Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Homemade Pudding

When I told my mom that I made butterscotch pudding from scratch, she said "oh I didn't make anything gourmet like that tonight." I came back with, "what's so gourmet about pudding?" The more I thought about it, the more I realized that yes, this is gourmet pudding. This pudding is so far ahead of those plastic pudding cups of our school lunch memories. If the world knew how easy it was to make pudding without a powdered mix or a trans-fat laden cup, maybe everyone would be making gourmet pudding.

This recipe from the latest issue of Gourmet is pudding for grownups. The flavors are rich and complex; the texture perfect. With just some simple whisking you can have homemade pudding in minutes. It is near magical. Plus this is almost a guilt-free dessert which can be made entirely with antioxidant rich brown sugar, and low-fat, organic dairy.

Butterscotch Pudding with Orange-scented Cream
adapted from Gourmet February 2009

cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tblsp + 2 tsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cups milk (organic EPA/DHA + reduced fat)
1/2 cup heavy cream (organic)
2 tblsp unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup whipping cream
2-3 tblsp confectioner sugar
zest of 1 orange, finely chopped

In a heavy pot, off the heat, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp salt. Put pot on medium heat and pour in the milk and cream. Whisk over medium heat for several minutes to dissolve the sugar. The mixture will be thin but as it comes to a boil will thicken rapidly. Once at a slow boil, continue for 1 minute then immediately take off the heat and whisk in butter and vanilla. Scoop into ramekins or a large bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours. Gourmet recommends using a sheet of buttered wax paper over the surface of the pudding. I think this is to prevent the inevitable 'pudding skin' but if you're a fan of pudding skin you can skip this step. I skipped it and just remixed everything together before serving.

Serve with freshly whipped cream sweetened with some confectioner sugar and the zest of an orange. You might consider making a double recipe because it won't last long after that first taste.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


The madeleine. Such a simple little cookie yet so difficult to perfect. Tender cake on the inside. Crisp edges on the outside. My first attempt was a complete failure. The second time around was near perfect. With some more practice I might just master this little cookie.

Lemon Glazed Madeleines
adapted from Martha Stewart Cookies
makes 2 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp coarse salt
3 eggs plus 2 yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tblsp lemon zest
2 tblsp lemon juice
1 1/2 sticks melted butter

For the Glaze:
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 lemon zested and juiced

Sift the dry ingredients in a small bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer add the eggs, sugar, vanilla, zest and juice. Mix with a paddle attachment for 5 minutes. The batter will get pale and thicken slightly. Mix in butter. Fold the dry ingredients in batches until combined. Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease your madeleine pan with butter using a pastry brush. Spoon or pipe the batter into the molds only filling each up 3/4 of the way or less. Bake for 7-8 minutes or until the edges start to crisp. Let cool slightly then turn out on wire rack.

To make the glaze, combine the sugar, lemon zest and juice in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Lightly brush the glaze over the cooled cookies with a pastry brush and let harden before storing.

Unfortunately these cookies are best the day they're made and quickly lose their flavor the day after. So have a huge tea party and whip up a batch! (Here is a great picture step-by-step of making these using a slightly different recipe.)

Friday, January 9, 2009

a new addiction

While many are giving up their vices this coming year, I have acquired a new one -- truffles. A truffle addiction isn't necessarily a bad addiction to have, but it is arguably much more expensive than smoking or alcohol. You see I haven't been right since the 'truffle explosion' that took place at Alinea a couple months back. Since then I can still taste truffles and I'm always wanting more.

I sometimes get asked what a truffle tastes like. It's really hard to describe. It's not mushroom-y. It's not dirt like and it's certainly not chocolately. How do you describe truffles? The only thing I can think of is pure umami -- that elusive fifth taste scientists can't quite wrap their brains around. Truffle is a taste that lingers and once you taste it, your tongue and brain will remember it forever.

Since truffles are difficult to find and totally impossible to afford, I've been getting my fix from truffle-studded cheeses. With every grocery store I enter, I first stop by the cheese case. So far I've found three cheeses that are quite wonderful and appear to be readily available. In order of greatness...

Boschetto Al Tartufo Cheese
A blend of cow's and sheep's milk to form a firm and moist cheese. This one won best cheese in the 1998 French Cheese show and I think I'd vote for it every time. It is hands down the best I've tried. Immensely flavorful, wonderful texture, and the taste lingers on and on.

Carr Valley Black Sheep Truffle Cheese
A sheep's milk cheese that is quite soft. This one is flecked with black truffles, soaked in truffle oil, and aged 6 months. I've found that Carr Valley really makes fabulous, award-winning cheeses across the board. I'm sampling the cocoa goat right now. yum!

Monti Trentino Caciotta Rustega with Truffle
Another Italian cheese made entirely from cow's milk. This is my least favorite but it is still very good. The truffle flavor here is less intense than with the other two. It isn't aged nearly as long making it more subdued and mild.

So next time you host a wine and cheese consider splurging a little and putting a truffle-studded cheese on your cheese board. Your guests' taste buds will get the ride of their life.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I'm all for the whole 'no-knead' bread movement. However, when life throws you a bread machine you just have to use it. You're probably thinking "ugh bread machines make oddly square shaped tasteless, crumbly balls of dough," and sometimes that is the case but the best thing about bread machines is that they do all the kneading and mixing for you and you can bake however you like.

I always make challah bread during the holidays. I make it because it is super easy in a bread machine but now that the whole no-knead challah is out there I will have to try the alternative to see which tastes better.

Bread Machine Challah

3/4 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
3 tblsp butter softened
3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast

Place all ingredients into the bread machine pan in the order above. Select Basic Bread and Light Crust settings then press Start. How easy is that?! Now the secret is to take the dough out 1.5 hours into the mix cycle. Take the dough out and place it on a lightly oiled surface. Form into a long roll of dough. Cut the dough into equal thirds, form into three long rolls, and braid. Tuck the ends under so you have a nice tight braid and set on a parchment lined pan to rest. Let rest for at least 30 minutes then bake at 350ish until golden, about 12 minutes. You can apply an egg wash if you like or brush with butter when it comes out.

If you're feeling more adventurous, you can try the nutella swirl variety.

Follow the same steps as above. When you cut the dough into thirds and lengthen them out, slice a slit down the middle of each third and pull it apart a bit. Now spread nutella generously down the middle of each third and seal up the sides by pinching them together. You don't want nutella escaping just yet. When done, braid as before. Let rest, then sprinkle hazelnuts on the top and bake the same as above.