Banana Bread Pudding

We had invitations for a spring brunch on Sunday, and I’d offered to bring dessert, and I just wasn’t feeling inspired. Chocolate didn’t seem like a brunch thing, it’s too early for really great fruit yet, and I’ve made way too many citrus-based desserts lately.

The internet wasn’t helping much – it’s great for finding a recipe, but not so good at answering “What do I want to make?”. I found lots of coffeecakes (and I might go back and make some later), but coffeecake seemed too much like breakfast and not enough like brunch.

So I curled up on the couch with a pile of cookbooks, and finally decided on the Banana Bread Pudding from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. It was fruity, it didn’t have any lemon in it, and I could do 95% of it the night before. And, no, it is not made with banana bread.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly as printed. I thought a caramel sauce would be better then the hot fudge. Also, Brioche is hard to find in grocery stores around here, and challah seemed to be a reasonable substitute. Egg-rich breads always seem to work particularly well for egg-based recipes, like bread pudding or French toast.

I sliced the bread, brushed it with butter, tossed it in the cinnamon and sugar, and toasted it. I should have been more generous with the butter – the sugar didn’t stick to the bread as well as I’d hoped, but I’d already made a mess before I realized what was wrong.

While the bread cooled, I made the custard, tossed in the bread (and dumped in the cinnamon and sugar that had fallen off), and poured it all into my 13×9, where it sat in the fridge overnight.

I also made a caramel sauce the night before, which was a bit of a mistake – the cooling and reheating process allowed the sugar to crystallize, making it very slightly gritty. Next time, I’ll make it and just keep it warm.

The next morning, I baked the bread pudding, and packed it up with the caramel, the toasted nuts, and the other 3 bananas that I’d bought but not put in the custard. The bread pudding reheated wonderfully, the caramel sauce a bit less so, but it was still good. I sliced up the bananas, and let people assemble their own plates so they could vary the toppings as they wanted.

It was very good. I’d certainly make it again – I’m always looking for dessert recipes that travel well, and this had just the right mix of familiar and different.

( see the recipe )

Chocolate-Chip Cookies

I read the article in the New York Times when these first came out.  “36 hours to make chocolate chip cookies?   And you have to weigh all the ingredients?  And two different types of flour?  How much better then tollhouse could they be?”

So I bookmarked the recipe – but I put off actually making them.

I don’t even remember the first time I tried them, but I think it was for a party.  I carefully weighed out the flour (and the sugar, since I already had the scale out), I let the flour and sugar cream in the mixer for the full five minutes, and I let them sit in the fridge overnight before I actually made them.  I didn’t try to hunt down chocolate chunks – I just used the Ghiradelli 60% cacao chips.

They were amazing.  Everyone raved over them.  They had the perfect texture – crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle.  They were buttery.  The salt really did add something to both the taste and the texture.

They instantly become my go-to cookie.

There were only two problems:  I thought the bittersweet chips, especially after the addition of the salt, overpowered the rest of the cookie a bit, and it was a real pain to scoop out the cold, hard dough from the bowl when it was time to actually bake them.

Over time, I’ve streamlined the process a bit.  Now I use the Ghiradelli semi-sweet chips.  And instead of just putting the entire bowl of dough into the fridge, I use a cookie scoop to scoop out individual balls, and just pile them in a bowl, then put that bowl in the fridge over night.  Then when the time comes to bake them, I just break off as many as I want and pop them in the oven.  I’ve even had good luck freezing the dough, if I need to make them really far in advance.

Best of all, you can apply the same basic techniques here to other cookies – almost any cookie recipe is improved if you are very, very thorough about creaming the butter and the sugar, and then let it rest in the fridge over night.

( see the recipe )

Lemon Blueberry Tart

The best part of getting new kitchen toys is finding ways to use them – and this has been the month of the New Mini Tart Pans.

I happened to see blueberries at the grocery store.  I’m not sure they’re quite in season yet, but I bought a package anyway.  And since the mini-tart pans were still sitting on my kitchen counter, I figured I’d make blueberry tarts.

So I went though that huge pile of bookmarked recipes that everyone has, and I found the recipes I needed for a nice, basic pastry cream tart.

The crust is from David Lebovitz.  Unlike the turtle tart dough, which used cold butter, this recipe has you put the butter in the oven for 15 minutes.  That gives it time to get that nutty brown butter flavor.  I’m not sure exactly what the tablespoon of oil is for, but I suspect it’s there to keep the dough from getting too firm to eat when it’s chilled.

The pastry cream is from The Kitchen.  The recipe as it’s written there isn’t very interesting – on my first attempt, I doubled the vanilla, and it still just didn’t pop for me.  If I wanted a very strong vanilla flavor, I think I’d scrape a vanilla bean in with the milk.  Plus, even with the smallest amount of flour, it was too thick and floury.

So, for version 2.0, I replaced half the flour with cornstarch, so it didn’t have to be cooked as long.  And then I decided lemon would be better with the blueberries, so I put in 1/4 teaspoon of lemon oil instead of the vanilla – and that made it exactly right.

Overall, they were good – the crust was amazing, the pastry cream tasted like the bottom part of lemon meringue pie, and the blueberries kept the pastry cream from being too overwhelming.

( see the recipe )

Lemon Rolls

Once a month or so, I have friends over to play Wii games and eat junk food.  It’s perfect – I can spend the day baking, and I get plenty of feedback on what worked and didn’t work.

And these worked.

The recipe is from The Kitchen – Sticky Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze.

They took a while to make – 2 hours, at least, of rest time, plus half an  hour or so of hands-on time – but were otherwise not complicated.  And I’d never made cinnamon rolls before!

The dough goes in a stand mixer, or you can knead it by hand.  I added half a teaspoon of lemon oil to the dough just to give it a bit more lemon-ness.  Let it rise for an hour (it was cold yesterday, so I gave it a bit longer), then roll it out.

I have one of those silicone pastry mats, and it makes projects like this much less painful – instead of cleaning flour off the counter (which always results in flour all over the floor) – you just roll out your dough, then pick up the mat and dump it over the trash can.

This dough gets rolled out into a big rectangle, then covered with butter and the sugar filling.  I cheated, and I melted and then cooled the butter instead of just softening it.  That way I could just pour it over the dough, and spread it around with a pastry brush to get perfect coverage.

Then you roll it up, slice it, and put them in a 13×9 to raise for another hour, until they look like this:

Lemon Rolls

Then bake.  While they’re baking, make the frosting.  I tried to mix it by hand with a whisk, but I ended up with small lumps of cream cheese, even though it was very soft to start with.  I’d recommend doing it in a mixer or with a food processor.

The only change I’m going to make when I do them again (and I will do them again!) is to double the cream cheese in the glaze.  It came out too much like a glaze and not enough like cream cheese frosting.  Letting them cool a bit longer before I put the glaze on would have helped, too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are a few left over in the fridge, and they’ll make a great breakfast….

( see the recipe )

Turtle Tart

I saw this recipe a few weeks ago on Vanilla Garlic. I’d been looking for an excuse to get myself a set of little tiny tart pans, and it pushed me over the edge. My favorite two restaurant supply stores didn’t have the mini tart pans, so I ended up making a trip to Williams-Sonoma. I got home, gathered ingredients, and got started. This is one of those recipes that takes a few hours, but only needs 15 minute chunks of attention here and there.

The crust is a traditional tart crust with some cocoa added. I used Hershey Special Dark Cocoa – I’m not generally a big Hershey fan, but it’s the darkest, richest cocoa I’ve ever found. It makes mind-blowing brownies, but that’s a post for another day.

Anyway, you make the crust, press it into the tart pans, bake them, then let them cool. Then toast the pecans, dice them finely, then sprinkle them on top of the crust. Next, make the caramel – I included the recipe from the original post here, but any soft caramel recipe will work. This one makes about twice as much caramel as you’ll need for the small tarts, but the leftovers are amazing on ice cream.

Pour the caramel gently over the pecans, sprinkle with kosher salt, then let them cool again. This is what they looked like before the ganache:

Turtle Tart

The ganache is easy – the recipe said to boil the milk in a saucepan, but I always burn milk in a pan. I just boiled mine in a Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave. If all the chocolate doesn’t melt, you can put it in the microwave for 10 seconds or so at a time until it does. You don’t want it runny, just soft.

Spread it on top of the caramel, and you’re done!

( see the recipe )