Cinnamon-Raisin Bread Pudding with Butter-Rum Sauce

bread puddingAt the recent boudin bash we had at Cathy’s house, I also contributed a cinnamon-raisin bread pudding with a butter-rum sauce to the festivities along with the jambalaya. Now, mind you … bread pudding is something I have long loathed (that texture thing I have), until I happened upon this particular combination. Everyone who has tasted it has loved it and I can now count myself among the devotees.

The secret is using cinnamon-raisin bread rather than bread with raisins thrown in. I like Trader Joe’s cinnamon-raisin bread (well, of course I do), but you can use Pepperidge Farm if that is the only option you have. Don’t skip the chilling of the mixture, otherwise your texture will be greatly compromised.

You can, of course, skip the butter-rum sauce and serve the bread pudding with plain whipped cream instead, but really … why would you?

Cinnamon-Raisin Bread Pudding

1 loaf Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Raisin bread (Note: this is different than Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Roll bread, although I have to admit I’m intrigued to use that someday and see what happens. Also, if you use Pepperidge Farm brand, you will have to use 1-1/2 loaves as the loaf weight between the brands differs.)
4 large organic eggs
1-1/2 cups organic whole milk
2/3 cup organic maple syrup
1/2 cup organic heavy cream
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Make sure the oven rack is in the center position. Spray a 10-inch casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Cut the bread into 1” cubes and place in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, maple syrup, heavy cream, brown sugar, vanilla and cinnamon until well-combined. Pour egg mixture over bread; stir well until all the bread is saturated. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Scrape the mixture into the casserole dish and smooth the top. Bake, uncovered, for 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan until just slightly warm before serving.

Butter-Rum Sauce

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) organic unsalted butter
1/2 cup organic heavy cream
2 tablespoons dark rum (Meyer’s Original Dark Rum is my favorite)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a heavy medium saucepan, heat the light brown sugar and the butter together over medium heat until melted and smooth, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Add the cream, rum, and cinnamon; lower the heat to medium-low and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and is reduced to 1-1/2 cups, about 5 minutes. Serve warm over bread pudding.

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Aunt Lena’s Roman Apple Cake

Cathy and I are both of Italian descent (translation: batshit crazy), so it should be no surprise to anyone that the love of good food is culturally programmed into our genes.
Italian-Americans take their food seriously. I mean, seriously. And for Italian-American women, it is often a huge point of pride to be locally famous for a certain dish—to the extent that it is not unheard of to be absolutely refused the recipe if you request it or, if it IS handed out, for certain alterations to be made so that the finished product is not quite as good as the original. (They even did it to me, totally favorite niece and great-niece of my family—not understanding my experience in recipe development and testing, so I just shrugged and fixed it myself without them being any the wiser.) These women take no prisoners.
Which brings me to Aunt Lena’s Roman Apple Cake.
In the small Pennsylvania steel town where my family is from, my Aunt Lena (my materal grandmother’s sister) was famous for this cake. I have no idea where she got the recipe—she would never say—but I suspect, based on the title since my family is not Roman, it was something she found in a newspaper or church cookbook when she was young, then honed and refined it through the years until it became the legend it was.
And that was all well and good—until my Aunt Hattie, my Aunt Lena’s sister-in-law, submitted the apple cake recipe to be included in the cookbook our family church was publishing in the late 1960s (and how Auntie H got the recipe, we’ll never know). Except she did it under her own name instead of under Aunt Lena’s name—which was exactly how it was published for all to see—and precipitated a war in our family that lasted …
… for thirty. Freaking. Years.
I was too young to be involved when all this started (I was about five), which I will regret until my dying day because, from the stories my mother and her cousins tell, the drama was absolutely awesome. Family reunions, Sunday dinners—there was a permanent line drawn down the center of any gathering and you risked the wrath of some seriously pissed-off Italian women if you crossed it (I understand my cousin Joey, the family troublemaker, tried to stir up some trouble once by pushing that line, and … well. Suffice to say, he’s still alive. Barely).
I can understand the bloodshed because this cake truly is amazing. Don’t make it if you are expecting the usual fluffy, light cake—this is a really dense and heavy cake that’s almost like an apple bread pudding with a yummy streusel topping. Although it is good the day it is made, it is heavenly if you wait a day after you bake it to let it mellow a bit.
Aunt Lena and Aunt Hattie have both shuffled off this mortal coil, God rest their souls, and the family no longer gathers, so I don’t have to worry about retribution for sharing this with you. Much. I wouldn’t put it past either one of them to haunt my dreams.
Aunt Lena’s Roman Apple Cake
Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup organic brown sugar
2 T. cold organic butter, grated
2 tsp. cinnamon (preferably organic Ceylon)
2 T. all-purpose flour
Pinch table salt
Cake:
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup organic butter, softened
1-1/2 cups organic sugar
2 large organic eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup organic whole milk, room temperature
3 medium organic Granny Smith apples, medium dice
3/4 cup organic raisins
Make the streusel topping: Mix together the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, flour and salt in a small bowl until well-combined. Set aside.
For the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13×9-inch cake pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, and mix well after each addition. Stir in apples and raisins. Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the cake batter.
Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool in pan on wire rack.
Makes 16 servings.
~ Tiffany

Banana Cream Pie

We eat a lot of fruit here at Magic Cove (our name for the Taylor homestead), so it was a bit surprising to find I had a few bananas on the verge of going to that big compost heap in the sky. I was struck by a sudden desire for banana cream pie—odd, given my usual ‘meh’ about most baked goods. But not only is a truly epic homemade banana cream pie an awesome summer dessert, I realized this would also be a great opportunity to say a few words on the art of tempering.
Now, if you are one of those folks who would be content with Jell-O Cook & Serve vanilla pudding dumped atop sliced bananas and smothered in Reddi-Whip, we can part ways here and I’ll petition the Goddess for your immortal soul. If you are interested in the real deal, however—and by that I mean a pie that uses rich cooked homemade pudding with real whipped cream—then stick around. Fair warning, though: this is not an easy pie to make for the beginner.
Tempering is a critically important step in many baking recipes, especially those that are custard-based, and requires you to slowly raise the temperature of an egg so that when hot liquid is added to it, the egg will not scramble. It sounds simple, but it can frankly be a bitch to pull off. You need to have the physical dexterity to whisk one mixture quickly with one hand while dribbling in hot liquid slowly with the other without knocking the entire mess over and, God forbid, trashing the kitchen and scalding the dog.

Even if you do manage to keep it steady, if you add the hot liquid too quickly or don’t whisk the custard fast enough, the mixture is going to dissolve into a coagulated pile of scrambled eggs sitting in a pool of hot liquid. Blech. Tempering is a lot harder than it sounds.
I recommend that anyone who has never tempered a custard before grab a friend or a family member to help on their maiden voyage. One of you can stabilize the bowl with the eggs and whisk while the other dribbles in the hot liquid. The recipe is written in excruciating detail as though you are feeling confident in your superpowers and are going to make a go of it yourself, but you can adjust accordingly.
This recipe also uses a stabilized real whipped cream, which is a bit more involved than simply whipping heavy cream and a sweetener together until it stiffens. If you have ever been plagued by thin runny whipped cream, this method will solve your problems (with the added bonus that your whipping cream will hold up for days). Plus, it tastes absolutely awesome.
This is not a quick or easy pie. There is all that business of tempering and cooking the custard, plus a considerable time factor to consider—bake the pie shell, make the custard, wait for it to cool, assemble the pie, chill it in the refrigerator, whip the cream, top the pie. It’s worth the bother, though. The finished pie proudly displays a silky, rich pudding and a fresh cream topping with a sensuous mouthfeel that is light years away from the powdered crap in a box and the chemical topping in a can.
Food porn, indeed.
BANANA CREAM PIE
One 9-inch pie shell, baked
Vanilla Pudding:
3 cups organic half and half cream
1/4 tsp. table salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
4 large organic egg yolks
3 T. cornstarch
2 T. organic unsalted butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 ripe bananas, sliced
Whipped Cream:
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4 teaspoons cold water
1 cup organic heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Make the vanilla pudding: whisk the half and half cream, salt and 1/2 cup of the sugar together in a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Heat over medium heat until it just barely starts to simmer, stirring occasionally.
While the cream is heating, whisk together the egg yolks, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the cornstarch in a heavy medium-sized bowl until well-combined.
Stabilize the bowl with the egg mixture on a wet dishtowel next to the saucepan (leaving the heat under the saucepan on). Once the half and half cream mixture comes to a simmer, take a ladle of the hot cream and, while whisking the egg mixture rapidly with one hand, slowly (slowly, slowly, slowly!) dribble the hot cream from the ladle into the bowl of egg yolks with the other. This is tempering. You are very gradually raising the temperature of the egg mixture so the eggs won’t scramble when they hit the hot cream.
You are going to whisk in about three ladles of the hot cream. Following the directions for the first two ladles and maintaining a very slow, steady stream is critical.You can relax just a bit for the third ladle, although you aren’t quite out of the woods yet.
When you have whisked in three ladles of hot cream, take the tempered egg mixture and, in turn, slowly pour it into the saucepan, whisking rapidly, until it is all incorporated.
Breathe. If you have a smooth mixture and not a lumpy mess, here is your gold tempering star.
Whisk the custard over medium heat and cook until it thickens and starts to bubble, about 3-4 minutes.
Once the custard is thickened, take the pan off the heat. Pour and push the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl to ensure you don’t have any solid pieces in the custard (and, trust me, no matter what kind of expert you are at tempering, you are bound to have a few coagulated bits here and there). Stir in the butter until it is melted and then add the vanilla. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the custard so it doesn’t form a skin and cool until lukewarm, about 20-30 minutes.
Slice the bananas and layer them on the bottom of the pie shell. Pour the lukewarm custard on top of the bananas and smooth with a spatula. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap with the wrap touching the surface of the filling so that it does not form a skin and chill until very cold, about 2 hours.

Make the whipped cream: (please note, if you use unflavored gelatin that is both hot- and cold-water soluble, as I do, you can skip the heating and cooling steps below. Just dissolve the gelatin in the cold water in a small bowl and add it directly to the heavy cream as directed). In a small pan, combine the unflavored gelatin and cold water; let stand until thick. 
Place the pan over low heat, stirring constantly, just until the gelatin dissolves. Remove from heat and cool, but do not allow it to set.
In a stand mixer, whip the heavy cream together with the powdered sugar until slightly thickened. With the mixer on low speed, add the cooled gelatin to whipping cream. When the mixture is completely incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and whip the cream until stiff.

Spread the whipped cream topping over the entire surface of the chilled pie. Cut into slices and serve. Refrigerate leftovers.