October 22, 2007

Apple Bread Pudding with Warm Bourbon Sauce

Here is my proud entry for Sugar High Friday #36, hosted by Spittoon Extra. The theme is "Drunken Apples"- basically, apples and booze. And yes, this bread pudding tasted better than it looks in the photo. Much better, in fact- it was positively scrumptious, and I think the booze made all the difference. The bourbon sauce is a vital part of the recipe- don't skip it! The bread pudding is good on its own, but the sauce takes it to a whole other level.
Another key to good bread pudding, I think, is the bread. I've tried to make bread pudding before with various levels of succ
ess, but this time I used leftover, slightly stale challah and it came out perfect. I'd also like to add some dried cherries to the pudding next time, for a nice tart addition.

**See the roundup for Sugar High Friday #36 here!

Apple Bread Pudding
Adapted from this recipe.
Makes 4 servings

About 2 cups bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I used about a quarter loaf of challah)
1 medium firm, tart apple, peeled cored and diced
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1/8 cup honey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt
pinch cinnamon
pinch nutmeg (you can adjust these spices to taste)

Bourbon Sauce

1. Butter a glass baking dish (I used a 1 1/2 quart pyrex casserole dish). Put cubed bread and apples in dish.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, milk, cream, honey, vanilla, honey, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
3. Pour liquid mixture over bread and apples. Mix a bit to make sure all pieces are coated.
4. Refrigerate for about 2 hours.
5. 20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
6. Boil a kettle of water. Put baking dish in larger metal roasting pan (or similar pan). Pour boiling water roasting pan until it comes up to about 1 inch up the side of the glass baking dish.
7. Bake 50 minutes, or until pudding is firm and top is golden brown.
8. Cool slightly before serving.
9. While pudding is baking, make bourbon sauce. Pour warm sauce over pudding just before serving.

October 20, 2007

Dining Out in the Electronic Neighborhood

It's amazing what you can find in your local public library. I shouldn't be surprised- my mom's a librarian and I practically grew up in libraries. But while searching for local historical resources at work the other day, I stumbled upon the Los Angeles Public Library's Electronic Neighborhood- a collection of electronic resources on the city's history which contains, among other thing, a collection of menus (mostly local) dating back to the 1860s that had been digitized and cataloged online, and made accessible to the public via an easy-to-use search engine.

This collection has led to a lot of slacking at work- I just can't stop browsing these menus. I find it endlessly fascinating to see what people ate in the past and how that changed over time.

There are a few restaurants that are still around, but most are long gone. Some have great names, like the "Bit of Sweden". Some have bizarre claims to fame, like Eaton's Chicken House ("glorifying the American chicken"), Marigold ("Best Ventilated Cafe in Los Angeles!"), and Trocadero ("The Only High-Class Restaurant in Hollywood").

Some menus are notable for their artwork, which ranges from charming to risque to featuring what is possibly the most terrifying chicken I've ever seen.

And all are signs of their times-- The World War II-era menu from Albert Sheetz Fine Foods features a stern-looking Uncle Sam eating dinner and declares, "For Health Defense! Properly Prepared to Retain All Vitamins."

Of course you have look at the menu options. What would a Los Angeles socialite eat at the Cafe Montmartre on Christmas Day in 1922? Why, "Cream of Lettuce Judith" and "Non-Fattening Parfait Amour", of course.

I'm really intrigued by the "Shish-ke-Dog" at Ken's Dog Kennel - it's so complicated that they had to diagram it on the menu. But the Temptation Sandwich at Buckhart's sounds positively revolting (buttered toast, fried ham, peanut butter, lettuce, pickles, and olives!).

And if you were craving something sweet in LA in the 1920s and 30s, you could swing by the soda fountain at the Pig n Whistle and indulge in a Creamed Buttermilk Phosphate or a Creme de Violet Sundae. (This restaurant, by the way, is still around today)

Even if you don't live in Los Angeles, I definitely recommend checking out this collection. It's kind of like rummaging through a virtual flea market- you never know what you're going to find.

For more library related food-blogging, check out Cooked Books. This blog (one of my favorites) is written by Rebecca Federman, the librarian in charge of the New York Public Library's culinary collection, and features recipes from both old and new cookbooks, historic cocktails, and general musings on the culinary past.

And, for more digitized menu collections see:
The Miss Frank E. Buttolph American Menu Collection at the New York Public Library
The Rare Menu Collection at the Cornell University Library

October 15, 2007

Cardamom Cinnamon Braids

Hooray!-- I have a new, better job, one in which I do NOT have to get up before dawn and pick fish bones out of piles of gravel. In celebration of this lucky turn of events, I baked some bread. This recipe was inspired in part by the fantastic cinnamon and cardamom rolls I made a few weeks ago, which I figured would translate well into bread form. I took a basic challah recipe, added cardamom to the dough, and rolled the ropes of dough in cinnamon before braiding to create these fragrant, slightly sweet loaves. Enjoy, and happy World Bread Day!

Update! See the roundup of World Bread Day '07 here at Kochtopf.

Cardamom Cinnamon Braids
Makes 2 braided loaves

For dough:
1 1/4 c warm (around 110 degrees F) water
1 packet (1/4 oz) dry active yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/4 c honey
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp cardamom
4 1/2 - 5 c flour
1 tsp salt


For glaze:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
coarse sugar

-Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water mixed with 1 tsp sugar. Let sit for 10 minutes, until yeast is foamy and active.
-Add remaining water, honey, butter, and cardamom. Stir to combine.
-Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until you get a sticky but workable dough. I used about 5 cups in total, but you may need more or less depending on a variety of factors like the type of flour you use, humidity, etc.
-Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Dough will be soft and smooth.
-Place dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until nearly doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours**
-After dough has nearly doubled, gently deflate it and let it rise a second time, about 1 hour**.
-Preheat oven to 350 F.
-After 2nd rise, gently deflate dough and turn it out onto a floured surface. Divide dough in half. Here, you have a choice - you can make 3- or 6-strand braids, and either bake them freeform or in a loaf pan. For a 3-strand braid, take one half of the dough and divide it further into 3 pieces. For a 6-strand braid, divide into 6 pieces.
-Roll each piece out into long strands. Sprinkle a little bit of cinnamon onto strands and rub with hands to coat the strands.
-Working with one half at a time, braid the loaves. For good instructions on how to braid a 6 strand loaf, see this video.
-Place braids on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Or, put in oiled loaf pan.
-Let rise for another 30 minutes or so, until almost (but not quite) doubled.
-Prepare egg wash: beat together egg and milk in a bowl. Brush over tops of loaves; sprinkle with coarse sugar.
-Bake 40-45 minutes, until bread is a deep brown.
-Remove from pan and cool completely on rack before slicing.

**This was how long the dough took to double in size when I made this bread, but it was was a pretty warm day. It may take your dough longer to proof depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

October 8, 2007

Goodbye, lazy student life: Weekend baking and Seriously Intense Chocolate Frosting

While I can't complain too much about having a job (but I will anyways), one thing I do miss about my lazy summer of unemployment was all of the time I had to bake. Now, I have to kind of cram in all my baking time on the weekends. I know, I know- welcome to the real world.

For the past few weeks I've been working at an archaeological site in Los Angeles, doing a variety of things. Basically, the situation is that this company wants to build a large office complex on this big chunk of land, but the law requires that before they can do that, they must first assess the impact that their work would have on the surrounding area. This includes not only the environmental impact, but also whether the construction would negatively impact any cultural or historic resources, i.e. historic buildings or archaeological sites.

The first week, we were doing test trenches- basically digging big holes to see if there was any evidence of historic or prehistoric habitation at the site. There wasn't, so the project ended. If we had found something significant, the next step probably would have been a full-scale excavation, to carefully document the sites before they were destroyed by the construction.

While we didn't find any artifacts, there's been archaeological work going on at this place (which is a massive housing and retail development) for well over 15 years now, so the company I'm working for has a mighty backlog of artifacts that need to be dealt with - sorted, inventoried, etc. I'm now working in the lab and helping to, well, deal with them.

This being LA, we're never far from the entertainment industry. The building next door to the lab is a World War II era hanger where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose (among other things), and it is now used as a sound stage for movie production. According to my coworkers there's been some major movies shot there, but it has been pretty quiet since I've been around. Although, the other day I saw a couple of horses outfitted with those funny motion capture suits...

Anyways, back to baking. The past few weekends I've had the opportunity to bake some fantastic deserts. Last weekend I made the Alsatian Apple Tart from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours (pictured at the top of the post). It was fantastic- easy to make and delicious. I highly recommend it.

A weekends earlier, I was the (self-) designated cake-baker for a friend's birthday party. I baked a chocolate cake and made some vanilla ice cream. I agonized for quite some time over what to frost the cake with - my original thinking was a light and fluffy vanilla icing, to contrast with the rich chocolate cake.

Well, I don't know how I ended up with this frosting- it's insanely rich and chocolaty and decadent, and not anything like my original idea. It's great for chocolate lovers, but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. I used 72% bittersweet chocolate, but you could easily use semi-sweet chocolate for a less intense frosting.

I also spread some raspberry jam (strained first to remove the seeds) between the cake layers, along with a thin layer of the chocolate frosting. This was a good move- it cut the intensity of the frosting and brightened up the whole cake.

Seriously Intense Chocolate Frosting
Makes enough to frost and fill one 2-layer cake

10 oz good quality bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 oz (1 stick) butter, room temp and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 oz (a little more than 1/2 cup) heavy cream

-In a double boiler, or metal bowl set over just barely simmering water, heat chocolate and cream, stirring constantly, until chocolate is just melted.
-Remove from heat and stir in butter, 1 piece at a time, until all butter is melted and mixture is smooth.
-Allow to cool completely at room temperature, until thick and spreadable (1 hour or so). Or, cover and refrigerate until needed, but bring to room temp before using.
-Optional step: Once frosting has cooled, use a whisk or electric mixer to whip icing for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You can probably whip it more if you want a lighter frosting, but I haven't tried this yet.

October 1, 2007

Cinnamon and Cardamom rolls

I don't have a lot of time to write at the moment, what with the new job and all, so I'll just say this: Go make these. They're just that good.