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.
(...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.
No neon fruit, just lots of moist, rummy goodness
So, I called my sister yesterday, to tell her I'd just put the better part of ten cups of fruit and nuts to soak in a healthy dose of rum and port for Christmas cake - Christmas cake that I'd be bringing home for the holidays. Her response? 'Great! Uncle Martin and uncle Thomas will love that!' Now, as much as I'm thrilled at the idea of my uncles enjoying the heck out of some homemade, fruit-studded and rum-soaked cake, I was hoping for something more along the lines of 'oooh, I can't wait to try that!' All I heard was 'I'll pass on the fruitcake, thanks.'
Though she'll be getting a sideways glance or two from me this Christmas, if she doesn't at least try it, I'm not entirely surprised by her response. Fruitcake, for most, is a tradition best left in the past. It is a sweet 'treat' that is, more often than not, surreptitiously folded into a napkin under the table, and deftly maneuvered into the trash, amid concealing napkins and the wrappers of sweets more unanimously enjoyed.
It's fair to say that fruitcake has a bad rap.
Whenever I think of it, I think of being a child and peeking into the larder in my grandparents cellar, which bore a handwritten note with the words 'no goings in here' scrawled across it. (The 's' on the end of 'goings' has always baffled me, but is somehow so like my family, that I'd be even more bothered by it not being there.) As a prominent doctor in Copenhagen, my grandfather was a receiver of countless gifts, most of which were either in the form of booze or edible, and the walls of the larder were always lined with bottles of wine and port, boxes of cookies and chocolates, and come the end of the year, an inevitable fruitcake.
Now, this was the kind of fruitcake you could see, even if the lights were off. The candied cherries, pineapple and green mystery fruit (still, to this day, I have no idea what that is, and it's probably better left to my imagination, at this point), glowed neon and bright, and practically lit the cake from within.
Some years, that cake would sit on a shelf through the entire holiday season, without so much as a modicum of attention being paid to it, and some years, someone (usually my grandmother), would take pity on the poor thing and bring it up from the depths for a taste.
Though well intentioned, the cake never satisfied. Dense, heavy, unnaturally fruity and hot with old liquor, this relic of yuletide tradition would be bitten into by a few brave souls, before promptly finding its way back onto the shelf from whence it came.
So, when my sister says she'll pass on the fruitcake, I remember that she, too, stuck her head into that dark room in the cellar all those years ago, and witnessed the glow of a cake not meant for human consumption, and that she, too, hoped we'd never be made to eat it again.
But, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Christmas cake, when made the right way, can be absolutely delicious! When you forsake the candied fruits and dry crumb, and replace them with plump, richly sweet and dried cherries, prunes, currants and raisins that have soaked, along with almonds and ginger, for a full week in dark, caramel-y rum and ruby red port, and then bake them into spiced and molasses-y cake that ages for three weeks or more, it can only be a good thing.
And when said cake disappears into the darkness of a wine-lined shelf, the moment the lights by the cellar door are turned off, you know this ain't your grandma's fruitcake.
After a lot of researching and reading, this Caribbean style 'black cake' is a new favorite. I adapted it from a recipe I found on Chowhound, when digging around, and I think you'll love it.
Makes two full-sized loaves plus a couple of mini loaves
(Note - the fruit in this cake soaks for a full week before you begin the baking process.)
For the fruit:
For the cake:
Combine all the fruit, nuts, ginger and peel in a bowl, add the rum and port, give it a good mix, and then seal it tightly. Place the bowl in a cool dark place for a full week.
A week later...
Heat your oven to 300*F and grease two 9x5-inch loaf pans, thoroughly.
In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and whisk together. Set the bowl aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or if you're working on serious bicep strength, by all means, use a regular whisk and extreme patience) cream the butter and sugar until pale in color and fluffy (about 3 minutes) and then add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Finally, add the vanilla.
With the speed on low, add in the flour mixture, the soaked fruit and all its rummy, porty goodness, and the burnt sugar syrup, and mix until just combined.
Fill both loaf pans until 3/4 of-the-way full. (The remainder can be used to make mini loaves to give away!) and bake the cakes for 2 hours. The tester should come out clean, but know that the cake will be very moist. Check it at 2 hours, if you feel like you need more cook time, add 10 more and see. Altitude, cake tins and a number of other factors can affect cook time on this one.
Let the cakes rest for 30 minutes in the pan, then turn them out to cool completely. Brush with a couple of extra tablespoons of rum.
This cake can be eaten right away, but if you really want to treat yourself, let it age. We've got just about four weeks left until Christmas, so take that time and get some age on your cake.
Wrap it in cheesecloth and store it in an airtight container or cake tin - not in plastic wrap! Every few days, you can brush a little more rum over it - if you're into that sort of thing!
It's the sort of cake your uncles will love, and your sister will be requesting next year!
*Burnt sugar syrup is also known as 'browning' and can be found in specialty stores. If you really can't find it, or order it online in the week while your fruit is soaking, substitute blackstrap molasses, though the flavor won't be quite the same.