Bread pudding. The words themselves are hardly inspiring. Stodgy, pedestrian, British, with those overtones of school dining halls and hospital food. There are some truly execrable bread puddings — dry, almost crusty, with little discernible flavor other than that provided by a few sugary raisins, and no give. And frankly, most bread puddings I’ve had in even the best bakeries and restaurants have been in this mold — cut into neat squares and utterly unappetizing. But a good homemade bread pudding is a different beast. This is spoon food, creamy and gooey and served warm from the oven in a bowl. Bread and milk and eggs and sugar combine to form an alchemy — no longer distinct elements but something altogether new and wonderful. Comforting and exciting all at once, bread pudding has the potential to hit exactly the right dessert spot. Bread puddings can range from the basic bread and butter pudding, also known as “make a dessert from things in your pantry” to the very fancy indeed. This one is somewhere in between. It is an easy bread pudding, make no mistake about that. And most of the ingredients are in my pantry, but the basic sandwich bread and milk and eggs is kicked up a notch — the bread is a brioche (the best bread for bread pudding hands down, if you can find it), spread with a sweet and tart raspberry jam. The custard is thickened with cream and scented with the floral aromas of Tahitian vanilla extract and Amontillado sherry. And to top it off, the pudding is taken from the pedestrian to the porsche with a topping of creamy, dreamy, meringue, browned to perfection. [...]
One of the things I truly love about cooking is the sense of community that’s created around food. Not just the bloggers and their social media, the chefs and their late night hangouts or even the people around your dinner table, but the broader community that comes from the sharing of recipes. Every time I cook something from a recipe, I’m connected to the hundreds (thousands) of people who have cooked the recipe before (or something very similar. In cooking, like in so many things, there is nothing new under the sun) and when I am finding myself particularly prone to flights of fancy, I imagine sitting in a shadowy quilting bee with all the people who are sharing the secrets of the kitchen with me…. Of course, the best kind of recipes are ones that come from people you actually know, because not only are they approved by a source you trust, the act of cooking that recipe connects you to the recipe’s giver … These molasses cookies,which come from my friend Kas, are a recipe like that. Every time I make these molasses cookies, which are chewy in the middle, slightly crisp around the edges, and ridiculously, unbelievably “more”ish, I think of Kas, and it makes the cookies taste just that much sweeter. [...]
I am not the most precise of cooks. I take shortcuts, measure by eyesight, play fast and loose with recipes. I never use cake flour, rarely sift anything, freely substitute ingredients. And most of the time, things turn out very well indeed. Some people would say, “Oh, you’re a cook, you’re not a baker. Baking must be done with precision!” But I do bake quite a bit, and while baking requires MORE precision than cooking (I would not suggest, for example, leaving out baking powder altogether), there’s still quite a bit of wiggle room, and most things come out just fine, even with my wild and crazy ways. Macarons are not one of those things. The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S of Baking Without Fear. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. If you’ve never had a macaron, you should. These are not the gooey, coconut confections ubiquitous at Passover, but French almond cookies similar to meringues sandwiched together with a creamy filling. A properly made macaron has a smooth, crisp shell over dainty, ruffled “feet”, and when you bite into it, you get first the crunch exterior shell then chewy almondy macaroon then creamy filling. In Parisian patisseries (where they are all the rage), you can find them in a glorious rainbow of colors and flavors. Trust me, when made properly, they are a treat. [...]
People who don’t live in Los Angeles say that we don’t have seasons. The sun is always shining, the grass is always green, it’s always swimming pool weather. That’s not entirely true. We have seasons. In the winter it rains and the world is green. The spring is full of marine layers and fog, studded with purple jacaranda blooms. Summer is hot and dry and brown and ridden with wildfires. In the fall it smells of dirt and the Japanese maple trees in Beverly Hills turn glorious colors and the silkfloss trees burst into glorious pink blooms. We have seasons. They just don’t change in September.
September in Los Angeles just an extension of summer, with less vacation and more traffic. At its worst that means triple digit temperatures, smoke filled skies from wildfires, and faded, stretched out summer clothes that need another month’s wear squeezed out of them. But I like to think of this as a little blessing of Indian summer — sunny mornings warm enough to eat breakfast on the patio, evenings with a light breeze that are the perfect temperature for gin and tonics, tomatoes that continue to ripen on the vine, and summer fruits at the markets. Simple. [...]
Is there anything more wholesome than pie? The very word brings a smile to one’s face, and it’s associated with all sorts of pleasant things — someone who is sweet as pie (or a sweetie pie) may wish for their pie in the sky which may be easy as pie to get or as American as apple pie. In the eternal debate that rages between cake and pie, pie is eternally the winner, being both less serious and less frivolous than that cake frippery. Liking pie is almost a moral imperative. And yet … I don’t. Or at least I didn’t. The problem with pie is nearly always in the crust. Crusts in pies that aren’t homemade is nearly always somewhat tough because it has to stand up to storage and handling. And homemade is hard. Those premade pie crusts have a funny taste or a greasy mouthfeel (though I will recommend Trader Joe’s brand frozen pie crusts in a pinch). And making it from scratch is just fraught — there’s all that nonsense about cold hands and whether to rub in the fat or cut it in or use a food processor or NEVER USE A FOOD PROCESSOR or only use lard or only use crisco and the whole thing is so nervewracking that your hands are sweating buckets and OH NO YOU’VE JUST RUINED YOUR PIE CRUST. IT WILL NEVER BE TENDER AND FLAKY AGAIN. Or if by some miracle you manage to make a pie crust that has flaky possibilities then you have to roll it out, and it cracks and sticks and then you have to worry about patching holes because IF YOU HANDLE IT TOO MUCH YOU WILL HAVE RUINED YOUR PIE CRUST AND IT WILL NEVER BE TENDER AND FLAKY AGAIN. No thanks, I’ll just sit over in this corner with my cake, thank you very much. However, because I love my faithful readers so much I will give you the recipe for my super secret foolproof crust. [...]
I’m not much of a summer cook. I like to cook the foods of cooler weather — spicy gingerbreads, hearty stews, root vegetables that stick to your ribs. Summer, at least in Los Angeles, is really to hot to do this type of cooking, and those foods are literally the last food on earth you feel like eating. It doesn’t help that in the summertime on Bacon and Tomato sandwiches and corn on the cob, which, while providing an entirely balanced diet (what? That’s what I’ve had for dinner for the past 4 nights in a row!), is not so much the stuff of food blogs. The problem, of course, is that summertime is when my local farmer’s market offers its greatest bounty. I am confronted with weekly heaps of Gaviota strawberries, Blenheim apricots, Elephant Heart plums, and the biggest, fattest blackberries you’ve ever seen. And while I do LOVE fruit (and my love cannot hold a candle to that of my husband and my child) sometimes I am compelled to buy more fresh fruit than even our family can eat. And so I am forced to cook, even in the summer. [...]
Have I ever mentioned that I am a raging Anglophile? I jealously hoard Colman’s mustard, studied abroad in London, wrote my undergraduate thesis on franchise reform in Parliament, and pepper my speech with phrases like “jolly good” and “lovely!” I blame it on a childhood reading the great English children’s books — Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins, Ballet Shoes, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Five Children and It. All of them full of funny names (how many of you know someone named Anthea?) and verbal expressions and best of all wonderful food (usually served at teatime) – Victoria Sandwich, Gingerbread stars, and who can forget Turkish Delight?
Because of this, I look askance at anyone who roundly condemns English cuisine. Overlooking the horror that is mushy peas (I said I was an Anglophile, not actually English), Britain has made many delectable contributions to world cuisine — mince pies, cheddar cheese, Branston pickle and these delectable little Bakewell tarts. The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England. [...]
They say you are either a cake person or a pie person. While I think that this is a somewhat loaded dichotomy, and the “cool” answer is nearly always to be a pie person, since pies represent down home cooking and Americana and real cooks and cakes are Frenchy or something, I am unequivocally a cake person, both in the eating and the making. Pies are fraught, with all that rolling and transferring, and the end result is pretty much what you put into it, but cakes are magic. Butter, sugar, flour eggs and you end up with celebrations, or nostalgia, or dreaminess. Did I ever mention I made my own wedding cake? That’s a story for another time, but suffice it to say I love baking cakes. When family birthdays come around, I eagerly jump on the cake making occasion. For me, cakes are best saved for parties, because it’s dangerous to have leftover slices of frosted layer cake on the lam in my kitchen. But sometimes the party is small, but the occasion is still worth a full on celebratory multi-layer cake. That’s when my favorite cake cookbook comes in handy: The Wedding Cake Book by Dede Wilson. I love this book because not only does it have multiple interesting and delicious recipes for different flavors of cake, each recipe is given separately for the individual tiers, which means you can make a 6 inch cake, or a 12 inch cake, and you don’t have to make the whole thing. I particularly love the 6 inch cakes — they’re perfect small celebration cakes for just a few people. [...]
I have a lovely and patient husband, who, although he is wise beyond his years, sometimes gets some funny ideas. One of these is that I only like “fancy” food. No matter how many times I try to explain to him that just because I don’t consider the dollar menu at McDonald’s to be an adequate option for date night does not mean my tastes are either snobby or highbrow, he does not believe me. In his mind, I’m only willing to eat a certain type of haute cuisine, and the shorthand to describe that cuisine is caramelized onions.
As a result, he teases me mercilessly about caramelized onions. Whenever I criticize a dish, be it Chinese food or burritos, he’ll say, “Oh, not enough caramelized onions for you?” If I ask for suggestions as to what ice cream flavor I should make, he will say (after I’ve shot down vanilla), “How about caramelized onion?” What my lovely and patient husband fails to realize is that caramelized onions aren’t some chichi ingredient you find in restaurants, but a building block of good, homey cooking, from onion soup to hamburgers to this onion pie, originally called supper onion pie, or if you want to be all fancy, tarte tatin aux oignons. [...]
You can find the recipe, together with some thoughts on kitchen organization at www.brooklynlimestone.com, where the lovely Mrs. Limestone has asked me to contribute a guest post. Be sure to check out her fantastic house while you’re over there — it’s jawdropping.
Based in Los Angeles, the Domestic Front is the home of Kate, a working mom who is low on time but high on life. I hope this site helps you find ways to make your life richer, easier, more beautiful and more delicious. You can read more about me and the site here and feel free to email me with any questions or feedback!