Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Comfort Food Continued

There are many reasons why I am not a skinny cook, but prominent among them is the fact that I love carbs and comfort food.  Mac and cheese.  Hot flaky biscuits dripping with butter.  Mashed potatoes, or more to the point, ANY kind of potatoes.  In case you think I am kidding about that, I will shamelessly tell you about the time we went to Geronimo, a lovely restaurant in Santa Fe.  I perused the menu which looked interesting, but what really intrigued me were the four or five potato side dishes which were paired with many of the entrees.

Yes, I did!  I ordered every single one of those potato dishes for the sum and substance of my meal.  The poor server thought I was a lunatic, but he complied with my request anyway.  That dinner turned out to be both heavenly and memorable, in part because Henry will never let me forget it.  It would be appropriate to include a photo of a potato at this point in my post and I would if I could, but tragically I don't keep them around.  For obvious reasons.

The other thing that sends me into pure pig heaven is bread pudding.  I'm sure this is equivalent to blasphemy but I would choose it over an elegantly composed dessert, fancy French pastry or even chocolate.  I love it for its simplicity and how it makes you feel just flat-out-good.  At least while you are eating it.  You may want to shoot yourself afterwards, but that's a different matter altogether.  We are not going to talk about that here.

I will say this:  if you are going to indulge in bread pudding, then make it the best bread pudding possible.  That means using a good eggy and fattening bread like brioche or challah and making sure there is an abundance of liquid in which to soak it.  Below is my version of bread pudding nirvana.  Yes, it requires a few steps but if you are going to say "screw it, I'm eating it" then this is the recipe for you.


For the bread :
2 round Challah or 2 brioche, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 20 cups)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the apples:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the custard:
10 extra-large eggs
5 cups whole milk
5 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla paste (or extract)
1 cup caramel sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup crushed sugar cubes
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Softly whipped cream for serving, if desired

For the caramel sauce:
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla paste (or extract)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Divide bread cubes among 2 half-sheet pans and drizzle with the melted butter.  Toss to coat, then bake for 15 minutes or until just golden and toasted.  Remove from oven to cool while you make the apples.

Heat the 4 tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan.  Add apples, sugar, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest.  Saute over medium heat, stirring often, until apples start to soften, about 10 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, half-and-half and sugar.  Stir in salt, vanilla and 1 cup of the caramel sauce (recipe follows).  Whisk well to blend, then add bread cubes.  Let sit for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure bread is soaked through.

For the caramel, combine the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan.  Cook over high heat without stirring until mixture is golden and just this side of being overcooked.  Be attentive!  There is a very fine line between caramel which is golden but not quite browned enough and that which is perfect but not burned.  Don't walk away for a minute.  As soon as it reaches the desired color (and aroma - you will smell it if it burns), remove from heat and slowly add the cream, being careful as it will bubble up.  Stir carefully with a wooden spoon then place over medium heat to smooth out.  Add salt and vanilla.  Set aside.

Butter a large baking dish (the one I used was 11-x-17).  Place apples in bottom, then pour bread mixture over, making sure there is enough liquid to come up to the top (if not, add a little more milk or half-and-half).  Combine the crushed sugar cubes, ginger and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the top.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in a water bath.  Bake at 350-degrees for 1 hour then remove foil and continue baking for another 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown but still slightly "jiggly" in the middle.

Remove from water bath and let cool.  Cover with foil until ready to serve.

To serve, cut into squares or spoon onto plates and top with reserved caramel and softly whipped cream.  Try not to care that you are ingesting enough fat and calories to kill an elephant.  Trust me, you won't care while you are in the stupified state of eating this!

Serves 12 - 16 (this recipe can be easily halved)

For those of you who are attentive, you may remember that I posted a recipe for bread pudding some time ago.  For those of you who missed it or who care, here's the link:

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