Monday, April 30, 2012

Raspberry White-Chocolate Bread Pudding . . . and a Gift Certificate Giveaway from Blog2Print!

I have two good things to share today. One is a raspberry white-chocolate bread pudding, and the second is a very special giveaway. Imagine my delighted surprise last week when I opened an email from Blog-2-Print, inquiring if I'd have any interest in sponsoring the giveaway of a $35 gift certificate! It will come as no surprise to you that I responded in the affirmative. Yes! Yes!

Are you familiar with Blog-2-Print? If you have a blog yourself (or perhaps you have a friend who does?), you owe it to yourself to get familiar. Blog-2-Print is a service that allows you to make a bound book from a range of your blog's posts, in paperback or hardcover, via their incredibly easy-to-use website. The entire assembly process, from the blogger's standpoint, takes just a few minutes and it literally could not be more user-friendly. Anyone can give the blog-to-book assembly process a free trial run by visiting B2P's website. It's extremely fun to see what your blog would look like as a book, and to flip through it virtually, page by page, with no commitment at all.

Okay, so let's say you decide to actually make a book and place your order. Then what? Well, before you know it your shiny new volume is delivered to you, safe and sound. Expect your heart to skip a beat as you slide it out of the package, inhale that classic new-book aroma, and reverently page through your very own creation. I can tell you this with first-hand certainty because a couple of years ago I gave Blog2Print a whirl myself, using their service to compile a sleek volume covering three months' worth of my own blog's entries. I was especially pleased with the bright color and clarity of the photos, the quality of the paper, and the strong, tight binding. According to Julie, my friendly contact person at Blog2Print, a $35 gift certificate will allow for the production of a paperback book of about 77 pages or a 48 page hardcover. (I'm looking forward to making a new book, too, since Blog2Print generously offered to provide me, as well as our winner, with a $35 gift certificate--woo hoo! Thank you so very much, B2P!)

To enter this giveaway . . .

All you have to do to enter this giveaway is leave a comment on this post telling me why you'd like to make your blog into an actual book. And, please leave a name of some sort in your comment, okay? (Don't just call yourself "anonymous," because I know you're not really anonymous anyway--you're most definitely someone worth knowing.) Entrants can be from any country--there are no geographic restrictions, so I've been told by Blog2Print. I will announce the winner on Friday, May 4th, and ask that person to contact me via email. I will then provide that lucky individual with instructions so they can retrieve their $35 gift certificate from B2P. So simple . . . yes? Okay, then, we're good to go.

About this recipe . . .

This is an original, non-adapted recipe. I made it using day old Italian bread from a little local bakery, but if you prefer to use a homemade loaf, here's the link to my own favorite Italian bread recipe from a past post; if you use it to make your own bread for the bread pudding, just be sure to leave out the herbs and garlic, and consider substituting melted butter for the olive oil.

I suggest you indulge in a warm serving of this bread pudding topped with a soft dollop of whipped cream. As my dad always used to say, after eating something especially satisfying that my mom had served him, this humble dessert "really hits the spot."

Raspberry White-Chocolate Bread Pudding

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

Preheat oven to 350, and generously butter a small casserole dish (mine was about 9" x 9" and 2" deep; I recommend using a clear glass dish so you can easily tell if the bottom of the pudding is fully baked before removing it from the oven).

12 oz. frozen raspberries, or about two cups fresh
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 water

In a sauce pan, stir together the raspberries, sugar, and water. Cook over a medium flame until the mixture just comes to a gentle boil; lower the heat, stirring periodically, and let it simmer until it thickens and has reduced by about one third. It should look like raspberry jam that's not terribly thick when it's ready. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

6 to 7 large slices of day-old Italian bread, cut into large bite-size chunks (I left the crust on. If you prefer not to use the crust, you'll need a couple of more slices and you may want to consider reducing the amount of milk in the recipe a bit.)
1 cup half & half
2/3 cup milk

3 large eggs
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch kosher salt

3/4 of grated/shredded white chocolate, or 1/2 cup of mini-white chocolate chips

In a large bowl, whisk together the half & half, milk, vanilla, eggs, sugar, and salt.

Spread half of the bread chunks in your buttered dish. Drizzle half of the milk mixture evenly over the bread, and then pour half of the raspberry sauce evenly over that. Sprinkle with half of the shredded white chocolate. Using the rest of the bread chunks, spread another layer on top. Drizzle with the remaining liquid, and pour the rest of the raspberry sauce over that. Sprinkle with the rest of the shredded white chocolate.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let it sit for about twenty minutes before baking; this will allow the bread to absorb some of the liquid. (If you want to delay baking your pudding, you can refrigerate it at this point and bake it within a few hours.)

Bake on the middle rack of your oven for about 35 to 40 minutes, until the top and bottom  look lightly golden and no longer obviously wet. Check it at about 25 minutes; if the pudding seems to be browning on the top too quickly, cover it loosely with foil.

While the baked pudding is cooling on a rack, whip some cream to serve along with it. The pudding is best served warm, not steaming hot. Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tangy Kumquat Tea Cakes . . . (Yes, Kumquats Really Do Exist!)

My son Nathan has a pal named Gabe, who was at our house one afternoon this week after school. The two of them were in the kitchen foraging for snacks when Gabe spotted a small container of what looked to be Barbie-doll sized oranges on the kitchen counter. According to Nathan, who was the only witness to his comment, Gabe said in mock amazement, "No. Nooo. You mean kumquats really exist??"

Yes, Gabe, they really do. And though you might not want to just pop one in your mouth and chomp down on it unless you're seriously into puckering, they are awfully good after being sliced, seeded, and undergoing a leisurely simmer in sugar water. Plus, they're so darn cute. A petite box of kumquats is about as appealing as a basket of warm kittens. You just can't resist picking one up and gently examining it. You won't want to put it down, and you'll definitely feel compelled to show it to someone else. Yes, a kumquat is its own little conversation piece.

A relatively scarce fruit around here, as far as common usage goes, I have to admit I've never before used a recipe that featured them, and never even particularly bothered to find out what the heck to do with them until now. But, I think it's safe to say I'm a newly minted member of the tiny fruit's fan club.

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from a gluten-free formula found on Tartelette--without question one of the loveliest food blogs around--I made a few minor changes. Note, though, that my version is not gluten-free. (As my favorite cake-decorating teacher, Chef Lois, recently remarked, "I'm all about gluten." Quite obviously, I share that sentiment.)

Tartelette's recipe called for millet flour and almond flour. Mine, instead, uses a combo of all-purpose flour, a bit of spelt flour, and almond flour. Tartelette baked her cakes in financier pans, a muffin-type pan with rectangular cavities shaped like gold ingots (thus the moneyed name). I have no financier pans, so I baked mine in twelve small brioche tins.

These little cakes are moist, just sweet enough, and the flavor of the kumquats is definitely present without being overwhelming. My husband, who I thought might show lukewarm interest, gave these two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Tangy Kumquat Tea Cakes

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

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour (or use baking spray on) twelve small brioche, financier, or muffin tins.

Ingredients for batter:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, unbleached
1/4 cup spelt flour (if you don't have spelt, just use all-purpose)
1 cup almond flour (aka almond meal/finely ground blanched almonds)
1 pinch of kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 and 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar (not necessary to sift, but I'd whisk/pinch out any big lumps)
4 large eggs

1/3 to 1/2 cup kumquat compote (recipe below)
About 2 Tbsp. sanding sugar or granulated sugar, if you prefer, to sprinkle atop the unbaked cakes

Ingredients for kumquat compote:
1 cup of clean, ripe kumquats, seeded and sliced

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water

To make the compote:
Heat the sliced, seeded kumquats slowly in a medium sauce-pan with the sugar and water over medium heat, stirring periodically, until the mixture just comes to a boil and the sugar is dissolved. Lower the heat and simmer until the kumquats appear translucent (you'll know it when you see it); this might take 15 minutes or so.

Put all of the kumquats into a small bowl with only about 1/4 cup of the sugar syrup (the rest of the syrup can be discarded or saved in the fridge to use for another project). Refrigerate until cool, then puree by pulsing in the small bowl of your food processor. The puree will still contain visible pieces of peel and that's what you want, sort of like marmalade. Set this aside as you begin to prepare the batter.

To make the batter:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, spelt flour, almond flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and confectioners' sugar on medium speed for a few minutes (start on low for several seconds so the sugar doesn't fly all over), until just fluffy. Pour the eggs in one at a time, mixing thoroughly for a minute or so after each addition and stopping to scrape as needed.

On low speed, add in the flours and mix only until combined--about 30 seconds or so.

Take the bowl off the mixer and use a spatula to fold in three quarters of the kumquat compote; reserve one quarter of the compote.

Portion the batter evenly into your prepared tins and dab a bit of the reserved compote on top of each one. If you like, sprinkle a generous pinch of sanding sugar or granulated sugar over that.

Bake the cakes for about 15 minutes, or until they're lightly golden and the sides have begun to pull away from the tins. Let them cool a few minutes in their tins before removing them from the pans to a cooling rack.

Sprinkle the cakes lightly with confectioners' sugar when cool. Best if eaten the first two days.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Vanilla Rose-Petal Madeleines . . .

My bakery merchandising class, which just ended last week, was interesting, fun, and a lot of work. One of my final projects involved baking, packaging, displaying, and promoting a selection of madeleines to be sold in the culinary school's retail bakery. We were allowed to make just about anything we wanted to, with our teacher's approval, and most of the items we created sold really well. There were neopolitan marshmallows, chocolate dipped meringue cookies, coconut macaroons, small decorated layer cakes, three-dimensional cookies that looked like the Eiffel tower, mocha brownie whoopie pies, petit fours, and mini-tarts. Along with all of that was the usual bakery fare--breads, pies, pastries, cookie bars, you name it. In light of all that was offered, I was astonished that the madeleines, which were packed in small boxes of six, sold out in a couple of hours. Because of their out of the ordinary flavor profiles I expected they might not fly off the shelf, but luckily that wasn't the case.

I made three varieties--honey and lavender (made with dried culinary lavender and mild clover honey), orange blossom (made with orange blossom honey, orange flower water, and orange zest), and vanilla rose petal. After baking about 150 of the petite and tender cakes, I lightly glazed them and, once dry, carefully tucked them into boxes atop a frilly paper doily. The boxes were tied with narrow organdy ribbon (lavender, pale orange, or pink, depending on the flavor) and each was given a pretty label. They were on sale in conjunction with a festive Paris-themed dinner that was open to the public.


Have you ever made madeleines? They're simple to prepare but have their own idiosyncrasies and, contrary to what one might think, the assortment of recipes available to make them is pretty diverse. Some formulas make a big point of requiring that you chill the batter for hours, while others don't bother with this step at all. Some emphasize egg yolks, while others may require beaten egg whites. Some say that almond flour is de rigeur, others don't even bring the topic up.

And then there's the controversial hump on the back of the madeleine: does its presence signal a better madeleine, or is the debate just a tempest in a teapot? I guess it's cute . . . as bumps, humps, and lumps on cakes or cookies go . . . but why all the hoopla? I cranked out many experimental batches of madeleines over the last several weeks and, as far as I can tell, that little hump--present or not--doesn't impact taste or texture one iota. In my humble opinion, you haven't failed if your madeleines don't emerge looking pregnant on one side, so don't worry. (Today's recipe is non-hump, just fyi.)

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from a plain madeleine recipe found in the Cook's Illustrated website, this gives you a soft little cake. The use of dried rose petals, along with rose water, was my idea; I am crazy about them. They both smell so beautiful. I ordered these dried culinary roses from an organic farm in Ohio, and they were remarkably inexpensive. To grind them finely, I pulsed them in a clean, small, coffee grinder that I often use as a spice grinder.

Have you ever baked with roses or rose water? No doubt about it, they don't show up in typical American baking very often, but they're absolutely worth a try. To the uninitiated, their perfume may seem startling. And it feels strange, at first, to put something that smells so floral into food (also true for orange flower water, or lavender), but it's the purity of the scent that wins you over. They smell like the genuine essence of the flower itself, not soapy or synthetic. Use each sparingly, as a little of either ingredient goes an extremely long way.

Madeleines are good with a cup of tea, it's true. Bite into one, take a nice hot sip of tea, and let your thoughts drift like Marcel Proust's. Perhaps you'll evoke an "involuntary memory," something wonderful from your childhood, all prompted by the mysterious taste of a flowery madeleine.

Vanilla Rose-Petal Madeleines
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: 12 large madeleines

Carefully butter and flour a 12-cavity madeleine pan. (I use inexpensive pans from a company called Fox Run; they work just fine. I butter and flour more than just the cavities. To be entirely on the safe side I prep the entire top of the pan. Biggest potential problem with madeleines is getting them out of the pan. Take no chances!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Ingredients for batter:
2 large egg yolks, not cold
1 large whole egg, not cold
1/4 granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. rose water
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 pinch kosher salt

3/4 tsp. crushed or ground culinary rose petals (dried)
1/4 cup melted butter, not hot

Ingredients for glaze:
Approximately 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 to 2 tsp. crushed rose petals
1 tsp. rose water, or adjust amount to taste
About 2 Tbsp. plain water (more or less depending on how thick you want your glaze)

To make the batter:
In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, salt, and ground rose petals. Set aside.

Using the whip attachment on your mixer, beat the egg yolks, whole egg, vanilla, and rose water on medium-high speed until frothy and fluffy, about three minutes. Slowly pour in the sugar, beating on medium-high speed for about five minutes or more, until you can see a ribbon of batter in the bowl when you stop the mixer and and lift the whip attachment. The batter should be very light and fluffy.

Take the bowl off the mixer. Gradually fold in the dry ingredients using a spatula. Fold very gently and carefully.

 Then do the same with the melted butter.

Spoon the batter evenly into the madeleine pan, filling the cavities all the way. It's okay if the batter mounds over the top a bit. Don't bother smoothing the batter; you don't want to deflate it, and it will smooth out on its own in the oven.

Place the pan on the middle rack and bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden and the madeleines spring back when lightly pressed.

Spread out a clean dishcloth on your work surface. When the madeleines come out of the oven, turn them out right onto the dishcloth. You need to get them out of the pans while they're still very hot. Do not let them cool in the pans.

While they're still warm, glaze them. Make the glaze by whisking the sifted confectioners' sugar with the crushed rose petals. Stir in rose water and plain water and keep stirring until the glaze is lump free. I think it's best to make the glaze pretty thin. The madeleines are delicate when warm, so they're easily broken. The heavier the glaze, the more likely they'll be damaged. I glaze mine by holding some glaze in a large spoon over a small bowl of glaze, and I dip just the shell-shaped top in the glaze.

Let the glazed madeleines dry on the dishcloth. Store them tightly covered after they're dry and fully cooled. They're best when very fresh, but are pretty good for about the first two days.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Use-It-All-Up Cookie Bars . . .

Yesterday morning I opened the fridge and found myself face to face with a hefty container of homemade oatmeal raisin cookie dough, pretty much thawed. I'd mixed the dough about a month ago, frozen it the same day, and had taken it out of the freezer a few days ago. I removed the lid and looked at the dough with limited enthusiasm. It peered back at me blankly, as if to say, "Well? You're the one who took us out of the freezer. Now you have to bake us. Honey, we're defrosted, so get moving." Okay, I thought, point taken.

But, you know how some days the very notion of scooping a zillion individual cookies just seems like too much effort, even if your dough is all ready and rarin' to go? That was my mood. You really have to be in the right frame of mind for mass cookie production to be joyful, and I guess I just wasn't feelin' it. So I began browsing the cupboards, wondering how I could transform this dough into something that would only require about 15 minutes of my time start-to-finish. Nothing fancy or exotic. I just needed to get the job done in a tasty way. Prowling around, I pulled out a quarter-sheet pan, lined it with parchment, and set the oven to 350. Then I grabbed a dinner fork and started breaking off rough chunks of the frigid dough, scattering them over the parchment.

Still not knowing exactly what would evolve, I discovered a little bag of sweetened coconut, about 3/4 of a cup of the stuff leftover from who-knows-what Christmas cookie project, and sprinkled that over the top of the dough. Same thing with a small pouch of leftover chopped pecans, maybe 1/3 of a cup, max. Then, behind a box of baking soda, I found a sandwich bag holding a random mixture of dark- and semisweet chocolate chips, and sprinkled that--perhaps 1/2 a cup of chips or less--over it all.

And finally, I grabbed a cellophane wrapper filled with several remarkably soft and completely adorable homemade marshmallows, prepared by one of my fellow culinary-students from my bakery merchandising class this spring (they're her specialty, and boy are they divine; she makes them in strawberry and chocolate too!). I cut several of the marshmallows into small chunks with kitchen scissors and scattered them over everything else. They sealed the deal. Problem solved. Anything else thrown on there would have been overkill.

Into the oven the whole thing went. I baked it until the dough layer seemed kind of firm in the middle, and the top was golden all over. I used up all those little bags of leftover stuff, did it super fast, and ended up with really good cookie bars. Can't ask for more than that!

Use-It-All-Up Cookie Bars

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

Preheat oven to 350. Line bottom and sides of a 9" x 12" x 1" (that's a quarter sheet pan) pan with parchment paper.

1 and 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract
1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg (optional)
3 cups uncooked oats (old fashioned or quick)
3/4 cup raisins

About 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut, loosely packed
About 1/3 cup pecans, chopped small
About 1/2 cup mixed chocolate chips (mine were dark and semisweet)
About 1/2 cup chopped marshmallows (If you want to use homemade marshmallows, go for it; try this reliable recipe!)

Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg (if using) in a medium bowl with a whisk. Set aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, cream together the butter, shortening, and the two sugars on medium speed. Add in the eggs, milk, and the two extracts; beat on medium speed until very well combined.

On the lowest speed, add in the flour mixture. Beat just until combined. Add in the oats and the raisins, again beating only until combined.

Roughly plop chunks of the dough more or less evenly atop your parchment lined baking pan. Sprinkle atop the dough first the coconut, then the pecans, then the chocolate chips, and then the marshmallows.

Bake for at least 25 minutes, until golden all over and no longer jiggly in the middle. Let the bars cool on a rack before cutting them with a sharp knife.