocoa powder. Whisk until combined.
  6. Pour the hot milk over the toasted bread cubes, stirring occasionally to make sure the bread is soaking up the liquid. After 15 minutes use an immersion blender to mash it up up the bread or use trap the bread between a fork and the side of the bowl to mash it.
  7. Chop the chocolate and place in a glass bowl.
  8. Heat the cream to a simmer and pour over the chopped chocolate. Let sit about five minutes and then stir to blend it.
  9. Wisk together eggs, sugar, salt, baking powder and vanilla and add to the chocolate mixture, whisking until combined. Stir into the bread mixture.
  10. Ladle mixture into the ring molds or the pan. Sprinkle the top of the cake/ cakes with the reserved sugar and place in the oven. These do rise and if they rise over the ring mold the tops become misshapen. I would advise only filling them about 2/3ds of the way up. You may end up with more than 10 cakes. Oops!
  11. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick come out with moist crumbs.
  12. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream.

Addendum:

I wanted lighter cakes so I tried whipping the whites separately with about 3 tablespoons of sugar and folding them in. They looked promising. The batter was definitely fluffier. However, after baking, they did sink. Perhaps making a stronger meringue with more sugar would keep them from collapsing. In addition, I filled the rings 2/3rds full as I did with the original recipe and they puffed up over the top, becoming deformed as they fell because their edges got stuck on the edge of the molds. However, I think the cakes were lighter. Perhaps the solution is to use ring molds that are 3″ high. That way when the sink you’ll still have a cake that has reasonable height so it doesn’t look like a hockey puck.

One thing I am going to do is try making this with fresh brioche that hasn’t been toasted. This will ultimately result in using less bread and I wonder if it will be lighter. I did some experiments with 10 gram pieces of bread and 30grams of milk per piece of bread to see which absorbed the liquid better. I used a 10 gram piece of fresh brioche, a 10 gram piece of brioche dried for 5 minutes in the oven (which ended up weighing slightly less as it became dehydrated) and 10 grams of brioche that was dried for 20 minutes and was slightly toasted. The piece the bread that absorbed the most milk was the 10 grams of toasted bread. The fresh bread absorbed quite well but there was more liquid left. Ok kids, this is as close to science as I care to get.

4/25/18

So, because I am a little obsessive when trying to create a recipe, I did go back and try to use fresh Brioche that had been cubed and toasted at 300F for 5 minutes as well as reserving half the sugar to add to the whipped egg whites. The cakes were not lighter but the texture was creamier, more like a flourless chocolate cake. It was quite nice if you want to go that route. Again, when you whip the egg whites, you get temporary volume that deflates when it comes out of the oven. I baked this recipe in a 9″x13″ pan. It was too big. And even with that voluminous batter I would use a 9″ square pan or you’ll have a cake that is about 1″ high.

Ira’s Chocolate Raspberry Sandwich Cookies

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My father mottos in life were, “If it isn’t chocolate it isn’t dessert” (Ira Blitzsten) and “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lay down and wait until it passes” (Robert Hutchins).

Chocolate cookies are problematic. Too much chocolate or cocoa and they are soft. Not enough and they lack a deep chocolate flavor. I have tried many a chocolate sandwich cookie recipe and I always circle back to this one. Somehow these cookies have the sandy texture of a sable and a deep chocolate flavor. Eaten alone they are lovely. Sandwiched with raspberry jam they are sublime. The jam does soften them but you won’t mind and they are just big enough so you can pop the whole thing in your mouth.

I would also try orange marmalade, apricot jam or a little coffee ganache (white chocolate ganache flavored with coffee), but for me raspberry jam brings special memories of my dad who passed away in 2008.

This is a soft dough and you can use a pastry bag to pipe it but I find it a bit faster and more uniform to use a cookie press. When filling the press you can either drop in bits of dough until you fill it up or use some Saran Wrap to make a little log a bit narrower than the tub and the same length. Then you can just slip the roll into the tube and you don’t have to worry about air pockets. The cookie press is easier for kids and they can help you press out the cookies.

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 oz 70% bittersweet chocolate
  • 9 oz bleached all purpose flour
  • 1T dutched cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 a jar of Raspberry preserves

  1. Sift together flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
  2. Melt chocolate and cool to room temperature.
  3. Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Scrape down bowl.
  4. Add yolks one at a time beating well after each addition.
  5. Add chocolate and scrape down bowl.
  6. Add flour all at once and stir gently until just incorporated.
  7. Fill your cookie press or your pastry bag and press out shapes o to a chilled sheet pan covered with a silpat.
  8. Freeze the cookies. Once they are frozen you can package them in an air tight container and keep them frozen for a few weeks. You can bake them from the frozen state. I think they maintain a better shape this way.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.
  10. When cookies are cool pipe about 1/2 teaspoon of preserves onto half of the cookies. Sandwich them together with the bare halves.

Cheers Poppy Boy! I’m sitting in the family room looking at the rain soaked garden and wishing you could enjoy these cookies with me.

Ruth’s Mushroom Barley Soupa

Ruth is a longtime family friend and contemporary of my mother.  Ruth contends that she can’t cook.  In fact, the things I’ve eaten at her house have always been wonderful.  Her mushroom/barley soup is rich and hearty, almost like a stew.  Ruth will tell you it’s Minna’s recipe (her ancient housekeeper) and perhaps it was at some point but I had Minnas soup and she never used wild mushrooms, which I think are key to the recipe.  Ruth uses dried mushrooms but I like to use fresh ones. I make vats of the soup around Thanksgiving when the grocery stores bring in loads of fresh Chanterelle, Royal Trumpet, Enoki and other mushrooms that are hard to find during the year.  Once cooked I package it up and put it in my freezer to nourish us during the desolate winter months.

  • 3 lb piece of chuck roast, trimmed
  • 1 pound short cut carrot or carrots peeled and trimmed to 2″pieces
  • 2 pints of white mushrooms and two pints of exotics: Chanterelle, Royal Trumpet, Baby Bella, Crimini, enoki etc
  • 2 cups sliced yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons of beef base ( I like Better than Bouillon) diluted in 4 cups of water or two beef bouillon cubes or 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley

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  1. Wipe chuck roast dry with paper towels and cut into 2” pieces. Season meat with salt and pepper and toss with some flour until all the sides are lightly dusted.
  2. Heat oil in sauté pan or cast iron skillet. When oil is smoking put in as many pieces of meat as you can without crowding the pan. Sautée until meat is brown on all sides. (The meat should not be touching each other in the pan  I generally have to do this in two pans to sautée the meat and I do it at the same time.  If you only have one pan and need to sautée the meat I. Two batches I advise doing a patch, removing the meat from the pan, deglazing the pan with some water or stock, cleaning the pan and doing the whole routine a second time with the rest if the meat.  The reason I’m suggesting this is so that you don’t burn the fond.
  3. Place the meat and deglazed juices in a stock pot and clean the pan.
  4. Sauté the sliced onions and garlic in about a tablespoon of oil until the onions are nice and brown. Throw them in the stock pot as well along with the tomato paste, thyme and bay leaf.
  5. Add about 4 cups of homemade beef broth or more to cover the meat. If you dont have homemade, I like Better Than Boillion but, I dilute it. They call for 1tsp bouillon paste to 1cup of water. I only use 1/2 tsp of paste.
  6. Cover stock pot and simmer for about 2 hours.
  7. Check the meat and if it is tender, add the carrots and the barley and simmer until the carrots are al dente.
  8. Add the mushrooms and cook until the barley and mushrooms are cooked.

Gladice’s Sweet Crepes

Gladice is a formidable Frenchwoman who tutored me and my oldest son in French. I met her through a local agency that gave children lessons in cooking, various languages, art and music. Most of the kids were under 6.

Gladice ran her classroom with an iron fist in a velvet glove a la Francaise. Those kids were lined up in neat little rows, all facing her, and were not allowed to speak until spoken to. No bathroom breaks until the designated break time. No arguing, no passing notes, no crying for mom and no mom’s peeking in the door. The mothers were terrified but the kids managed just fine.

At some point Daniel became too old for the class and started tutoring in Gladice’s home and I began lessons as well. It was then that we appreciated her true nature. She was warm, witty and delightful. She treated Daniel like a son and me like a friend. My lesson consisted of sitting on her front porch, drinking iced tea and gossiping in French. My son’s lessons were more structured with grammar and conversation but from time to time she would have some sort of a treat for him. One day she made crepes for him. He raved about them and she kindly gave me the recipe, written in French naturalment.

Crepes are generally pretty straightforward: flour (all purpose, buckwheat or chestnut) eggs, milk and a bit of sugar for sweet crepes. Gladice put in a secret ingredient that made them delightful: a soupçon of dark rum.

CREPES

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 whole large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, fluffed up and spooned in
  • 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, still wrapped in paper, for the pan
  • Jam, granulated sugar and lemon zest and juice, Cointreau, lemon curd or Nutella to finish the crepes.

  1. Preferably the night before, put the milk, water, eggs, oil, sugar, rum and salt into a blender and blend on low until combined. If you don’t have a blender just wisk the ingredients in a bowl. With blender on low add flour 1/4 cup at a time. Pour in a bowl, cover and place in refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.
  2. The next day, heat an 8″ blue steel crepe pan or a 10″ non stick skillet over a medium flame
  3. Stir batter gently to blend.
  4. Place a bowl of ice cubes near the stove so you can run your fingers on the ice before you lift the crepe to flip it. If you have asbestos fingers you can skip this step.
  5. Holding the stick of butter by its paper wrapper and using it like a big crayon draw a thin film of butter over the surface of the pan.
  6. When the butter sizzles, take a quarter cup measure and pour 1/4 cup of crepe batter in the center of the pan. Quickly swirl the batter around the pan and pour any excess back in the bowl.
  7. Watch the edges of the crepe, when the start to brown and lift from the pan, run an off set spatula around the edges. If you shake the pan and the crepe is sticking anywhere, slip the spatula under the part that is sticking.
  8. When the crepe is loosened, grasp the edge of the crepe and flip it o we to the other side. Don’t let it brown too much or your crepes won’t be flexible. You just want to make sure that the this side has no raw batter on it and that it’s cooked a little bit. It will be pale, flecked with little brown specks.
  9. Once the crepes are cooked, you can spread them with whatever you like. We tend to stand around the kitchen grabbing the crepes out of the pan as soon as they are cooked. You can certainly do more elaborate preparations, nicely plated to serve to guests but in a house full of boys, it’s catch as catch can.

I like to rub the zest of a lemon into about 1/2 cup of sugar. I put some sugar on the crepe and sprinkle it with some fresh juice. I fold it in quarters and eat them hot out of the pan. Daniel likes them flambéed with Cointreau. Place the crepe back in the pan, pale side down. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of Cointreau and ignite with a match or tip the edge of the pan towards the burner flame to ignite it. Let the flame die out and spread the crepe with a little melted butter and a squeeze of orange juice. Nutella needs no explanation but to cut the sweetness and add a little crunch I like to sprinkle the crepes with chopped toasted hazelnuts, once I spread the crepe with Nutella. Crepes spread with lemon curd or passion fruit curd (rarebirdpreserves.com) and fresh fruit is also lovely.

Daniel home from college, making crepes.

Grandma Natalie’s Cranberry Relish


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My Sicilian grandmother didn’t know from Thanksgiving, but she was a great cook and her cranberry relish is the best I’ve ever tasted.  It is sweet, sour, crunchy and fresh.  It’s a welcome counterpoint to all the heavy Thanksgiving foods: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes etc.

There were no food processors back in the day so she used her cast iron, hand cranked meat grinder and sausage maker to grind the cranberries.  Now that my grandmother has passed away, I am asked to bring the relish to every   Thanksgiving dinner and it is my pleasure and my honor.

  • 12oz pkg fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup diced apple
  • 1 juicy navel orange
  • 1/4 cup diced celery heart
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (toasted or raw)
  • pinch of sea salt
  • A few grindings of black pepper
  1. Wash and dry cranberries.  Place in the work bowl of a food processor with the blade attachement and chop course.  My grandmother had a hand cranked meat grinder which she used on a medium grind for this purpose. You can also use a stand mixer if you have a grinder attachment or simply chop by hand.
  2. Place cranberries in a bowl and add the sugar, walnuts, apple, celery, salt and pepper.
  3. Zest the orange with a micro plane and add half or all to the cranberries.  How much you use is a matter of preference. I use half the rind
  4. Supreme the orange (my grandmother never did this) over the bowl of cranberries to catch the juice.  Cut the orange slices in half and to the cranberries.  In the picture, I have the oranges in the work bowl but don’t process them in there or you’ll get orange mush.

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5.  Let macerate for a few hours.  The sugar will break down the cranberries and make them juicy and a bit softer.  I recommend using the full amount of sugar.  If you find it too sweet you can add some lemon juice but it needs the sugar to break down the cranberries.

Skillet Lemon Cake

 

imageDaniel is in a cook off with another boy in another fraternity, to raise money for charity.  They are allowed a hot plate, a grill and a sous vide, since they both have one.  I have to chuckle here as it’s not the customary possession of a college boy and yet, Daniel found possibly the one other boy in this huge University that owned one as well.

The boys were to prepare an entree using pork tenderloin, a side dish and dessert.  Daniel is making prosciutto wrapped tenderloin which he will cook to temperature in the sous vide and finish in a hot pan.  We discovered this technique at one of Jean-George Vonderrichten’s New York City restaurants, “Nougatine”. We had some unbelievable Berkshire pork chops which were tender with a crisp surface.  The sous vide Is perfect for tough cuts of meat, like pork chops, because you can cook them for a long time to tenderize them without overcooking them. In addition to the pork, Daniel will make a butternut squash risotto with rosemary and sage.

I was tasked with finding a desssert that could be made solely on top of the stove, that didn’t require any pre made items or special equipment and could be cooked in 30ish minutes. Hmmm!

My immediate thought was poached fruit served with creme fraiche or Greek yogurt, sprinkled with some lightly toasted nuts for crunch.  Too easy!  Serious Eats has a skillet cobbler that sounded good but I wanted something that was more Mediterranean in nature.  I’d been looking at Mark Bittma’s skillet lemon/almond tart and decided to try that.  However, it would have to be adapted as it was cooked for a few minutes in a skillet and spent the rest of the time in the oven to which Daniel would have no access.  I’m going to refer to the Bittman tart as a cake because in my mind it’s closer to a cake than a tart. There was also a discrepancy between Mark Bittman’s video and the recipe published by the New York Times that would have to be addressed.  The article gives you the option of using 1/2-3/4 cup of sugar and the video calls for 1/2 cup.  Since I was going to bake this entirely on the stove top I opted to go with 1/2 cup of sugar in the batter and save the 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top and caramelize. The recipe calls for the juice of one lemon, which I find to be unecesarily imprecise.   I did in fact use the juice of a lemon but it was a huge freakin lemon and I think it was more juice than necessary.  When I looked at the video it looked like there was twice as much cream as lemon juice and the recipe called for 1/2 cup of juice, so, I figure, 1/4 cup of juice is fine.

The next issue was the cooking method.  My Italian grandmother never used her broiler and taught me how to make a frittata using only the stove top and a covered pan. I thought that might work for this dessert which seemed to be essentially a sweet frittata.  They key is to put the batter in  a non stick pan with sizzling fat (butter or olive oil) so it doesn’t stick and so you can slide it out and flip it back into the pan to brown the other side.  Now, if you don’t want to mess around with flipping the cake I don’t think it’s critical.  Just make sure you place the cake in the plate so that the browned side is up.  This can easily be done by placing a plate on top of the pan and flipping the plate and pan as a unit so the pan ends up on top, the plate on the bottom and the cake drops out of the pan in one piece.  If if the cake does’t come out in one nice piece, don’t panic.  Smoosh it together, sprinkle some toasted almond slices on top and dust it with powdered sugar, or place the reserved sugar on top and hit it with a blow torch.

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds plus more for decoration
  • 1/2 cup cold whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar for batter plus 3 tablespoons for the top
  • 1/4 cup cold lemon juice
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  1.  Mix eggs until well combined, but not fluffy, into a homogeneous yellow mixture.
  2.  Add the cream, salt, and lemon juice to the eggs and mix well.  (Combining lemon juice and cream can curdle the cream. Keeping the ingredients cold reduces the likelihood that will occur. Also, the longer you let the cream and juice sit together the more chance you give the juice to curdle the cream so don’t let the mixture sit around).
  3. Rub the lemon zest into 1/2 cup of sugar and add to the eggs along with the almond meal and sliced almonds. Combine well
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to an 8″ skillet and melt over medium heat foaming subsides
  5. Pour batter into the pan and cover it.
  6. Lower the flame to low.
  7. Cook for about 5 minutes and check it.  You are looking for the liquids to be set.  If you stick a wooden skewer into the mixture it should come out with mois crumbs but not wet.  If it’s not ready, cover the pan for another 5 minutes and check again.
  8. When the tart is completely set, loosen the edges from the side of the pan.  Take a plate and place it on top of the pan.  Take a deep breath, cross your fingers and flip the plate and pan unit upside down so the pan is now on top.  With any luck, the tart will release cleanly.  If it’s doesn’t scrape out the remainder in the pan and pat it on top of the cake.
  9. Now you have two options:  you can scatter some toasted sliced almonds on top and dust it with powdered sugar or you can sprinkle the top with granulated sugar and caramelize it with a blow torch.