Monday, January 24, 2011

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

This was my very first attempt at making any kind of bread pudding. We were invited to a dinner party on Saturday night and I offered to bring dessert. I settled on bread pudding because I had a loaf of homemade bread someone had given us in our freezer. It was time to either use it or lose it so I figured, what the hell! Nothing revitalizes stale bread like a good bread pudding recipe. And just because it usually pleases more people, I decided to make a chocolate bread pudding rather than the typical classic raisin version.
I think because I had to bake this ahead of time and then transport it to the party, it wasn't able to be served at it's peak of flavor - which would have been 30 minutes after coming out of a hot oven. Despite this however, and an attempt to reheat it at the party, it was still quite a flavorful dessert. The chocolaty richness is spot on and the bread develops a nice moistness from the eggy custard. But all these things are nothing without the topping. The topping. THE TOPPING! It really deserves its own post. The beautiful Bourbon Caramel Sauce is what takes this dessert from mild to wild, ordinary to extraordinary (anyone else out there watch Jerseylicious??), alright to out of sight! Ok you catch my drift. The sauce is worth making on its own with or without the bread pudding. It would be heavenly drizzled over some vanilla ice cream or brownies. I could honestly think of 1,001 uses for the caramel sauce. If you do anything with this post, make the caramel sauce. The recipe makes a ton so no need to use it sparingly! Glob it on and enjoy!

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Food & Wine Magazine online

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
One 1-pound loaf challah, crusts removed, bread cut into 1-inch dice (12 cups)

Butter an 8-by-11-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. In a medium glass bowl, microwave the chocolate at high power in 30-second intervals until melted, stirring between intervals.
In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a simmer over moderately high heat. In a large bowl, whisk the whole eggs and yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar, the vanilla and salt. Slowly whisk the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, then whisk in the melted chocolate.
Spread the challah cubes in the prepared baking dish and pour the chocolate custard over the top. Press the challah into the custard until evenly soaked, then let stand for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325°. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar over the bread pudding. Set the baking dish in a roasting pan and fill the pan halfway with hot water. Bake the bread pudding for 50 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the dish from the water bath and let stand for 20 minutes. Serve the bread pudding warm or at room temperature with the Bourbon Caramel Sauce and whipped cream.

Bourbon Caramel Sauce

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup bourbon

n a medium saucepan, bring the sugar, water and corn syrup to a boil over high heat. Cook until the sugar is dissolved, washing down the side of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Continue cooking, without stirring, until an amber caramel forms, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the cream. Let cool for 1 minute, then stir in the bourbon. Bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Let the caramel sauce cool slightly and serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Zia's Cannoli

Ahhh cannoli! I don't know if it's because I'm Italian, or because it reminds me of childhood trips to the Italian bakery in Baltimore or because my dad's favorite line from The Godfather is, "Leave the gun, take the cannoli", but I have a definite soft spot for these cream-filled pastry shells.
I was so happy when I came upon this recipe from a friend and former co-worker of mine. There are so many great things about this recipe. Let me outline them below because I don't want to miss a thing!

1. It was generously passed on to me from a former co-worker,Rita, who shares my Italian-American heritage. She had posted a status update and some photos on Facebook about her weekend making her great-Aunt Zia's homemade cannolis. I was interested immediately! I messaged her and asked if she could send me the recipe.

2. Not only did she agree to share her family's recipe that they've been making for generations, but she also offered me a sample of the cannoli shells she had just made!! What's better than being passed a tried-and-true tested recipe complete with a taste of the final product?? I was very excited!

3. On top of passing on the recipe and a few finished shells to boot, she went over the process with me step-by-step telling me some hints that worked for her, which made the whole process that much more foolproof for me.

4. I love that the grease spots and aged look of the original recipe came through on the photocopy. It makes me feel like I've been handed a little piece of my friend's family history.

5. These cannoli are DELICIOUS!!! The shells turn out light, crispy and airy and the filling is perfect, not too sweet or grainy.

My mom and I made these this past Christmas and I will say, it's a time-consuming process. I spent practically a whole day making the cannoli shells.
Having a deep fryer made the process go quite smoothly - rather than frying them in a pot on the stove.
Also, you do need one essential piece of speciality equipment to make cannoli shells called cannoli forms. These hollow metal tubes are what you'll wrap your rolled cannoli dough around to hold their shape while they fry. You can buy them online in sets of 4. I suggest buying the forms that are at least 6 inches long and 1 inch wide. My friend who gave me the recipe, Rita, had a set of cannoli forms her father cut himself years ago out of heavy pipe, so if you're industrious enough these can be gotten on your own for very cheap. I found the investment in a nice set of cannoli forms worth it since I plan on making these for many Christmases to come.
The only change we made to the recipe was using butter instead of shortening in the cannoli dough. My mom and I just like the flavor that butter lends to something, whereas shortening can be kind of bland. Hopefully Rita's Aunt Zia would approve. As much as I wish I could claim this was one of my Italian family's age-old recipes, at least from this point on we can incorporate it into our family traditions to be passed on to future generations. And that is very exciting! Enjoy!!

Zia's Cannoli

3 cups (1 1/2 lbs) Ricotta cheese (drain through a cheesecloth or papertowels at least 48 hours prior to mixing - DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!!! Otherwise you'll have very runny filling)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspooons vanilla extract
3 drops of cinnamon oil
1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup finely chopped candied citron (I OMITTED THIS INGREDIENT)

Combine and beat the drained ricotta, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon oil until smooth, about 10 min. with electric mixer on medium speed. Once combined, stir in the chocolate chips, and citron if using. Place mixture in refrigerator to chill.

3 cups sifted flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons white vinegar or Sauterne wine
2 tablespoons cold water

1 egg white, slightly beaten (for sealing dough around forms)

Sift together the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the pieces are the size of small peas and the mixture is crumbly. Next, stir in the beaten eggs. Finally blend in the vinegar and water one tablespoon at a time. Once the dough is combines, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead. Wrap in waxed paper and chill in the refrigerator for 30 min.

Set out your deep fryer and fill with vegetable or canola oil and heat to 360 degrees.

Roll the chilled dough out to 1/16 in thickness on a floured surface. Cut 4 to 5 in long ovals from the dough. I made a form out of cardboard and used that to measure and cut my ovals.

Wrap the dough loosely around the tubes and seal at the top by brushing with some slightly beaten egg white. Press edges together to seal. Place two tubes each into a fryer basket and lower. Be sure not to overcrowd the fryer (two shells per basket at maximum). Fry until golden brown. Once done, lift and drain fat before removing WITH TONGS to absorbent paper. Do not remove with your hands because the forms will be hot. Once forms have cooled slightly you can remove the shells. The first one or two shells on each tube may stick a little, but after that they should remove pretty easily. Just wiggle the shells back and forth to loosen them from the tube.

Fill the shells when ready to serve for best taste. Filling them too early will result in soggy shells. Dust lightly with confectioners sugar and sprinkle ends of cannoli with finely chopped pistachio nuts if desired.

Makes 40-45 thin shells. Shells will keep for about 2-3 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Braciole (Italian-Style Rolled Flank Steak)

Braciole, pronounced bra-shoal, is an age-old Italian meat dish. It's a very southern Italian, Italian-immigrant dish. My older relatives (think grandparents and their generation) used to make it all the time. I haven't had it in years and when I saw a post recently on Proud Italian Cook's blog, it made my mouth water and my tastebuds yearn for that melt in your mouth tender meat. The trick to braciole is the braising process - basically you sear the meat rolls and then simmer them for hours in a rich, winey tomato sauce. The end result is the most flavorful, fork-tender meat you'll ever eat. In my family, we usually rolled the pounded out flank steak with slabs of lard, which helps tenderize the meat. I noticed Proud Italian Cook used thinly sliced prosciutto and I absolutely loved this idea. I used pancetta however, and then I followed her basic stuffing combination and the rolls were delicious.
My mom was in charge of wrapping up the rolls and I think she went a little overboard! Check out those sailor knots LOL!
You don't need to use as much twine, not that it will mess with the taste but it did take quite a while to open these little packages when dinner was served. Mom was just being extra-cautious though so you can't fault her for hog-tying the rolls. She just didn't want the rolls to break up in the sauce. I'm sure it comes as no surprise that Italians are good with rope (lol little bad mob humor there, not sayin' anything of course! Just kidding!)
Anyway, here are some rough measurements I came up with for the recipe. In the true Italian tradition, PRC's blog doesn't provide measurements on her post, but I know not everyone can just improvise and I don't want that to be a reason why you didn't try this dish because it's out of this world. For the tomato sauce you can just use any basic tomato sauce recipe you like - one that has red wine in it might be nice, but not required. I think the wine helps tenderize the meat even more. You need kitchen twine to tie your rolls together. I prefer to cut the steak into strips in order to make individual rolls, but if you do an online search for braciole you'll find many recipes that have you rolling up the flank steak in one large piece and tying it that way. Do whatever works for you. Enjoy! We served this for Christmas dinner with some homemade crab and red pepper ravioli.

Source: adapted from Proud Italian Cook

4-5 lbs flank steak, pounded thin and cut into long strips about 3 inches wide
3/4 lb pancetta, sliced thinly (get this from your deli counter at your grocery)
1/2 cup minced garlic (almost one whole small bulb)
2/3 cup chopped parsley
2/3 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1/4 - 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (use more if your mixture is looking too thick with parsley and garlic)
olive oil

Mix together your garlic, parsley, cheese and breadcrumbs. Use a little olive oil, about a tablespoon or two to bind the mixture. Lay out your flank steak, make sure it's been pounded to about 1/2 inch thick, or thinner if you can without breaking the meat too much. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Layer the pancetta in a single layer on top of each flank steak. Then top evenly with the stuffing mixture and pat flat. Finally, roll up your flank steak and secure with kitchen twine.
In a high-sided saute pan, cover the bottom with olive oil in a thin layer and heat. Once the oil is hot, add your rolls, a few at a time, and brown on all four sides.
Remove once browned and set aside. Once all your rolls are browned, add them to your simmering homemade tomato sauce and let them cook on low heat for a few hours until the meat is tender. Be careful when stirring the sauce pot so you don't break up the rolls within the pot. Once done, remove and serve with more sauce and grated romano cheese and your favorite pasta. Enjoy!