Saturday, February 19, 2011

Apple-Ginger Bread Pudding

So this is what happens when I have a little bit of leftover ginger root from attempting to cook an actual dinner. Or rather, this is what happens when I have A LOT of leftover ginger because I attempted to cook an actual dinner before realizing that the recipe didn't actually call for all. Oops.
But it all worked out in the end because now I can bring you this fabulous bread pudding.  I am a bread pudding convert, but I know that it can still be a little boring if not done well; bread, eggs...there's not really much to it, but that also makes this dessert an excellent blank canvas for myriad ways of jazzing it up.

This recipe is adapted from my go-to cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens, and could also be made with dried pears and crystallized ginger, but my grocery store didn't carry those (my grocery store is also often out of spinach, shredded lettuce, ground beef and doesn't carry arugula at all, so I shouldn't be surprised).  Best of all, this recipe is low-fat and would pair excellently with a caramel sauce or some other spiced cream sauce to complement the ginger (cardamom, maybe?)   The original recipe calls for French bread, but I had a loaf of honey-wheat leftover from my first foray into breadmaking, so feel free to mix it up.  Using brioche or challah would probably taste amazing...but probably not so low-fat.

A couple of notes: I think this is the first time I've ever actually had "day-old bread" on hand when a recipe called for it. Rather than wait, you can always just dry your bread cubes by placing them on a baking sheet and toasting them at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Apple-Ginger Bread Pudding
4 beaten eggs
2 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbs vanilla
1 tsp finely shredded orange peel (optional)
1 Tbs finely grated fresh ginger
4 cups dry French bread cubes
1/3 cup snipped dried apples
1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cardamom (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, beat together eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, orange peel, ginger and spices (if using).  In an ungreased 2-quart square baking dish toss together bread cubes and dried fruit; pour egg mixture evenly over bread mixture.  Press mixture lightly with the back of a large spoon.

2.  Bake, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes or until puffed and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool slightly.

Nutrition per serving: 191 calories, 4g total fat (2g saturated fat), 111mg cholesterol, 180mg sodium, 30g carbs, 1g fiber, 7g protein.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


To hump or not to hump, that is the question.  I'm talking about the hump in your madeleines, of course.

Like the macaron, the madeleine is another iconic French sweet and, also like the macaron, everyone and their maman claims to have the most correct recipe and method for turning out a perfect little dessert.  Madeleines are essentially individual butter cakes baked in a distinctive shell-shaped mold and, as cakes tend to do, these little guys like to rise--hence the hump debate.  Some contend that a madeleine is not really a madeleine at all if it does not rise such that a distinctive hump forms on the non-scalloped side of the cake.  Others maintain that the hump is unsophisticated, and that REAL French would never eat a humped madeleine.

Me?  I like the hump.  I think it makes them distinctive, and also makes them seem a bit larger, so you're probably less likely to gobble down 5 at a time. Hopefully.  I wasn't so lucky. Anyways, I tried to find a madeleine recipe from a pastry class I took in Paris awhile back but it seems to be lost, so I can't tell you where that chef stood with regards to the hump.  But I did find an excellent recipe from David Leibovitz (French enough to count :) ) and you can read more of his take on the hump here.  Essentially, he claims that it boils down to the use of baking powder, so feel free to omit it in this recipe if you'd like. 
In the immortal words of Fergie, "My hump, my hump, my hump."

You will need a madeleine pan for this recipe.  The tart pan and madeleine pan I brought back from Paris with me are definitely some of my prized possessions.  Although I'm sure it's possible to order all of these things online straight from La Belle France these days, I just felt special knowing my purchases from E. Dehillerin were wrapped up nicely in brown paper and tucked into my suitcase for the trip back to the States.  Amazon offers several and I would absolutely recommend a non-stick variety so you don't end up flinging madeleines across the kitchen as you try to unmold them like some people. Not me.  That would never happen to me.

A couple of notes: If you do use baking powder, you may only want to fill your molds 1/2-full or less rather than the recommended 3/4 unless you want mondo madeleines.  If I made these again I would probably add honey or vanilla to balance the lemon flavor--let me know how it goes if you try this! I prefer my madeleines au naturel, but David's recipe adds a lemon glaze which I've included below in case you want to give it a whirl.

Lemon-Glazed Madeleines
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (130g) granulated sugar
rounded 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup (175g) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
zest of one small lemon
9 tablespoons (120g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional melted butter for preparing the molds

3/4 cup (150g) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

1. Brush the indentations of a madeleine mold with melted butter. Dust with flour, tap off any excess, and place in the fridge or freezer.

2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, whip the eggs, granulated sugar, and salt for 5 minutes until frothy and thickened.

3. Spoon the flour and baking powder, if using, into a sifter or mesh strainer and use a spatula to fold in the flour as you sift it over the batter. (Rest the bowl on a damp towel to help steady it for you.)

4. Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter, then dribble the butter into the batter, a few spoonfuls at a time, while simultaneously folding to incorporate the butter. Fold just until all the butter is incorporated.

5. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Batter can be chilled for up to 12 hours.)

6. To bake the madeleines, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

7. Plop enough batter in the center of each indentation with enough batter which you think will fill it by 3/4′s (you’ll have to eyeball it, but it’s not brain-surgery so don’t worry if you’re not exact.) Do not spread it.

8. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until the cakes just feel set. While the cakes are baking, make a glaze in a small mixing bowl by stirring together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water until smooth.

9. Remove from the oven and tilt the madeleines out onto a cooling rack. The moment they’re cool enough to handle, dip each cake in the glaze, turning them over to make sure both sides are coated and scrape off any excess with a dull knife. After dipping, rest each one back on the cooking rack, scalloped side up, until the cakes are cool and the glaze has firmed up.

Storage: Glazed madeleines are best left uncovered, or not tightly-wrapped; they’re best eaten the day they’re made. They can be kept in a container for up to three days after baking, if necessary. I don’t recommend freezing them since the glaze will melt.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Y-Word

Inspired by my recent trip to Beehive Bread Co., I began to think that it might be time to finally attempt to overcome my fear of yeast.  That's right, I call myself a baker (albeit amateurish at best) and yet I have never made bread from scratch. Moreover, I have never actually made ANYTHING that involves yeast. No pizza dough.  No cinnamon rolls. No pretzels.  Pretty much, whenever I scan a recipe, if I happen to see yeast in the ingredients I immediately move along.

I decided to use a recipe from my Baking At Home tome from the Culinary Institute of America--because those people must know what they're doing, right? Honestly, I think their excellent recipe and tutorial were the only things that salvaged my loaves because they came out just this side of passable.  Ultimately, I don't think the yeast got incorporated well enough, it didn't rise enough (or more likely, I got impatient and didn't let it rise enough), my oven temp was too high (per usual) so the crust was over-baked (why didn't I just tent the pans with foil??) BUT it tasted amazing! And that's what really matters, right?  At least, that's what I told myself when eating my lunchtime turkey sandwiches on tiny slices of bread for the next three days. : )

This is another example of trying to run before I could walk; the recipe included an extra, optional step called "autolyse" that professional bakers supposedly "swear by" for a deeper flavor.  Obviously, because I have SO much experience baking bread, I thought it would be a fabulous idea to try this out.  Let's just say that when you're already going out of your comfort zone to face your paralyzing fear of all things yeasted, then maybe attempting the extra, optional steps with scary names like "autolyse" may not be the best idea. 
I'll be honest, this was very time-consuming.  But otherwise it was not labor or ingredient intensive, and doesn't really require any artistic skill.  If you think you'd like to take the bread plunge, I would definitely recommend this recipe because it doesn't involve any fancy bigas or sponges (don't worry if there are alarms going off in your head right now, we can discuss these things later), and it can be made in one day.  Yes, there are breads that actually take more than one day to make.  At the very least, maybe like me you'll finally be able to break out that dough hook for the first time. 

Dough hook. Arrrrrr.

Honey-Wheat Sandwich Loaves
4 Cups Bread Flour plus extra as needed
1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
2-1/2 tsp Active Dry Yeast
2 Cups Whole or Low Fat Milk, Boiled and Cooled at Room Temperature
1/3 Cup Vegetable Oil plus extra for greasing
1/3 Cup Honey
2 tsp Salt
Cooking Spray for greasing
Egg Wash (1 large egg whisked with 2 tbsp cold milk or water) or milk for brushing

1. Combine the flours and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the milk, oil, honey and salt and mix on low speed until the dough forms a shaggy but even moistened dough, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and knead until the dough feels satiny and elastic, about 5 minutes.
2. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour.
3. Fold the dough over on itself, pressing gently to release the gas. Turn it out onto a floured work surface and cut into 2 equal pieces. Round each piece into a smooth ball, pulling the outer layer taut and pinching together the excess dough at the base of the ball. Place the dough seam sides down on a lightly floured work surface. Cover the dough and let rest until relaxed, about 20 minutes.
4. Coat two 9 inch loaf pans lightly with cooking spray. Stretch each dough ball into an 8x12 inch rectangle. Fold each short end of the rectangle toward the center of the dough to keep the sides straight and the corners square. Fold a long edge into the corner and use the heel of your hand to seal the edge to the dough. Fold the dough in half length wise and use your fingertips to seal the 2 edges together; keep the seam straight. The dough should be about 10 inches long. Roll the dough into an even cylinder 12 inches long. Push the ends of the cylinder toward the center until it is 10 inches long and place seam side down into the loaf pans. Brush with egg or milk wash. I used a milk wash. Use an egg wash for a shiny crust.
5. Let the dough to rise in a warm place, uncovered, until the pans are three quarters full and the dough springs back slowly to the touch, 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat you oven to 400ยบ degrees.
6. Bake until the loaves have a rich golden brown crust and the sides of the bread retain their structure when pressed, 40-50 minutes. Remove the bread from the pans immediately and let cool completely on wire racks before slicing and serving.