Louisiana Bread Pudding with Rum Butter Sauce

I’m on a bit of a dessert craze right now.  My sweet tooth is tingling and I’ve been dreaming about bread pudding.  Not that dry flavorless stuff you get at the buffet, but moist deep flavored goodness that leaves you begging for more. This post is based on a recipe from my favorite cookbook of all time; “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.”

If I was stuck on a desert island with only one cookbook (a desert island with a kitchen, of course), this is the one I would want.  I get hungry just thinking about the recipes in this cookbook.  Paul Prudhomme takes his flavors very seriously, and will stop at nothing to ensure they are richly developed.  My kind of chef.  My recipe below is very close to the original, but not exact.

Louisiana Bread Pudding

I have loved bread pudding as long s I can remember.  My mom whipped up a pretty good bread pudding when I was a child, and ever since then, if I see bread pudding on a menu, I immediately think about trying it.  Unfortunately, I have eaten far more disappointing bread puddings than I have eaten delicious ones.  A sad situation, which I am guessing has not done much to elevate the stature of bread pudding in the public eye.  I think this bread pudding can change that.  Spread the word.

3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (don’t you dare use the fake stuff!)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly ground is nice if you’ve got it)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) melted butter
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup raisins (regular or golden)
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped (Trader Joe’s sells them ready to use)
5 cups stale white bread with crust on, cubed (I use Challah bread, but other types like French or Italian are fine)

Butter Rum Sauce Ingredients:
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons rum (or bourbon or brandy)

First, ensure your bread is nice and stale.  If you slice good bread into 3/4” cubes and leave them out overnight, you should be good to go.

Preheat oven to 300°.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk until they are extremely frothy (and you are tired of whisking at 100 miles per hour).  You can do it in an electric mixer if you prefer, but this is the only ingredient that requires any serious energy, so I say “why bother.”  Add the remaining ingredients (except the bread) and mix thoroughly.  Grease a loaf pan and distribute the bread cubes evenly.  Based on the photos, you can see that I used a 9×13 cake pan, but the end result was not thick enough for me, although certainly tasty.  Next time I will use a loaf pan or a smaller cake pan.  I have no idea why I chose this cake pan.  Pour the mixture evenly over the bread cubes and then toss them by hand or with a spatula to ensure the mixture is evenly distributed in the pan.  The goal is to ensure all bread is wet with the mixture.  Dry bread pudding will not be served in my casa.  Let the mixture sit on the counter for about 45 minutes to ensure the bread soaks up all that delicious liquid.  Are you hungry yet?

Bake for 40 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 425° and bake another 15-20 minutes, until the top is nicely browned and puffy, but not burnt.  The very edge might look a little burnt, but if the center is burnt, you have overbaked it.  Watch it closely after it’s been at 425° for 10 minutes and make sure it’s just right.

Louisiana Bread Pudding

You may serve warm or at room temperature.

Now it’s time to make the sauce.  Paul Prudhomme has a beautiful Chantilly Cream sauce in his book, but I also like a butter rum sauce based on a recipe I found on a site called “Bread Pudding All Day.” Lightly beat the egg and place it with the sugar and butter in a small saucepan.  Whisk continuously over low heat until mixture thickens.  Do not boil.  Once the mixture thickens, remove from heat and stir in rum.  Pour a small quantity of sauce over each slice of bread pudding as it is served.  Your challenge is to see if you can eat only one slice.  If you can, you are a better person than I am.  I love this stuff!

Flan de Tres Leches

My wife is from Costa Rica, and when we were visiting family there this past summer, I was looking for a dessert that I could make with locally sourced ingredients that would “wow” guests but still be easy to make.  When my research uncovered several recipes for flan de tres leches, I think I struck gold.  It looks and tastes elegant, but uses only a few ingredients and is ridiculously easy to make.  Since the summer, I have refined the recipe and it has become one of my favorite go-to desserts because it’s so easy to make, and tastes sooo good!  As an added bonus, tres leches cake is a very popular dessert in Costa Rica and certain other Latin American countries, so just saying the words “tres leches” gets the salivary glands working in anticipation of delicious flavors.
Flan de Tres Leches

“Tres leches” is Spanish for “three milks,” and three different kinds of milk are the foundation for this flan; condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy whipping cream.  It is a rich and creamy custard delight, and is not for those looking to drop a few pounds this week.  Of course, I’m recovering from cancer right now and recently lost 25 pounds while going through treatment, so I’m under doctors’ orders to eat this stuff.  It’s true.  Really!

1 cup sugar
5 eggs + 3 egg yolks
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
1 can (14 oz.) condensed milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream (whole milk will also work in a pinch)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (don’t use the fake stuff..  Really.)
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur (optional, but adds a nice complexity)
Pinch of sea salt

This recipe will make two pans of flan.  I buy the disposable 8-1/2” round cake pans (they usually come in a set of 3), which means less clean-up at the end (yay!). You will also need a roasting pan to facilitate the water bath.  In Costa Rica, we didn’t have a roasting pan, so I just set the cake pan inside a very wide sauce pan, and it worked just fine.  I have also used a 13×9 cake pan instead of a roasting pan.  If you don’t have two of them (to bake both flans at the same time), you can simply bake one after the other.  I suppose you could split the recipe in half and only make one, but if you have a few people around, this flan gets eaten so quickly you’ll regret not having two.  Trust me on this..

Preheat oven to 350°. Separately, get a tea kettle of water boiling (or a large saucepan of boiling water will work fine).  This will be used for a water bath when we’re ready to put our flan in the oven.  On the stovetop, pour one cup of sugar into a medium size non-stick coated frying pan.  Using a wooden spoon, stir sugar frequently at medium high heat.  Eventually the sugar will start to melt.  Be patient.  When it does start to melt, parts of it will first liquefy and will then re-harden into nugget-like chunks.

At this point, you will think you messed up and things aren’t working, but as the sugar continues to heat, the chunks will then start melting into a liquid caramel. The caramel will turn medium dark brown, but you definitely do not want it to burn, so keep stirring.  I also recommend scraping off your wooden spoon with a knife as soon as little bits start to harden on it.  Once the bits harden on the spoon and are not quickly removed, they will harden like rock and will not come off until you later soak the spoon in hot water, and will make the stirring more difficult in the meantime.  Once the caramel is fully liquefied, pour into the disposable cake pans, splitting the amount between the two pans. Immediately tilt the cake pans to ensure the caramel covers as much of the pan bottom as possible.  It will harden quickly and you only get a few moments to ensure pan coverage.  Set the pans aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks until they are fully combined and frothy, as if you were making scrambled eggs.  Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and fully combine.  Pour the mixture into the pie pans on top of the hardened caramel, splitting the quantity evenly between the two. Either earlier in the process or while pouring the mixture into the pans, you might see or hear the caramel cracking.  Ignore it, as it has no effect on the end result.  Place the cake pan with flan mixture in the middle of the empty roasting pan and pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the outside of the cake pan, about half an inch or so.  Place the roasting pan in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.  You can easily test when the flan is done by sticking a toothpick in it.  When the flan is fully baked, the toothpick will come out fairly clean.  If it is covered with flan, bake a little longer.  Do not overbake.  Once done, remove from the oven and let cool for about an hour.  Once the flan is fully cooled, place in the refrigerator overnight.

After chilling overnight, your flan is ready to serve.  I think flan tastes best when it is not too cold and has been out of the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  First, using a thin knife, separate the edge of the flan from the pie pan.  Be careful as you trace around the edge, but don’t worry too much about how beautiful it is.  Once it’s upside down and caramel is dripping down the sides of the flan, no one will notice any errors in your knife work.  Choose a rimmed serving dish that has a flat bottom just slightly wider in diameter than the inside diameter of the cake pan.  If you don’t have a serving dish, many dinner plates are almost perfectly sized to use as a serving dish.  Your guests will be so busy eating the flan, they won’t even notice the dish!  Place your serving dish upside down on top of the flan pan, and holding both together tightly, flip quickly so the serving dish is right side up and the flan pan is upside down.  Do not remove the flan pan yet!  Let it sit for at least 15 minutes while the caramel drips from the pan all over the top and sides of the flan.  When you finally lift off the flan pan, you will gasp with delight at the spectacular dessert you just made.  And you don’t have to tell anyone how easy it was to make.  It will stay our little secret.  Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

I apologize that this food blog has been a bit slow getting off the ground. Around the time it was launched, I was diagnosed with throat cancer, and have spent most of the past two months receiving treatment in Houston, Texas. Now that I’m back home in Orange County recovering, it seems like a good time to try out a few recipes. Over time I have continually revised and tested my chocolate cheesecake recipe, and I think this one is probably as developed as we’re going to get. I’ve tested the latest tweaks twice this week, and am pleased with the results.

Cheesecakes are fairly simple things. The devil is in the details. Just a few slight deviations from form can ruin an otherwise perfect cheesecake. On the other hand, there is incredible latitude in what ingredients you can use to put a cheesecake together, and how you can tweak the flavor profile. Every cheesecake I make is slightly different than the one before. However, there are certain procedures I always follow.

In the baking instructions, I’m going to assume that you are not a cheesecake expert. If you are an expert, the ingredient list is probably all you need. If you are aspiring to be a cheesecake expert, I will try to share every secret you need to make a perfect cheesecake and join the ranks of those who find great pleasure in crafting beautiful cheesecakes. This post should serve as a good “cheesecake how to” or “cheesecake 101.”

Crust ingredients:
1 cup graham crackers
4 Oreo cookies (white centers removed)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ tablespoon cocoa powder
6 tablespoons melted butter (3/4 of a stick)
10 chocolate covered espresso beans (optional ingredient – I buy mine at Trader Joe’s)

Filling ingredients: Please note the ingredients that must be at room temperature. Set these out a couple hours before starting.
3 bars cream cheese (8 oz. each) at room temperature. Do not use reduced fat!
1 tub mascarpone cheese (8 oz.) at room temperature
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1-¼ cup baker’s sugar
2 tablespoons brewed coffee (I use the boldest coffee or espresso that I have)
3/4 teaspoon dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs at room temperature
3 egg yolks at room temperature
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I use two Ghirardelli 60% baking bars)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream + 1 tablespoon at room temperature
¼ cup sour cream at room temperature. Do not use reduced fat.

Ganache ingredients:
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I use 1-1/2 Ghirardelli 60% baking bars)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur

The first step is to prepare your 9 inch springform pan. Take out the removable bottom piece and cover the top side of it with aluminum foil. Wrap the foil back over the lip of the bottom insert just enough to enable you to place the pan bottom piece back into the springform, with the flat piece of foil looking up at you from the bottom of the pan as you look into the top of the pan. Lock the pan in place and fold the excess foil up around the edges of the pan. I like it to come all the way to the top edge of the outside of the pan, and I just fold any excess back. Then, for extra sealing, I rip another piece of foil the same size as before, and wrap it up around the whole pan, right to the top edge again. This helps keep water from seeping into the edges of the pan during baking. Some condensation will get in anyway, but I do not like soggy cheesecakes. One tip: I buy the 18 inch wide aluminum foil, which makes this whole process easier. Also note that I do not coat my pan with butter for this cheesecake. You may if you like, but I don’t like the greasiness when it’s all done, and the crust should have plenty of butter in it already.

Preheat your oven to 350° and prepare the crust by crumbling the graham crackers and cookies into a food processor. Add the salt and sugar (and espresso beans if desired). Pulse chop ingredients in the food processor until no large chunks remain. Mix ½ teaspoon of cocoa powder in a small bowl or cup with 1 teaspoon of water. Once fully mixed, drop into the food processor along with the melted butter (I just put the butter in the microwave for 30-50 seconds to melt). Continue to pulse chop all ingredients, scraping at least once to ensure all ingredients combine. Mixture should clump together somewhat, but not be mushy. It should have both a dry look and a sheen from the butter. It is better to under-process than to over-process. Press the mixture into the springform pan, ensuring even coverage over the bottom and about 1/3 to halfway up the sides, checking to be sure there are no lumps or gaps in coverage. You may use your hands, but I prefer using the back of a large serving spoon to spread and form. Once you are satisfied with your crust work of art, place the pan in the oven for about 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool while you prepare the filling.

Lower the oven to 300°. Separately, start a tea kettle to boil water, or boil a small pot of water separately. The boiling water will be used for the water bath when the cake goes in the oven. Also, set aside a large empty roasting pan. Finely chop the bars of bittersweet chocolate and place in a small mixing bowl, flattening out the top of the mixture. Slowly heat 2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream in a small sauce pan just until starting to boil around the edges. Immediately remove from heat and pour over the chocolate bits. Use only enough cream to just cover the chocolate. Any additional cream may be discarded. Allow chocolate mixture to sit for 5 minutes, then thoroughly mix with a fork or whisk. Set aside to cool. In a large mixing bowl (I use a 6 quart stand mixer), place the cream cheese and mascarpone cheese. Mix at medium low speed until somewhat creamy, probably about 2 minutes, stopping once to scrape bowl and beater to ensure ingredients combine. Add salt and about half the sugar and continue mixing, stopping once to scrape bowl and beater. Add the remaining sugar and mix until fully combined, stopping once to scrape bowl and beater (you’re going to start seeing a theme here..). Once mixture looks nice and smooth, add the vanilla. In a small bowl or cup, mix the dark cocoa and coffee together, adding to the mixing bowl and mixing until fully combined. Add each of the 3 eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape the bowl and beater thoroughly after each egg to ensure no lumps and thorough combining of the mixture. After the eggs, the 3 egg yolks may be added at once, again ensuring thorough mixing. When complete, thoroughly scrape bowl and wash both the beater bar and your spatula to ensure there are no lumps. Resume mixing another minute or two to ensure a smooth mixture. Add the chocolate mixture that you previously set aside and thoroughly combine, stopping at least once to scrape down the bowl and beater. Once everything looks smooth, remove the mixing bowl from the mixer and add the sour cream and tablespoon of heavy whipping cream. Fold in by hand with a clean spatula until thoroughly combined, with no white spots or lumps.

Pour the mixture into the springform pan, but do not use a spatula. If you scrape the bowl with a spatula, you will introduce lumps into the cheesecake that have instead chosen to stick to the mixing bowl. I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to lick part of the bowl and discard the remaining batter. It’s the price of maximizing the quality of your cheesecake. Place the springform pan gently in the center of the roasting pan and pour boiling water around the outside of the springform pan, being careful not to splatter water into the cheesecake batter. The water should be about 1 inch up the side of the springform pan, approximately halfway. Carefully slide the roasting pan with cheesecake into the oven and bake for 70 minutes. After 70 minutes, shake the roasting pan slightly. The cheesecake should jiggle in the center but not on the outside edges. If it looks too jiggly overall, bake for another few minutes. Do not over-bake! Turn the oven off and prop the oven door open about 3 inches or so, just enough to let the cheesecake cool down very slowly. Let sit for 60 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for another 60 minutes. Remove cheesecake from roasting pan and peel back excess foil from the sides. I usually set it on a folded kitchen towel to help absorb some of the water and melted butter that has accumulated around the outside bottom of the pan. Once the cheesecake is sufficiently cooled, place it in the refrigerator overnight. Note that during this time, any excess jiggliness will firm up.

Okay, our cheesecake has sat in the refrigerator overnight. Let’s take it out of the fridge and make the ganache. Chop up the chocolate and place in a small mixing bowl. Slowly heat the heavy whipping cream in a small sauce pan until it just starts to boil around the edges. Immediately remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, and then thoroughly combine using a fork. Add the salt, dark corn syrup, and Grand Marnier, and thoroughly combine until smooth and a single color throughout. Pour mixture evenly over cheesecake. Quickly tilt cheesecake by hand to fill in any spots along the edge of the pan. Note that because cheesecake is cold, mixture will harden quickly. Once the ganache is cooled, place cheesecake back in refrigerator.

Cheesecake may now be served, or may sit in the fridge up to one or two days before serving. At least an hour before serving, remove cheesecake from refrigerator, and gently start releasing latch on springform pan. As cake is starting to release, gently go around edge of pan with a paring knife or other thin non-serrated knife to cut the cheesecake away from the pan. Once fully released, push the cheesecake up and out of the springform and set cake down on a serving platter, with any loose foil tucked back underneath the pan. At this point, you might be disappointed that a few bits of cheesecake have stuck to the inside of the springform pan. You can gently scrape these pieces from the springform and push them back onto the cheesecake with a knife. If you want to clean up the outside of the cake, a slightly wet knife will shape cheesecake and crust nicely. Just don’t get any drops of water on the top of the cheesecake, as it will leave a water stain (it won’t affect the taste though!). Nothing major, but be careful if perfection is your goal. You may now slice your cheesecake for your guests that are tingling in anticipation to taste your work of culinary art. Use a long non-serrated knife to slice the cake, and wipe the knife down with paper towel between each slice. If you don’t wipe the knife down, the cheesecake on the knife will grab and ruin the edge of the next slice. Not pretty.

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

Well, those are the details needed to make a perfect chocolate cheesecake. Once you understand most of these methods, you can vary the ingredients and make just about any kind of cheesecake. The cheesecake techniques described in this article will provide a smooth velvety texture. If you are considering a New York cheesecake, keep in mind that is a whole different animal, with a drier texture and utilizing a different baking technique. We’ll attack that in another episode. In the meantime, happy baking (and eating!!).