Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Bread Pudding

It’s such a cliché to talk about time passing in the blink of an eye and how the years creep up on you and before you know it, you’re old. Yada yada. I’m getting bored just typing those trite phrases.


It feels a bit like a sucker punch to your gut to realize that- man, oh man- you really are getting old. Eric and I joke about it all the time- constantly telling one another that we’re not getting any younger. Sort of like if we just keep making light of it, somehow we’ll keep old age at bay.

While I know that’s not possible, seeing glaring evidence of your advancing age is hard to face. Nothing quite reminds you that you’re getting older like seeing someone you only remember as a small child now old enough to vote.

I experienced this recently when, after meaning to do so since its release, I finally picked up a copy of Hot & Hot Fish Club- A Celebration of Food, Family, and Traditions. I worked for Chris and Idie Hastings, the owners of Hot & Hot Fish Club, while in graduate school in Birmingham, AL. I started not too long after the restaurant opened; in fact, I think I was the very first hostess hired. Way back when female hosts were still called hostesses.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen Chris and Idie as I don’t get back to B’ham very often. Funny thing, though, when looking over the lovely pictures in the book, it didn’t appear that Chris and Idie had aged a bit. They both still look just as I remembered them.

But their sons… my jaw practically dropped when I saw pictures of them and realized they’re now grown up.

When I worked at H&H, Idie would occasionally bring the boys in to visit. I don’t remember exactly how old they were but I’d guess 2-3 and maybe 4 years, young enough to be carried around on Chris’s shoulders. I was astonished to see that they’re now as tall as he is.

Time marches on, doesn't it? Most days I don't mind but some days I just don't like it. Thankfully, my disgruntledness with this fact of life was easily abated. There's not much that can't be fixed by the warm comfort and rich satisfaction of bread pudding.

Strawberry Rhubarb Bread Pudding
adapted from Hot & Hot Fish Club- A Celebration of Food, Family, and Traditions

I adapted H&H’s raspberry, white chocolate bread pudding recipe to make a lighter (well, as light as bread pudding gets), spring fruit version by subbing half-n-half for heavy cream and leaving out the white chocolate. I’m happy to report the strawberries I planted ripened up and turned a lovely bright red. While they were sweet and juicy, they weren’t particularly plentiful. I used the few that grew in this pudding but I had to supplement them with berries bought at the market. And I’m still on the hunt for that elusive, locally grown rhubarb I keep hearing about. It wasn’t at the market the weekend I planned to bake so I used Washington State, hot house grown rhubarb.

2 c heavy cream or half-n-half
1/2 c plus 3 T granulated sugar, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 (16 ounce) fresh French baguette, cut into 1/2” squares
8 ounces fresh strawberries, sliced
8 ounces fresh rhubarb, sliced
1 T unsalted butter, room temp
1 c fresh whipped cream for topping

1. Combine the cream or half-n-half and 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Add scraped vanilla beans and pod to cream mixture and bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and set aside. Allow to cool until warm to the touch.
2. Whisk the lightly beaten eggs into the warm cream mixture. Set aside to fully cool. Add the bread cubes and approximately three-fourths of the chopped fresh fruit to a large mixing bowl and pour in the custard mixture. Stir to mix. Press a piece of saran wrap directly on top of the pudding mixture and then use another small bowl nested in the mixing bowl to weight down the bread cubes so that they full soak in the custard. Allow to stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 350˚ Fahrenheit. Grease an 8 x 8” baking dish with butter and sprinkle in the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, turning on all sides to ensure that the dish is evenly coated. Spoon the pudding mixture into the dish and pour any remaining custard over the top. Top the pudding with the remaining one-fourth of the fresh fruit. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and set inside a larger baking pan or dish filled with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the pudding dish. Bake for 25 minutes. Take the pudding from the oven and remove the foil cover.
4. Increase the oven temperature to 375˚ Fahrenheit and return the pudding to the oven, and bake for another 35 to 40 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove from the water bath and set aside on a rack to cool slightly. Carefully remove the water-filled baking dish from the oven, discard the water, and set the dish aside to cool.
5. Cut the cooled bread pudding into equal squares and serve warm, topped with 1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly whipped cream.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Homemade Oreos

I’ve heard rumors over the years about oreos being made with some pretty unsavory ingredients. Does the old rumor about the filling being made from whale blubber still persist? I used to hear that one pretty often when I was a kid. Never stopped me from eating them, though.

Now that I’m old enough to know that oreos may not be made with whale blubber but that the actual ingredients are even scarier, I’m glad that there's an alternative that just might even be tastier.

Imagine my delight at being introduced to homemade oreos by Andrea from Bake Sale, a local bakery by order here in Austin.

Andrea joined in for an ATXSwappers meet up and brought a box full of homemade oreos. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you she was pretty popular with the other swappers. I managed to snag a couple of her oreos and they didn’t even make it home that evening. I ate both of them in the car while driving home. (I’m not proud to admit that but I think it well illustrates that my love of these cookies goes a little farther than the norm.)

After eating Andrea’s homemade oreos, I decided that I just had to give them a go.
Homemade Oreos
adapted from Baked Explorations

Baked Explorations includes a recipe for a salt and pepper sandwich cookie, a take off on an oreo, that could be easily adapted by omitting a few ingredients. I think my first attempt went pretty well with only one caveat: I should have heeded the advice to use a dark chocolate cocoa powder. My stash of Valrhona dark cocoa was low so I subbed a regular cocoa powder. The flavor just wasn’t as rich so don’t make my mistake. Note, I omitted the shortening called for in the original icing recipe and upped the butter quotient to compensate. The texture of my icing may not have been as smooth as an icing made with shortening but to me, it's a small price to pay to avoid the yucky factor of shortening. 

3 1/2 c all purpose flour
3/4 t salt
1/4 c dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I would highly suggest Valrhona)
1 1/2 c (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes, cool but not cold
1 1/4 c granulated sugar
1 3/4 c confectioner's sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 T pure vanilla extract
3 ounces good quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), melted

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small chunks, at room temperature
2-3 c confectioners' sugar, sifted
2-3 t pure vanilla extract

1. To make the cookies, sift together flour, salt, and cocoa powder in a large bowl and set aside. In a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions. Add the egg yolks and beat in one at a time until fully mixed in. Add vanilla and melted chocolate and beat until the mixture is a consistent color and the chocolate has been fully incorporated.
2. Add one half of the dry ingredients to the mixing bowel and beat for 15 seconds. Add the other half of the dry ingredients and beat for a few seconds until just incorporated. Shape the dough into two balls and wrap in plastic before refrigerating for at least 3 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 350º Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. When the dough has fully chilled, take one ball of dough and divide into two pieces and return one to the refrigerator. Place the other piece on a lightly floured surface and knead the dough with your hands until pliable and form into a disk. Use a rolling pin to roll out the disk to a 1/4" thick round. Flour the dough as needed as it may be sticky when working it. Cut out approximately 2” rounds with a cookie cutter and transfer them to the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch of space around each cookie. Continue the process with the remaining dough.
4. Bake the cookies for approximately 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time until the tops of the cookies look dry and lightly cracked. Cool the baking sheets on wire racks for a few minutes and then transfer the cookies to the racks to cool completely before filling.
5. To make the filling, beat the butter until smooth in a standing mixer using the paddle attachment. Begin adding the confectioners’ sugar one cup at a time until combined with the butter and the filling is to your desired consistency. Add an equivalent amount of vanilla by teaspoon to match the amount of confectioners’ sugar added (ex. if you used 2.5 cups of confectioners’ sugar then add 2.5 t of vanilla) and beat in for 10 seconds. The filling should be thick but spreadable. If it is too thick, add a drop or two of water as needed. If it becomes too thin you can add a tablespoon or two of confectioners’ sugar to thicken it back up.
6. To assemble the cookies, use a pastry bag or a small spatula or spoon to fill the flat side of a cookie and sandwich with another cookie. Press down lightly to spread the filling to the edges of the cookie. Allow filled cookies to set up for approximatley 15 mintues before serving. These cookies will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bake Sale Wrap Up: Mission Accomplished!!!!

Whoo Hoo! We did it!

Austin Bakes for Japan was a smashing success. Literally, as in we smashed our goal of raising $10,000 for AmeriCares for aid to Japan.

In total, the bake sale brought in over $11,700!!!!

Kathryn, our faithful, fearless leader, knew Austin could do it and I'm so glad she pushed us to aim high. (I initially thought setting the goal at 10K was too high and I AM SO GLAD I WAS WRONG!)

Much love to the Austin food community- the 100+ bloggers, home cooks, and pros- who baked their hearts out to support the cause. Their response and offerings were truly overwhelming. 

And a great big shout out to the other team captains who helped make this event happen: Lisa, Stephanie, Carly, and Rachelle. Good job, ladies!

It amazes me what can be done with a little hard work and a lot of heart.

If you're in the Austin area, please stop by and check out Woof Gang Bakery, who kindly hosted the site I (wo)manned for the bake sale. Thanks so much to Tom and Alan for their generosity! And be sure to give Willie Jo a pet if you go!