Thursday, January 27, 2011

My New Favorite Breakfast: Jam & Bread Pudding

Sometimes I get into a rut in the kitchen. It can be due to the ingredients in my pantry, the ease of a recipe, or my sheer laziness. One such item is Cafe Beaujolais Coffeecake, a breakfast favorite. Torn out of the Food section of the San Francisco Chronicle two decades ago, this recipe is from Mendocino's famous CafĂ© Beaujolais. Delicious and easy to make, it is my default breakfast dish, great for larger crowds and holidays. But I’ve been looking for a companion dish, something that is easy and goes together quickly. Scanning my archives of clippings, I found it. Sitting there, waiting to be seen for five years!

Jam and Bread Pudding is a recipe I clipped from Food and Wine in December of 2005. Why I have never made this before is beyond me, and is clearly a mistake on my part. It takes about 30-35 minutes from start to finish and the ingredients are simple. I’ve served it twice now and it gets raves each time.

It is somewhat delicate in the mouth, due to the use of challah or brioche bread, and has just the right amount of sweet for kids and adults alike. The original recipe suggests you serve it with maple syrup, but there is absolutely no need. It is terrific all on its own.

I used homemade strawberry jam but I think this would work well with seedless raspberry, plum, or peach jam as well. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Jam and Bread Pudding

From Food and Wine, December 2005

One 1-pound loaf challah (or brioche) bread, sliced 1/2 to 3/4 -inch thick

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons strawberry jam or preserves

4 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon whole milk or half-and-half

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Arrange half of the challah in the dish; tear the slices to fit. Spread 3/4 cup of the jam on top; cover with the remaining challah.

Whisk the eggs, sugar, 2 1/2 cups of the milk and the vanilla and pour over the challah; press to soak and brush with 4 tablespoons of the butter. Cover with foil and bake for 24 minutes, removing the foil halfway through, until the pudding is set; remove from the oven.

Preheat the broiler. Blend the remaining 1 tablespoon of milk with the confectioners' sugar.

Add the remaining butter and jam and stir until the glaze is smooth. Spread all but 1/4 cup of the glaze over the pudding and broil until the glaze is golden. Drizzle the bread pudding with the remaining glaze and serve.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

An Organized Cooking Style

I am a Virgo*. Many say that makes me well organized, methodical, efficient, and apparently I cook in that same manner. And it works…for me.

It makes perfect sense to set out all my ingredients prior to starting a recipe. The French call this mis en place, “everything in place.” Then as I use each item, be it flour, sugar or a spice, I put the remainder away. Once I have come to the end of a recipe, my counter should be empty except for the finished product. In this way I know I have used all the ingredients. I don’t do this with everything, as I wing it a lot with savory dishes. But I am pretty faithful to this preparation in all things sweet or bread-related. I have had a few disasters in the past when I have failed to do so (like bread pudding without any sugar).

This method also keeps me from opening cabinets or drawers to retrieve ingredients or tools when I have dirty hands. Just as important, is using this technique when teaching someone to cook. Starting them out with good habits, like mis en place, gives them an edge in delivering a successful final dish. Success means they want to try again, try something new. And when a novice cook is unfamiliar with a kitchen, ingredients or tools, it keeps them from getting flustered in the middle of a recipe.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t improvise from time to time and throw something in spur-of-the-moment, like chopped pecans into my buttermilk banana muffins or some fresh orange zest into chocolate cupcakes (to celebrate the Giants World Series final game).

I’m not saying that this is the best method for everyone, but it does seem to make my kitchen life easier. What works for you?

* Out of curiosity I checked out the traits of a Virgo woman, and this description—while it has a few misspellings which make me crazy (part of my nature)—is scarily accurate. Kinda makes me a believer in astrology.