Listen up, ladies and gentlemen, because we're talking melty, dark chocolate, buttery, rich panettone and just a kiss of sweet, aromatic bourbon, baked in a custard and served warm, drizzled with more chocolate. Do I have your attention? (Personally, I'm riveted!)
I have always been a bread pudding kind of girl. It's one of those desserts that I just can not pass up. Even when I really, really have no interest in something sweet at the end of a meal out, I'll order it, if it's being offered. 'Yes, I'm totally stuffed, but by all means, please bring a big bowl of bread soaked in an egg mixture and bathed in some sort of vanilla cream sauce - I'll find room.' (Everyone knows there's an extra pocket inside, specifically designed for dessert - biology 101, y'all.)
Of course there are good bread puddings and there are bad bread puddings. Too little custard and too much bread, results in a pudding that's dry and heavy. Using a bread that's too dense, results in a pudding that's stodgy and feels, well, a lot like a brick plummeting straight through dinner, to the bottom of your stomach.
But a good bread pudding...well, a good bread pudding is pretty much bliss. Day-old bread, that's airy and light, is transformed into comfort on a spoon - transporting you straight back to childhood. The flavor of toasty, nutty butter, caramelized sugar and vanilla-y custard soaks deeply into every crevice, and the light, eggy base puffs what once was bread, into pillows of moist, mouthwatering dessert. (Sometimes I think the line between Harlequin romance novels and food writing, is very fine, indeed.)
With the intent to make a blissfully good bread pudding, I picked up a dark chocolate chip panettone, the other day. (Trader Joes has one, and it's yummy!) In case you're not familiar, panettone is a sweet Italian bread, that is both eggy and buttery, and is traditionally made around Christmas. It is often studded with raisins or candied orange zest, but can sometimes be found laced with dark chocolate chips. Its airy texture makes it perfect for a lighter rendition of bread pudding, and when left to dry out for a day or two, it serves as the ideal sponge for a rich and decadent custard.
If you can't find a panettone with chocolate already in it, simply add about 1/2 a cup of dark chocolate chips to your soaking bread.
Cut your panettone into 1-inch cubes, add them to a large bowl and mix in 2 tbsp of sugar and the melted butter. Give it a good toss and then set it aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the eggs and remaining cup of sugar, and whisk with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy - about 3 minutes.
Then add in the milk, cream, salt and vanilla. Mix that well. Finally, add the bourbon and mix until fully incorporated.
Pour the custard over the bread, mix it gently to combine everything, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill it in the refrigerator for as little as 2 hours or up to overnight.
Heat your oven to 325*F. Butter an 8-inch round, 2-inch high cake pan liberally, and pour the bread and custard mixture into it. Pat everything down gently, to make sure you have an even bread pudding, and bake it for about an hour to an hour and twenty minutes. You want the pudding to be slightly springy to the touch and golden brown, but you don't want to see any liquid remaining.
Let the pudding cool slightly in the pan, about 10 minutes and then flip it out. Drizzle it with melted dark chocolate and sprinkle it with powdered sugar. Be sure to serve it warm - and hey, if you wanted to throw some vanilla ice cream on top, I wouldn't call you crazy.
Yes, it's dessert, but it's full of eggs, milk and bread, so it's technically breakfast, too! Christmas morning, anyone? You know a day spent in pj's with your entire family and all the chaos...umm, I mean joy - all the joy that brings, could use a few tablespoons of bourbon at the start of it. (Perhaps followed by the middle and end of it, too!)
Because no one likes Getting their hand Caught in a goopey cookie Jar
So, the other night, in an effort to slow the passing of December and spend an evening actually indulging in 'the holiday season' as opposed to just stressing over it, a couple of girlfriends and I decided to drink wine and frost cookies. (Oh, and take down heaping bowls of homemade spaghetti and slowly simmered meatballs - because when you give a group of girls wine, comfort food and dessert that's basically a craft project, being faced with a season of relentless traffic, overspending and too many hors d'oeuvres on a stick, seems somehow managable.)
Along with white, red, rosé and bubbles (yes, we covered our bases), we had an assortment of sprinkles, silver dragees, sanding sugars and sparkles, with which to decorate a big batch of festively-shapped butter cookies. I mean, Martha Stewart eat your heart out! The only things missing were matching pj's and monogrammed stockings hung by the fire with care. (More like hung by the fire-escape with Command strips - but, hey, renter's semantics.)
As a contribution to the edible 'craft table', my sweet friend brought with her a tube of mysteriously sparkly and vibrantly green decorating gel. As stated on the packaging, this eye-catching, sugary paste was intended to jazz up everything from cakes to cookies, and with its super spreadable consistency, it seemed like a simple way to tackle the intricacies of giving a cookie snowman its hat or a star its sparkle.
What the packaging failed to mention, was that this goopey green gel never hardens - not ever! A fact we came to realize, three snowmen and a star later. Yes, it sparkles. Yes, it's unnaturally attention grabbing. And yes, it will end up all over the inside of your cookie jar, treat bag or purse, several hours after applying it. It's one hell of a sweet mess, no matter how you spread it.
Fortunately, I had made us a batch of trusty royal icing as well.
Royal icing is pretty much the only way to go, when decorating cookies. As the mortar to your gingerbread bricks, and the glue to your cookie's adornments, it's the only way to ensure a secure, hard dry on treats you want to stack, build, box and give away. It's the icing we used when I was a kid, on all our gingerbread houses, and it's the icing I use today when throwing back wine and innaporopriately enhancing gingerbread men and women, once the pasta's worn off and the bubbles set in.
It's also what will save you from sending your girlfriend home with a to-go bag she'll have to think twice about sticking her hand into in the morning.
Optional: Food coloring
With a hand mixer or stand mixer, whisk the egg white into stiff peaks. (Stiff, but not totally dried out.)
Add in the powdered sugar, and whisk until it's totally combined. Then, whisk in between 1 tsp and 1 tbsp of lemon juice or vanilla extract. I used lemon juice, but you can use whichever flavor you prefer. (Peppermint extract would be good too!) You want the consistency to be sticky and pipable, but not runny. Add just enough liquid, so that you can pipe it through the tip of a piping bag, in a steady stream. Don't worry, if it becomes too runny, you can always add more sugar.
At this point you can add a little food coloring, if you want to brighten things up. I'm a bit classic when it comes to cookie decorating, so I leave it white and let the sprinkles and dragees do the rest.
Add the icing to a piping bag and decorate your heart out - it will fully set in about an hour, but add your decorations quickly, while it's still super tacky.
Now gather some friends, libations and a big bowl of something yummy, turn on the Christmas music and get your cookie on!
You can get back to worrying about estimated shipping costs, finding parking, getting to the store before everyone else does and holiday travel, tomorrow.
For those moments during 'the Holidays' when you don't want to emotioally connect to your food
Every year, somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, after countless meals seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg, an overwhelming amount of pumpkin and squash, and an almost maniacal emphasis on all things decadent, I become momentarily oversaturated. The thought of yet another meal served with the intent to coat my insides in warmth, nostalgia and rich, top-button-unfastening indulgence has everything inside me screaming for something light, bright and totally non-emotional.
Don't get me wrong, I love food with feeling, but after weeks and weeks of being made to have an emotional connection to everything from the latte I order at the coffee house, to the shameless Holiday rendition of my favorite granola, I crave a meal that leaves me feeling, well, nothing. Nothing but totally satisfied and just a little virtuous, that is.
The thought of sweet, bright and clean mandarin and blood oranges, peppery, sharp arugula, earthy beets and tangy, warm goat cheese served up with creamy avocado and toasted pine nuts, has me breathing a satisfied sigh of relief and gives me the momentary respite I need, in order to power through the remaining three weeks of excess.
The measurements for this salad aren't particularly vital - if you like more greens than fruit, by all means, skimp on the fruit, and via versa.
To fan the avocado, slice it in half and remove the pit. Scoop out the two halves from the shell using a spoon, keeping each half intact. Thinly slice the avocado halves, and then gently fan the slices using your fingers and light pressure.
To sear the goat cheese, roll it into little balls (I use about 1-2 tbsp per ball), then flatten them into discs. Coat the outsides of the discs in almond meal by gently pressing the discs into it.
Sear the cheese on an oiled pan over low-medium heat, until lightly browned. It's a delicate process, as I don't like to add a binder to the cheese, so just keep the heat low and work carefully.
Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan, over low heat, until fragrant and browned. (They go from toasty to burnt pretty quickly, so keep a close eye on them!)
Combine the arugula, beets and both oranges, Top them with the seared goat cheese medallions, a fan of avocado, some pomegranate seeds and a smattering of toasted pine nuts.
Dress the salad with a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and serve it up!
Simple, satisfying and probably lighter than anything you've had all season. Don't worry, we'll all get back to crying tears of happiness over Holiday pies and pork roasts soon enough - so seize the opportunity to savor a meal that doesn't trigger more memories than your cinnamon-soaked brain (and insides) can handle right now.
Ya feel me?
(...Or Puffed Pancake balls, if you prefer)
As the annual Christmas trip to Denmark draws nigh, the anticipation of treats consumed far too infrequently (in my opinion) grows both in our minds and in our bellies.
From the Swedish Christmas ham, which is unmatched by any other (and rationed out with such obnoxious yet hilarious stringency by my grandmother), to the special 'snaps' my uncle infuses with herbs and magic, particularly for this occasion, the edible traditions of Christmas surpass any the rest of the year has to offer...by a Danish country mile!
Though it's hard to pick a favorite, I must say I'm quite partial to the combination of æbleskiver and gløgg (or, if you're having a hard time wrapping your tongue around that - puffed pancake balls and mulled wine.)
Now, we rarely make either of these at home - there's simply too much going on in the little galley we call a kitchen. Between the 16lb turkey making its way into an oven designed for Danes who typically don't eat 16lb turkeys, and my grandmother cooking her 'risengrød' (a rendition of rice pudding consumed with cinnamon sugar and butter as an illogical first course on Christmas eve) with her face practically in the pot, we're decidedly aware of our limitations.
So, despite the sub-zero temperatures and the complete absense of light after 3pm, we head into town to our favorite little café, for some warming, spiced wine and powdered-sugar-dusted balls of dough served with jam. The gløgg does wonders for the cold that seems to find its way through countless layers straight into your bones, and the æbleskiver turn what could be oppressive darkness, into a sweet, cozy, candle-lit experience worth savoring. They also make handling the inevitable moments of chaos that only the Holidays can bring, just that much easier. Like the time the suitcase containing the aforementioned turkey (yes, we actually transport a frozen turkey from the States to Denmark, every single year) was lost by the airlines, and arrived Christmas eve, fully thawed and inedible. More gløgg and egg nog, please! (As a side note, the look on Granny's face, when she thought we'd be tucking into the ham outside of its scheduled mealtime, was absolutely priceless. Tradition is traditon, after all!)
So, if the Holidays find you with your own rendtion of the 'our-turkey-went-to-Germany-instead-of-Denmark' story, or the 'our-grandmother-won't-relinquish-control-of-the-proceedings-despite-being-94,' saga, you may want to whip up a batch of these with your favorite Holiday tipple.
Don't worry, you don't have to pronounce them, you just have to enjoy them!
In a medium sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients until fully incorporated.
In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, vanilla, buttermilk and lemon zest, and mix well.
In a third bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, but not to the point where they become dry.
Fold the dry ingredients into the egg yolk mixture, until a smooth batter forms, but do not over mix, then, gently, fold in the egg whites until fully incorporated.
Heat the pan over medium heat on the stove and add a little knob of butter to each indentation.
Fill the indentations 2/3 of-the-way full, and cook, as you would a pancake, until you begin to see little bubbles bursting on the top - about 2 minues. Then, using a fork, gently push the 'pancake' so it flips, and cook the other side for about a minute, or until golden.
Serve these æbleskiver warm, dusted with powdered sugar, alongside a dollop of your favorite jam for dipping.
Now if that's not enough to make you forget (or at least manage) the chaos of Christmas, have another gløgg, and you should be alright.