Sunday, June 29, 2008

Apricot Bread Pudding

Bread pudding, like marmite, is just one of those things: you either love it or hate it. I belong in the first camp, along with my mom, who is a bread pudding super-enthusiast. The addition of apricots here gives a nice tartness to an otherwise very creamy dessert (as does the addition of Grand Marnier, which I think most desserts should endeavor to include), transforming a wintery dish into an undoubtedly summery one.

The recipe I found on Epicurious called for dried apricots, but having fresh ones on hand from the backyard garen, I decided to roast them to concentrate their flavor. This was uncharted territory for me. Lacking any kind of method, I just split them and put them in a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes, completely naked, and they came out beautifully. Note to self: must try roasted apricots with greek yogurt and/or ricotta and/or crème anglaise and/or soaked in booze. Also: roast other fruits and see what happens.
For the bread pudding, I used a beautiful half loaf of brioche, but day-old croissants or even just plain white bread would work too. Examining the original recipe and imagining my arteries slamming shut, I balked at using 5 cups of cream in anything, so I immediately halved the entire recipe and replaced some of the cream with milk. Nevertheless, the result is truly decadent (if heart-stopping), with a crusty golden brulée top, and chunks of chewy sweet apricot throughout; a new and summery twist on an old favorite.

Apricot Bread Pudding

½ C. Grand Marnier
3 Tbsp. water
1 ¼ C. whipping cream
¾ C. whole milk
3 eggs
½ C. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
½ tsp vanilla and ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 to 4 cups day old brioche, cubed
About 6 apricots, split, stone removed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the cut apricots skin side down in a baking dish and roast for 50-60 minutes, until they are tender and starting to shrink. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cut into large dice. Next, combine the Grand Marnier and water in a small saucepan over low heat for about 8 minutes (to cook off most of the alcohol), remove from heat and allow to cool.
Whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla (extract and seeds scraped from the bean). In a large bowl, soak the cubed brioche and roasted apricots in the cream mixture, allowing to sit for about 20 minutes. Spoon the mixture into ramekins (should make about 6 or 7). Place ramekins in a roasting a dish filled with water to reach halfway up the ramekins. Sprinkle the tops if the bread pudding with 1 tsp. sugar each. Carefully place in the 350 degree oven and bake for 50-55 minutes.
Serve warm.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Plum Tatin

With over-stuffed suitcases and nerves shot from exams, I arrived home to summer in California. Jetlag gives me at least 4 hours alone in the kitchen before anyone else even bats an eyelid, and the beautiful summer produce rolling in from the backyard is currently keeping my hands pleasantly busy while watching the drama unfold.

Last year when the plums came in, I made a nice preserve that was pleasantly tart, but I felt it lacked body since the thin skins disintegrated, but the fibrous texture remained. So this time, I decided to use the structure of the fruit in a way that would improve the final product. This recipe is a nice summery twist on the classic apple tarte tatin, and the final color is really remarkable. You could certainly use a pre-made crust for this, but I thought that since the plums have quite a bite to them, that it would be better to go with a slightly sweetened pastry for the base. The flavors are uncomplicated and clean; no need to fuss.
Next up, I have my eye on the apricots…

Plum Tatin
For the pastry:
1 ¼ cups flour
½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup butter, chilled and cut into cubes
Pinch salt
2-3 Tbsp. ice water
For the tatin:
2 ½ cups small red plums, pitted and quartered
6 Tbsp. butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
To make the pastry, pulse the flour, powdered sugar, salt and butter in the work bowl of a food processor, just enough to create a dry, crumbly mixture. Add the ice water one tablespoon at a time, until the crumbs start to cohere, but short of forming a ball. Form the dough into a flattened disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate (about an hour).
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a nine or ten inch oven-proof skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and sugar, stirring for about 2 minutes. Lower the heat and place the quartered plums skin side down in tight concentric circles. Cook for about 15 minutes without disturbing the plums, until the juices are released and the fruit beings to soften. Bake in the oven for about 5 minutes, then remove (remember your oven mitts!) and turn up the heat to 450 degrees F. Spoon off most of the excess juices, so the pastry won’t get soggy (mine yielded about half a cup, which I reduced to make a sauce with). As the plums cool a bit, roll out the pastry about an inch wider in circumference than the pan. Carefully place the pastry over the plums and tuck the overlapping edges underneath to form a lip. Bake for about 15-18 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and invert onto a serving platter once the juices have stopped bubbling and allow the tarte to cool slightly. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.