Dark Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread Pudding

As the leaves start to fall and the air becomes a bit chilly, my craving for pumpkin-flavored food starts to appear.  My belly craves warmth, comforting food–dessert.  And, to me, nothing screams comfort like bread pudding.

I’ve found that bread pudding either evokes intense excitement or scrunched-up noses when mentioned.  Sometimes described as “soggy bread,” I wouldn’t find the dessert that enticing either.  But, after having worked in an Irish Pub for over three years, I’ve discovered the truth.  Soggy bread, as some call it, is delicious. Just look at that picture and tell me you wouldn’t want a sample.

I came across this recipe in Gourmet years back and it has stuck in my mind ever since.  Naturally, though, I found an excuse to add chocolate (like this pumpkin bread).  The result was extremely decadent, especially served warm with ice cream.  It makes a great breakfast as well!

Dark Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Adapted from Gourmet & Martha Stewart
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
5 cups cubed day-old bread (I used challah)
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup pumpkin butter (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin, sugars, eggs, egg yolks, salt, and spices.
Toss bread cubes in melted butter in another bowl. Sprinkle in chocolate and mix again.  Transfer to a 8×8-inch square baking pan.  Pour the milk mixture over the bread and chocolate.  Dot with pumpkin butter.  Bake until the custard is set, 25-30 minutes.

Lemon-flecked Blueberry Pie

Is there a more fitting dessert on the Fourth of July than a blueberry pie?  If you find something, please tell because I can’t seem to find another thing I would rather bake when the holiday comes around.  Blueberries are just coming into season at the beginning of July, so the anticipation of the first blueberry pie of the season is high.  And so, on a 90+ degree day, I found myself cranking up the oven to 400 degrees, all in the name of blueberry pie. A little pie-obsessed? It’s hard to tell.

With the fan on high and the windows wide open with hopes of a cool breeze, I set forth on making the perfect blueberry pie.  I started with my trusty go-to pie crust recipe, with a sprinkling of lemon zest and ground ginger in between flakes of near-frozen butter.  The recipe for the blueberry filling came from Martha Stewart; however, I can’t seem to make anything without a few additions.  A little more lemon zest and a swirl of maple syrup seemed to be appropriate partners for the freshly picked berries.  20 minutes later, the pie was assembled and ready for the oven.

As the scent of the pie began to waft throughout the house, I knew the dessert was going to be a winner.  The challenge, as it turned out, was leaving the pie undisturbed (and uneaten) until the dinner party later that night.

The pie was a hit and, I must say, a perfect fit for the day.  However, I don’t know if I can (or should) wait until next year to crank up the oven for this pie one more time, and I don’t think you should wait either.

Lemon-Flecked Blueberry Pie
(Filling adapted from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
Pie Crust:
1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, diced
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup ice water
Pie Filling:
8 cups fresh blueberries, washed and dried
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 egg yolk
dash of water
For the pie crust:  Put the butter on a small plate and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Mix well.  Cut in the semi-frozen butter until the butter chunks are about the size of peas (I flatten any big chunks of butter with my fingers).  Pour 1/4 cup of ice water over the mixture and mix, adding additional water if necessary.*  Form the dough into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour
For the pie filling: Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure to mash up some of the berries in the process.  Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle flour on the countertop and the rolling pin.  Roll dough into an 11 inch circle, picking the dough up and rotating it 45 degrees after each stroke to prevent sticking.  Place the circle of dough into a pie pan and trim the overhang to meet the sides of the pan.  Pile the filling into the lined pie pan.  Roll out the remaining disk of dough.  Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles of pie dough to use as a decorative border and upper crust (roll out the scraps if necessary).  Make an eggwash with the yolk and the water and brush on top of the pie crust.  Sprinkle the pie with sugar and place in the oven.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.  Turn down the oven to 350 degrees and bake until the filling is bubbling, approximately 35-45 minutes more.  Let the pie cool before slicing.
*Hint: The pie dough has enough water when, after squeezing some dough in your hand, the ball of dough stays together.    If it does not, add more water by the tablespoon until it holds together.

Rhubarb Tart with Orange Custard

I’m back!  Sorry for the delay, but I found myself quite wrapped up the exciting flurry of college graduation.  I’m looking forward to a summer filled with tasty treats and new cooking adventures.

And so, to kick of my summer of food, I am bringing you one of my favorite late-spring treats: rhubarb.  I have been known to pick up pounds upon pounds of this vegetable from the farmer’s market each year.  In fact, I just picked up another three pounds of the red and green stalks yesterday, making this year’s rhubarb tally reach a total of six pounds (and I’m definitely not finished yet!)  I still have strawberry-rhubarb-jam with lavender to make this summer.

I decided to forgo my traditional rhubarb cookies for a new recipe–a rhubarb tart with orange custard–from the lovely Deborah Madison.  I wouldn’t quite categorize the treat as a tart, for it reminds me more of a rhubarb pound cake, but, either way, it is a delicious way to showcase my favorite spring ingredient!

I’d also love to hear about any of your favorite ways to use rhubarb.  Please feel free to post any recipes/links in the comments.

Rhubarb Tart with Orange Custard
(Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)
This dessert is best served the day it is made, as the center gets a bit mushy after sitting for a while.  However, it is perfect for an indulgent breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack, or an after-dinner treat with ice cream.
For the dough:
1/2 unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 cup flour
For the filling:
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
1/2 cup cream
Lightly grease an 11-inch tart pan. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees*.
Cut the rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces. Toss it with the sugar, cloves, orange zest, and cinnamon.  Set aside for at least one hour.
To make the dough, cream the butter, sugar, and salt together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Add the vanilla and the orange zest, then stir in the flour. Smooth the batter into the prepared tart pan, pushing it up the sides to make a rim.
Beat the egg for the filling in a 2-cup measure. Add the juices from the rhubarb and enough cream to make 1 cup. Distribute the rhubarb over the batter, keeping it within the rim. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the fruit and bake until set and lightly browned, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven.
*Note: If you want to avoid a messy oven, place a layer of aluminum foil on the shelf below the tart while baking.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

As I basked in the sun on my front porch last week I suddenly realized that it had been a while, a LONG while, since I had spent time in the kitchen.  I had put granola and yogurt in a bowl, brown rice in a pot of boiling water, and fried a few eggs here and there, but I hadn’t spent more than 30 minutes making anything.  And so, I vowed to make dinner…a big, elaborate dinner.

I went to the “to make” folder on my computer and came across Alexandra’s recipe for homemade tortillas.  Yes, the recipe is a little bit tedious, but I was sure it would be worth the effort.  Oh boy, was I right!

Homemade tortillas are fantastic: soft, yet chewy, with far more flavor than their store-bought cousins.  I topped the misshapen beauties with spiced, shredded chicken thighs, citrus-jicama slaw, corn salsa, and queso fresco.  Served with spicy black beans, and chips and salsa, the meal was a hit.

Homemade Flour Tortillas
(recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen)
Makes about 10 small tortillas or 6 large (burrito size) tortillas.
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp. table salt (not kosher) I used sea salt, fine
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 c. unsalted butter
2/3 cup warm water
Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Stir in warm water with a fork until a shaggy dough forms.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 3-4 minutes until smooth, soft, and not sticky, adding more flour if necessary.
Cut the dough into 2-oz. pieces for taco-sized tortillas or 3-oz pieces for burrito-sized tortillas.  Shape pieces into a ball.  Cover with a very light kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Be careful that your room isn’t too hot. Let the dough rest 30 minutes and up to two hours.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each ball to about 9 to 10 inches (taco) or 11 to 12 inches (burrito) in diameter, or until you can see the counter start to come through.
Heat a 12 inch non-stick or cast-iron pan (do not add any oil) on medium-high. Lay the tortilla in the pan and cook until it puffs and little brown spots on the underside appear. Turn with tongs and cook. Each tortilla takes about 45 seconds.