Monday, February 15, 2016

Cherry Bread Pudding with Vanilla Sauce

Company was coming for dinner and I wanted something different for dessert.  I also had a lot of several-days-old bread that needed to be used up before it went moldy.  My taste buds decided that a bread pudding would be just the thing!

My experience in eating bread pudding has primarily been from friends who took slightly stale bread, tore it up into chunks, piled them into a pan, soaked them with a custard of eggs, milk, sugar, and flavorings, and then baked them.  The key was a long soak so the bread chunks got damp all the way into the middle.

These were always good!

So I went looking for that sort of recipe and was amazed to find out that all the old recipes did not ask for bread chunks but for dried crumbs.

The recipe I chose was from Hearthside Cooking by Nancy Carter Crump.

ISBN 0-914440-94-2
This is a fun book because Ms. Crump took recipes "from a variety of primary 18th- and 19th-century sources both published and unpublished" from "archives, libraries, and private collections throughout Virginia and North Carolina."  Her goal for the book was to interpret those recipes both for modern kitchens and for fireplace, "hearthside", cooking.

While I was tempted to cook this on a hearth fire, I recognized that the time and effort involved were not compatible with the time I had allotted to prepare the dessert.  I'll save that for another day.

An Ordinary Bread Pudding (page 256)

Original recipe from the Virginia Gearhart Gray Collection:

Quarter of a pound of grated stale bread.  One quart of milk boiled with two or three sticks of cinnamon slightly broken.  Eight eggs Quarter of a pound of mace & little grated lemonpeel.  Two ounces butter.  Boil the milk with the cinnamon strain it and set it away till quite cold. Mix the butter and sugar.  Grate as much crumb of the bread as will weigh a quarter of a pound.  Beat the eggs and when the milk is cold stir them into it in turn with the bread and sugar.  Add the lemonpeel and if you choose a tablespoonful of rose-water.  Bake it in a buttered dish and grate nutmeg over it when done.  Do not send it to the table hot.  Baked puddings should never be eaten till they have become cold or at least cool.

Ms. Crump's redaction:

1 cup milk
1 cup cream
2 sticks cinnamon, broken in 3 or 4 pieces
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 cups coarse bread crumbs
2 teaspoons rose water (optional)

1. Scald milk and cream with cinnamon sticks and lemon peel on trivet over hot coals.  Add butter and set aside to cool.  When cool, strain into eggs, combining well.

2. Add sugar and nutmeg to bread crumbs.  Pour in milk and egg mixture.  Add rose water, if desired, and stir mixture well.

3. Pour mixture into 1 1/2-quart buttered casserole in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 45 to 60 minutes "until knife inserted in middle comes out clean."

4.  Serve at room temperature or cold with cream, Vanilla Sauce, or Wine Sauce.

Cherries are in the bowl.
My Notes

I dried my bread crumbs in the oven just to make sure they were stale enough. They weren't crispy but stiff.

"Scalding" milk is not something I do often.  It requires heating the milk mixture gently until bubbles start forming around the edges of the pan.  What this does is allow the flavors of cinnamon and lemon to infuse the liquid.  I let it cool for a while on the counter to get that infusion but then got impatient and put the pan into the refrigerator.

Pre-scalding shot
I used rose water (love the stuff!) but only 1 teaspoon since I wasn't sure how my guests would react to it.  It was strong enough for me in the batter and subtle enough in the finished product for my guests.

Adding the custard to the crumbs
I wanted to use dried fruit to make it a little more "fancy" and happened to have some dried bing cherries handy. I covered them with boiling water for 15 minutes to soften them and then drained off the water. (Ms. Crump has a note at the end of the recipe:  "1/2 cup raisins or currants may be added."  My cherries measured out to about 3/4 cup after soaking.)

About half of the cherries went into the batter and were stirred in.  The other half I sprinkled on top of the batter just in case the first half decided to sink to the bottom of the pan.

Half the cherries here
Ready for the oven!
While the pudding was baking, I made the Vanilla Sauce.  I didn't use the recipe in Ms. Crump's book but a recipe I had copied from somewhere else and left as a note and a place marker at the bread pudding recipe.  Circa 1997.

Vanilla Sauce

1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup boiling water
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash salt

Mix sugar and cornstarch.  Add boiling water, stirring constantly.  Boil 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Stir in butter, vanilla, and salt.

My Notes

I followed this recipe as directed.  Boiling the mixture for 5 minutes made the sauce very thick. (Where were you when I needed you for the Lemon Cream Pie???)  I put the container of sauce into the refrigerator until it was time to serve it with the bread pudding.

You really do need to stir it constantly.
The Verdict

The baked pudding was beautiful.  We forgot to take a picture of the whole dish but here is one of what was left after serving.

The five of us ate nearly the whole thing!
It baked for the entire 60 minutes before a knife came out clean but I think it could have come out at 45 minutes and been a little moister.  Not a problem, though.

The texture was dense, moist, and the cherries made it a bit chewy.  The flavor was very slightly sweet.  It was hard to detect the spices and lemon but I think, as background flavors, they added depth.  The rosewater was very subtle and complimented the cherries well.

Everyone liked it.  The leftovers made a good breakfast treat.  I warmed them up and liked the flavor a lot.  I tasted more of the cinnamon.


The vanilla sauce was too solid coming right out of the refrigerator so I warmed it up in the microwave.  This caused it to bubble but it really didn't thin out to a pouring consistency.  Still, it was tasty with the pudding, adding more sweet and a vanilla counterpoint to the cherries and bread.  We just had to spread it around with a spoon.

So success with reservations.  Next time I won't refrigerate it in advance.

Pre-chilling consistency.  Perfect.
Reviewing this book reminded me how much I like to cook over fire and how I need more experience than what I get a few times a year at demonstrations.  Fortunately the weather has been cold enough to inspire me to build fires in the fireplace.  Perhaps I can get some cooking done there!

Monday, February 1, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons ... Make a Lemon Cream Pie

In a previous post, I explained how my wonderful neighbor gave me his bountiful harvest of Meyer lemons and that my daughter and I decided that the end of the saying, "When life hands you lemons" is "get cooking!"

After pickling lemons and making a savory chicken and lemon pie, we wanted a dessert.  We revisited Rufus Estes' Good Things to Eat, which was the book used for the very first post of this blog, Peanut Meatose.

ISBN 0-486-43764-7
Here is an excerpt from that post:
Mr. Estes was born a slave in 1857, was employed by a restaurant-keeper at the age of 16, and then became a cook for the railroads at age 26, where he continued for most of the rest of his life.  His culinary skills were so valued that he was assigned to cook in a special car that catered to celebrities.  Mr. Estes prepared food for presidents, princesses, famous actors and singers, and more.  He was trusted to provide them with a good meal and, upon viewing his recipes, I can see that that trust was not misplaced. 
One thing I like about this book is that it is "The First Cookbook by an African-American Chef."  Mr. Estes says, in his foreword,
This book, the child of his brain, and experience, extending over a long period of time and varying environment, ... The recipes given in the following pages represent the labor of years.  Their worth has been demonstrated, not by experimentally, but by actual tests, day by day and month by month, under dissimilar, and, in many instances, not too favorable conditions.
This man was obviously talented and proud of his accomplishments, and I am grateful he took the time to share his recipes with us.

He offers quite a few recipes that use lemons, including an "old-fashion" lemon pie "because it is baked between two crusts, yet many have called it the best of all kinds."  It actually looks quite simple and I might try it some time.  He also gives a "Large Lemon Pie" recipe, which is what we call a Lemon Meringue Pie.

On page 92, he gives another lemon pie recipe that seems like a lemon meringue pie but is cooked differently.  This is what we decided to try.

Lemon Cream Pie

Stir into one cup of boiling water one tablespoonful of cornstarch dissolved in a little cold water.  Cook until thickened and clear, then add one cup sugar, a teaspoonful of butter, and the juice and grated rind of two lemons.  Add the beaten yolks of three eggs and take from the fire.  Have ready the bottom crust of a pie that has been baked, first pricking with a fork to prevent blisters.  Place the custard in the crust and bake half an hour.  When done, take from the oven and spread over the top a meringue made from the stiffly whipped whites of the eggs, and three tablespoonfuls of sugar.  Shut off the oven so it will be as cool as possible giving the meringue plenty of time to rise, stiffen and color to a delicate gold.
And water
My Notes
For the pastry, we used the same crust recipe I used for the Elizabethan meat pie last March.  It baked with a bottom weight (instead of pricking it) at 425 degrees F in a ceramic pie pan for 8 minutes.

I had trouble getting the cornstarch mixture to become completely clear but it did get thick.  I turned the heat down once it was pretty clear so as not to break the thickening feature of the cornstarch.

The Meyer lemons are small so I used the grated rind of two of them and the juice of three.

The "custard" was runny and we worried it wouldn't set up.

After baking for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F, it was still runny.  Since the crust wasn't very brown, we put it back into the oven for another 10 minutes.  During this time, the filling bubbled and thickened.

At this point the crust was brown and we didn't want it burnt, so we took the pie out of the oven.  The filling hadn't set but we hoped it would after it had a chance to cool.  I had whipped the egg whites and sugar into a meringue while the pie was baking so that had to go into a container into the refrigerator.

The pie cooled a little but the filling still hadn't set so we put it into the refrigerator, too, with the idea to put the meringue on the next day.

The Verdict

The next morning we checked the pie and the filling still hadn't set.  It was too runny to serve as a pie, so we poured the filling into a container.  By the way, the crust had cooked up beautifully and stayed in one piece when we popped it out of the pan.  Heart-breaking! (Tasty, too, later on.)

Tilt and slide
My daughter then made a vanilla cake (thank you, Betty Crocker!), split the layer, poured some filling over the bottom layer, put on the top layer, frosted the top of the cake with whipped cream, and decorated it with fresh blackberries and the lemon filling over the top.

It made for a lovely impromptu dessert and was well-received.  The lemon filling was tart, lemony, and not too sweet.  The little bits of zest were pretty and added a nice lemon burst.

The next day we made pancakes and, instead of syrup, we spooned the lemon filling and a blueberry compote over the top.

After that, we put the lemon sauce and more of the blueberry compote on some lemon scones.

I have to call this recipe a failure because it didn't set up properly to be served as a pie.  I think the problem was that there was not enough cornstarch to thicken the liquid.  The standard is 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 1 cup liquid and, between the water and the juice, we had more than 1 1/4 cup liquid. Next time I would use at least 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch.  Still, I am not sure why this pie needed to be baked after the filling was cooked and thickened.

Finally, I needed to do something with the whipped egg whites I had made the night before.  Sitting had made them separate and they did not look like something I wanted to use "as is."  So I put them back into the mixer and beat them, hoping to get them back to stiff and usable.  I was surprised to see that they could be beaten back to stiff.  Once they were ready again, I spooned them into little piles on parchment paper and lightly baked them into simple meringue cookies.

The nice thing about knowing how to cook is being able to adapt and recover from failures.  : )