Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sweet Corn Bread Pudding with Raisins, Cinnamon, and Maple Syrup . . .

Winter rages on and it's a frosty world out there. The sort of world that calls for big pots of chili, simmering endlessly on the stove, and shiny pans of homemade corn bread puffing up in the oven. Last weekend, that scenario described my kitchen to a T.

For a lunch meeting to be held at my church that Sunday, I cooked up just such a batch of steaming red chili, enough for about 40 people. Along with it went an equally hefty batch of fluffy, sunshine-yellow corn bread. What I didn't know, however, was that another couple also planned to provide a significant amount of food for the same event. I'd had a nagging suspicion that this might occur, but ignored it and didn't take  the initiative to check it out first. No matter. It all worked out fine, of course, and the leftover chili -- about half of what I'd brought -- was poured into zip-loc bags and tucked into in the church's large freezer for future use.

The corn bread, though, didn't seem to me worth freezing. Not because it wasn't good. It was, in fact, a credit to its bready race--nicely moist, slightly sweet and, frankly, kind of hard for me to resist. But corn bread is one of those things, not unlike biscuits, that are only appealing eaten out of hand when incredibly fresh. Don't you think? After all, isn't it a widely accepted fact that corn bread's natural destiny is to dry out, crumble apart, and blow away like top soil in a dust storm?

In light of that harsh reality, I took two bags of the big, soft chunks home with me. This time, I pledged silently, I wasn't going to end up tossing it all in the garbage can. But other than using the stuff once or twice for poultry dressing in the past, I'd never explored surplus corn bread's potential. This time had to be different. There was far too much of it to toss into the trash guilt-free.

So I schemed. And that's how this warm, comforting, corn bread pudding recipe was born. Is it a dessert? Yes. Is it a fabulous brunch item, sort of breakfasty in its own way? Oh, yes to that, too. It's whatever you want it to be. Go ahead . . . explore the leftover corn bread possibilities. You won't be sorry. And your garbage can will thank you.

Sweet Corn Bread Pudding 
with Raisins, Cinnamon, and Maple Syrup
(For a printable version of these recipes, click here!)

Make the corn bread first. (This is a very generic recipe that appears all over; I've seen it on grocery-store brand bags of corn meal, as well as on name-brand containers of corn meal. It's universal!)

Lightly grease an 8" x 8" or 9" x 9" baking pan.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Ingredients for the corn bread:

3/4 cup corn meal (Not coarse grain; just the typical grocery store brand will do,)
1 and 1/4 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached.) 
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher, and a pinch more than this, actually.)
2 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk (I used 2 percent)
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter (I used canola oil.)

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the liquids. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients, and stir just to combine. Pour the batter into your prepared pan, and bake for about 20 minutes or so, until the top is lightly brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack, in the pan.

To make the bread pudding:

Lightly butter a deep casserole dish, approximately 9" x 9" or so. (A clear glass dish is your best bet for this.) Preheat oven to 325.

Ingredients for the bread pudding:

Approximately 6 cups of corn bread cubes (Cut generous bite-size cubes.)
2 cups milk (I used 2 percent)
1 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (I used Trader Joe's brand.)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt (I used regular salt)
1/2 cup dark raisins (Or more if you're crazy about them.)

Spread the cubed corn bread out on a half-sheet pan (the kind with shallow sides), and put it in the 325 degree oven for about 15 minutes, until it feels dry but not until it looks toasted (it doesn't need to "color"). Remove it from the oven and set it aside to let it cool.

Turn the oven up to 350 degrees.

In a medium size mixing bowl, whisk together well the milk, cream, eggs, and maple syrup. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add the sugar mixture to the liquids and whisk briskly.

Pile the cooled corn bread cubes into your prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the raisins evenly over the cubes and tuck them in here and there so they're not just on the top of the pudding. Pour the liquid slowly over the cubes, taking care to make sure none are left completely dry. Lightly pat the top down a bit to help ensure every cube will absorb some of the liquid.

Let the pudding sit for 15 minutes or so before you put it in the oven, again to ensure that it has a chance to absorb the liquid.

Bake the pudding for approximately 60 minutes, until the top looks toasty and golden, and the bottom shows some golden color as well. The middle of the pudding should be wet but not jiggly. Check on the pudding about halfway through the baking time to be sure the top's not browning too quickly. Cover the top lightly with foil if that's starting to happen.

Cool the pudding on a rack, and serve it from the pan while still warm, each serving drizzled with a little maple syrup, if you like. Be sure to store any leftovers in the fridge.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brown Sugar Pound Cake . . . with Sauteed Apples and Cinnamon Whipped Cream . . . (See How My Mind Works?)

Some fisherman live by a little motto associated with an acronym that you may have heard. They call it "CPR" and it stands for "catch, photograph, and release." If you're a food blogger who focuses on baked goods and desserts you probably already know full well that some of the items you'll make will be so densely packed with temptation that you'll be forced to CPR them--that is, you'll plate up just one serving, photograph it, and then, bravely, freeze or banish most of the remainder.

This brown sugar pound cake is just such a temptress. I suspected last night that I'd need to place this velvety pound cake in the deep freeze to stave off personal over-indulgence. But this morning I realized the freezer was an absolute certainty when my husband, on his way out the door, glanced back at me and said, "Don't let me eat any of that really good cake today, okay?"

Man, he's stoic. I have to admire that guy. He's lately been working particularly hard on losing weight, and I don't want to sabotage his efforts. I, too, am intimately familiar with the weight struggle, so, my overriding thought right now is:  Thank God for plastic wrap, Zip-Loc freezer bags, and refrigeration. Out of sight, out of mind is good, and sometimes out of house, out of mind is even better.

About this recipe . . . 

This pound cake recipe is adapted from chefs Todd English and Paige Retus's book, The Olives Dessert Table. Elegant but unpretentious, the small volume is jam packed with creatively plated desserts, and the self-proclaimed "familiar made finer" recipes are  presented in a way that seems specifically designed to neither intimidate nor discourage home cooks. In my ever-growing collection of cookbooks, it's definitely one of my faves.

What did I change in the pound cake's original recipe? Along with rewording the instructions, instead of using all white sugar, I subbed in about three quarters light brown sugar, and for the remainder I used white cane sugar (the use of light brown sugar was suggested in the book as a possible variation). I also, on a whim, threw in one tablespoon of real maple syrup to add depth of character to the flavor. (The recipe also suggests adding in nuts or dried fruit, but I wasn't at all crazy about that idea so I left those out.)

Noticing that the recipe didn't call for any chemical leavener at all concerned me a bit, so I decided to sift in 1/2 tsp. of baking powder with the flour and salt. I don't honestly know exactly how the pound cake would have turned out had I not included baking powder . . . probably would have just been more dense? I suppose. Before deciding to do that, though, I skimmed through about six other basic pound cake recipes in six different cookbooks to get a better feel for the general leavening situation. Those recipes were all fairly varied, but none of them omitted either baking powder or baking soda altogether. 

The addition of apples sauteed in browned butter, light brown sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, and a squeeze of fresh orange juice was my own idea, thrown together, along with that dollop of sweetened cinnamon-kissed whipped cream. See how my mind works? I know. I guess I'm just incorrigible.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake . . . with Sauteed Apples and Cinnamon Whipped Cream

(For a printable version of these recipes, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9" metal loaf pan, and one mini loaf pan or something of comparable size. (Please note that when I made this recipe, it produced a little too much batter for a 9" loaf pan, so I put about one cup of the batter into a mini loaf pan in order to avoid catastrophe. I suggest you have a mini pan prepared as well in case this happens to you too! The mini loaf will bake much faster than the big loaf, so don't forget about it when they're both in the oven.)

Ingredients for the pound cake:

1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 and 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated white sugar (I used pure cane sugar.)
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. real maple syrup (I used Trader Joe's brand--good, but not super expensive.)
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 and 1/2 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached, and I sifted .)
3/4 tsp. salt (I used regular table salt this time, not kosher/coarse.)
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, beat the butter for several minutes until it looks light, fluffy, and almost white.

Add in all of the sugar and beat well, for another minute or so.

Pour in the vanilla, and then add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed for at least a couple of minutes after each addition.

Add in the flour mixture all at once, and beat on lowest speed just until combined. Or if you prefer, do this by hand, folding the flour gently into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan(s), and bake on the middle rack of your oven for at least one hour (mine took closer to 75 minutes).

Check the loaf after half an hour or so to see how it's browning. I covered the top of mine lightly with foil after it had been in the oven about 40 minutes, to prevent burning. Remove the loaf from the oven when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out completely clean, and when a finger tapped on the top of the loaf doesn't leave an impression. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes. Turn it carefully out of the pan and let it cool fully on the rack before trying to slice it.

Store the cake well covered. It should keep really well for a few days and, like so many pound cakes, it apparently improves with age.

Ingredients for sauteed apples (this makes enough for up to 4 servings):
2 medium size apples, peeled and cored (I used Pink Lady apples; firm and very sweet), and sliced into pieces about 1/4" thick
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 to 1/3 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
2 to 4 pinches ground cinnamon
1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (use a nice sweet orange)

To make the sauteed apples:
Heat a medium size saute pan on the stove over medium-low heat for a minute or two. Add in the butter, letting it melt and begin to slightly brown. Add in the apples and stir to coat them in the butter. Let them simmer for a few minutes. Sprinkle on the brown sugar and cinnamon, stirring it lightly to coat the apples; simmer a couple more minutes. Add in the orange juice and stir to combine. Continue simmering until the apples begin are tender but not mushy. Keep an eye on the pan and be careful not to let the sugar and butter mixture burn. Turn off the fire and let the mixture cool slightly in the pan while you plate your pound cake and whip the cream.

Ingredients for sweetened cinnamon whipped cream (makes about two cups whipped):
1 cup cold heavy cream
4 tbsp. confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 pinches ground cinnamon

To make sweetened cinnamon whipped cream:
In a chilled bowl, beat the cream on medium high speed until it begins to thicken. Sprinkle in the confectioners' sugar and the cinnamon. Keep beating until the cream forms soft peaks. Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Orange Blossom Madeleines . . . Are They On Your List?

This seems to be the time of year for lists. Lists of what we'd like to change, what we want to try, lists of last year's best and worst--you name it, someone's got a list for it. I had a list of bread and pastry items I wanted to make, along with a list of unusual ingredients I wanted try, and I managed to cross quite a few things off over the last twelve months.

One of the items on my 2010 list of  baked goods, that I had intended to make at home but never got around to, were madeleines--those spongy little French cookies/cakes that novelist Marcel Proust immortalized almost 100 years ago. Why I never got around to doing it last year I can hardly fathom; they're not difficult or complicated. But as my 83  year-old dad enjoys pointing out, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (He typically says this with a half-smile, as if he secretly believes it's one of the funniest aphorisms he's ever heard but isn't sure he should let on.)

Hard to argue with the philosophical truth of a statement like that, but I did at least manage to make madeleines in school a couple of times last year. Still, I never feel like I've made something on my own until I've done it at home, without a white-garbed professional chef hovering nearby. There's all manner of support and oversight in my baking and pastry classes but there's nothing whatsoever to fall back on at home. That's why it's often far scarier for me to embark on an intimidating recipe while I'm in my own kitchen than it is to do so in a culinary classroom.

Luckily, madeleines require nothing in the way of back-up and they shouldn't strike fear in even the most rudimentary baker's heart. In fact, they can be whipped up inside of an hour without the least stress or strain. No need for even an electric hand mixer. All you need is a bowl, a whisk, and maybe a pen so you can cross this one off of your list, too!

About this recipe . . . 

This recipe is from Nick Malgieri's book, Cookies Unlimited. (And you know how I love his books--they've never let me down, not once.) I changed it only by adding in a bit of orange blossom honey and I reworded the instructions, throwing in my own two cents, as usual.

If you don't have any orange flower water on hand, don't worry about it, but if you can get your hands on a bottle, I recommend you use it. Why? Because it's captivating. Its fragrance is perfume-like and slightly off-putting at first, especially when you consider that it's going to be added to food. But taste a couple drops before you decide against its use. The flavor, once it has a moment to rest on your tongue, reveals its origin in orange blossoms. It's like a beautiful potion. Even the bottle is pretty. I think you need to try it in 2011. So there.

Orange Blossom Madeleines
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour the cavities in a madeleine pan. This recipe makes at least 12 large madeleines, with a little batter left over.  (If you have two pans, I'd suggest you prepare both of them.)

2 large eggs, room temperature (Warm your eggs by placing them in their shells in a bowl of very warm water for a few minutes; works wonders.)
1 pinch salt (I used regular salt.)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, minus 1 Tbsp.
1 Tbsp. orange blossom honey
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 tsp. orange flower water (Okay to leave out if you don't have it. Could substitute a tiny bit of orange extract instead.)
1 cup all-purpose flour (Malgieri's recipe doesn't dictate that you sift, but I siftted.)
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (But not hot!)
Confectioners' sugar for finishing (You'll need just a couple tablespoons, really.)

In a medium sized bowl, using a hand whisk, beat the eggs and salt until they're bubbly; this should take only about 15 seconds.

In a thin stream, whisk in the sugar. Whisk in the zest, and orange flower water, then the honey.

Fold in the flour using a rubber spatula, then add in the melted butter, folding until well combined.

Use a large spoon (Malgieri recommends a soup spoon) to fill the cavities of the prepared pan about 2/3 of the way full.  

Bake the madeleines until they've risen, feel firm to the touch, and are lightly golden. Immediately remove the madelienes from the pan; they'll fall right out when you turn it over. 

Put them on a rack to cool. Dust them very lightly with confectioners sugar before serving.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Whole-wheat Lemon Poppy-Seed Muffins with Tangy Glaze . . .

In a humble effort to detoxify after the holiday onslaught of rich and sugary foods, it's not always easy to go cold turkey. If you're fully aware of the need to lay off heavy duty sweets and treats for a while, but you find it challenging to just back away from that lone tin of leftover Christmas cookies, you might want to ease yourself back into the swing of normal eating by making a bright healthy muffin like this one.

Only mildly sweet, these guys won't weigh you down. Made with Meyer lemons (now in season, happily--I adore them), organic yogurt, clover honey, a good portion of whole wheat flour, canola oil, orange juice, and poppy seeds--these muffins will nudge us back onto the path of nutritional sanity.

Delicately lemony and dotted with those cute, crunchy, blue-black seeds, these moist muffins are definitely wheaty but not hefty. They won't slap you in the face like a drill-sergeant with over-wheatiness. Do know what I mean? I think you do.

I adapted this recipe from one I found in a lively and charming food blog called Whole Wheat or Bust! (Hey, maybe I should start a new blog and call it Stop Eating Leftover Christmas Treats or You're Gonna Bust!)

Whole-wheat Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins with Tangy Glaze
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Makes 16 muffins.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 16 muffin cups with paper liners, or generously spray cups with  vegetable spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the following dry ingredients, then set aside:
1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt (I used regular table salt)
Zest from one Meyer lemon, or half of one regular lemon

In a medium bowl, whisk together . . .
1/4 cup honey (I used clover honey.)
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 large eggs
. . . then mix in:
1 cup plain yogurt (I used Stoneyfield Organic--regular, not low-fat.)

3 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
3 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice (I recommend you use a Meyer lemon if you can get it!)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. lemon extract

Make a well in the large bowl of dry ingredients, and pour the liquid ingredients into that. Fold together gently with a spatula, just to combine. Using a portion scoop, distribute the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Bake for about 12 to 16 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffins comes out clean and the muffins are lightly golden. Cool them in their pan set on a rack for a couple of minutes, then remove them from the pan to finish cooling on the rack.

To glaze the muffins:
Mix together in a small bowl about 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar, along with a couple additional tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Adjust the consistency as you prefer by adding more or less sugar/juice. With the muffins still on the cooling rack, set it over a cookie sheet or something similar, then brush or spoon the glaze generously atop the warm muffins. It will drip off the edges a bit, then eventually dry, and kind of soak in. It adds nice additional flavor and a little extra sweetness and moisture to the muffins.

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