06 October 2012

OnTheFly - Honey Banana Bread Pudding

We've taken The Boy to the mountains for a long weekend getaway.

His first.  Our first with him.

We rented a little cabin on the lake and are trying for the first time in 5 months to RELAX.

Relaxing is a new skill we're hoping to master as first-time parents.  We're not awesome at it just yet, but we're giving it the old college try.

One way we've tried to make things easier is getting dinner to-go from local eateries.  Lugging the boy to a restaurant after a day of hiking or general exploring just doesn't appeal to either of us.  This to-go strategy has been hit and miss with some very hodge-podge meals.  Last night after a dinner of salad (finally some greens!), a ravioli, a few spoons of "potato soup" and 1/2 a grilled chicken sandwich, I was craving something sweet and honestly this cool 1950 Wedgewood stove had been calling to me to bake since we arrived!

Check out the baking guide on the oven door!  The broiler (the door on the right) has cooking instructions inside too.  I know some people who would really dig this feature on their fancy new stainless steel ovens...you know who you are.

How to satisfy my craving (to bake)?  I looked around our little kitchen and this is what I found:
  • almond milk
  • cereal (Trader Joe's Honey Oats & Granola)
  • coffee
  • honey
  • formula
  • herbal tea
  • sugar
  • butter
  • 4 eggs
  • cheap wheat bread
  • granola bar
  • onion
  • 2 packets of salt & pepper
  • leftover chili
  • half a bottle of chardonnay
  • 4 (expensive) bananas
  • baby oatmeal
Cody asked me, "Do you think you're on Chopped or something?"  Ye...of course not.  Besides, what we had in our bare vacation kitchen was way easier to work with than those Chopped baskets!

I toyed with making Pain Perdu, but the bread we had wouldn't make it worth the effort.  Or maybe a Chardonnay Sabayon, but with only bananas on hand it didn't seem worthwhile. Then it hit me. What about bread pudding?  That made sense and I there was this little 8-inch skillet I found in the cabinet that would be perfect.  I could even make a coffee caramel sauce to top it with if I was feeling fancy.

Bananas, honey, a couple of handfuls of cereal to keep it interesting.  I had a plan.

Oven preheating to 350, I was ready to improvise.

I cracked two eggs in a bowl and added some almond milk and a squeeze of honey and beat it well with a fork.  Meanwhile, I toasted the cheap bread a little to dry it out so it would soak up the custard.  I mashed one banana and stirred it into the custard then mashed up a second one when that didn't look to be enough.  After adding a pinch of salt I tasted it to see what I had--deliciously sweet custard.  Just to make sure it would be sweet I added a teaspoon of sugar (didn't need it after all).

The oven was pretty close to temp so I put a healthy tablespoon of butter in the skillet and put it in the oven to brown.  This would make sure my pudding wouldn't stick, but would caramelize the crust and add another flavor to the mix.

Back to the pudding.  I tore up the toasted bread and threw it in the bowl and mixed it with the custard.  Cody and I like a drier bread pudding so I didn't make as much custard as most recipes would instruct.  I did add a little more almond milk to make sure I had enough moisture to get a pudding-ish texture and then tossed in two small handfuls of cereal that I crushed before dropping into the bowl.

I pulled the skillet with the browned butter out of the oven and filled it with the custard soaked bread.  I drizzled some honey on top and let her bake.  The fancy caramel sauce was out the window when I remembered it was bath night for The Boy.  Next time.

Bath done.

Pudding baked.

Two little bowls of impromptu sweetness that we didn't need, but enjoyed immensely.  Cody said the cereal was a good addition--I liked the little bits of banana that popped up now and again.

 I love inspiration baking.  And this time it made for a perfect pre-Anniversary treat for my honey and me.

02 October 2012

Diós Torta or Walnut Torte with Walnut Custard Buttercream

Out of town guest?  Time to bake.

House guests are always a great excuse for me to try something new.  The way I see it:  I'll provide the shelter if you'll be my guinea pig.

I pulled the Kaffeehaus book off the shelf and rather than choosing a recipe, I let the book fall open to a page and that's how I landed on the Hungarian Diós Torta.


Sounded delicious and possibly nutritious. Walnuts are really good for you, right?

Diós Torta is in the 'Fancy Cakes' chapter of The Book.  I'm guessing it falls under that category because nuts can be pricey.  It may look impressive or "fancy," but don't be fooled, it's not difficult to make.

Walnuts show up a lot in Hungarian desserts.  I don't know if it's because of the historical connection to Turkey or just that the walnuts grow like weeds in Hungary.  In this recipe they are ground, but not with a food processor, by hand with a nut grinder.  Apparently, this retains the walnut's fluffy texture.  It was news to me that nuts could be fluffy, but after making the torte I now understand about the fluffiness.  Now I have another useful factoid to file away in my baking brain.

What Happened:
How to grind nuts without using a food processor?

I don't own a nut grinder.  My MacGyver instinct kicked in and I thought to try my rotary cheese grater.  Walnuts are pretty soft, so just maybe....

I'm happy to report it worked.  Messy and a bit of a pain, but I had hand-ground walnuts.

For comparison I also ground a small amount in my processor.  Rubbing the two samples between my fingers, the hand-ground nut really did feel fluffier.

I think the difference is that the speed and heat of the  processor blade tends to compact the nuts.  The blade heat forces too much of the nut's oil to be released creating a more "pasty" ground walnut, but only by comparison to the hand-ground ones.

Grinding by hand is slower and doesn't generate the same heat leaving the walnut (and its oil) more intact in effect making a mini, mini, mini nut that structurally more closely resembles the whole walnut.  

Presumably, the fluffier nut would make a difference in the texture of the cake, but if you don't have the patience to MacGyver it, then by all means grind your walnuts in the food processor--carefully. Only the fussiest of the fussy would be able to tell the difference.

Grinding the nuts--that was the only really challenging part of this recipe.

Something did happen with the baking of the cake though. After coming out of the oven it sunk slightly. WHAAA?

Don't panic if this happens.

It's no big deal--not ideal, but seriously no biggie. This can happen with the delicate structure of foam cakes.  I pulled it out of the oven probably about 3 minutes too soon.  While it was done by the toothpick-in-the-center test, the structure hadn't entirely set. It didn't effect the flavor or texture of the cake in any way.  The only consequence was that my layers weren't pristine--oh well, it happens.  So when you think the cake's done, wait 2 minutes and then pull it out.

Walnut buttercream.  In a word: Yum!

I didn't use it all so I froze what was left over thinking it would be really great on a chocolate cake with a little apricot preserves or orange marmalade smeared on the cake layers. I love leftover dessert inspirations.

Things I Would Change:

  • A touch of acid could do this cake a huge favor.  I added orange zest to the recipe to give it a little lilt.  It's a natural fit with walnuts and should serve to complement the play between the nuts and the cream.  Another way to balance the taste would be to slather a thin coating of tart preserves of any flavor between the two layers.
  • Toast the nuts.  With enough prep time this could only improve on what already works. Definitely gilding the lily.

The Results:
Pretty tasty.  OK, very tasty.

Cody's comment was, and I quote, "nutty."  I sure hope so!

The nuts made for a big flavor and added considerable moistness to the cake. Even with the custard-based buttercream it was surprisingly light. My house guest seemed to enjoy my experiment too.  You never know who is really up for trying something new and she was absolutely on board.

To be clear, this isn't one of those tall, sugary butter cakes that you see at birthday parties or anniversaries, this is more the low-slung, elegant, after-dinner variety that screams for a coffee chaser.  Now that Fall is here, I think this Diós Torta should sneak its way onto your table some night soon.  Don't forget the coffee!

16 July 2012

Cheaters Nectarine Tartlet

Tarts are my favorite.  Not pies, tarts.

Maybe it's the scalloped crust?  Although I like the straight-sided tarts too.

Maybe it's the fruit?  Nah, I dig a chocolate tart more.

Maybe it's just the simplicity?  Hmmmm.

Or maybe it's the pastry cream?  Not anymore....

It's summertime and to me that means stone fruits (and tomatoes).  Peaches are coming, but until then I'm indulging in lots o' nectarines.  I call them pre-peaches.

I like surprising Cody every once in a while with a fancy dessert after a simple supper.  To keep things a light--and simple--I ditched the pastry cream in favor of this cheat--non-fat Greek yogurt.

I don't know why I felt so clever this time, but I was very full of myself when I unveiled these beauties.  It could have something to do with the fact that Cody "doesn't like" Greek yogurt and yet I keep sneaking it into things that he absolutely laps up. 

Tasting the nectarines at the Farmer's Market--sweet, juicy, perfumy--I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them.  I had tartlet shells on-hand, making assembly a breeze.

FYI--whenever I make a pie or a tart I use the dough scraps to make tartlet shells.  Lay out the scraps, overlapping them just enough, sprinkle over some flour and roll lightly to remarry the dough pieces then lay them into the pans and cut.  Bake the shells and after they've cooled, wrap them well and freeze until you need them.  Sweet or savory fillings work--anything from extra pudding to mini quiche.

After gussying up the yogurt with lemon zest, vanilla and a squeeze of honey, I spread a little apricot jam in the bottom of the tartlet shells and filled them with the yogurt.  I sliced two nectarines very thin and layered the fruit over the yogurt filling and let them chill for a couple of hours.  To make them shiny I could have glazed them with warm apricot jam, but it was just a simple sweet bite for the two of us.

Cody doesn't like Greek yogurt, but he liked the Nectarine Tartlets!

The shells were so crispy that we could pick them up with our hands and bite into their sweet, creamy, crunchy goodness.  The nectarine was the absolute star of this show--as it should be.  And I know we saved a calorie or two by ditching the pastry cream. 

I love summer!!