Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding

For those of you still earnestly hanging on to New Year’s diet resolutions, grappling with temptation like Indiana Jones wrestling a greased wild boar . . . I’m sorry about this! Really! Because I did, indeed, just say pumpkin. And cheesecake. And bread pudding. All in the same dessert, y’all. You’re going to want to step away from the rice cakes and start slicing up some brioche right about now.

This is how it all began. I have a new cookbook I’ve been carting around with me and fawning over: Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters. I actually bought it as a Secret Santa gift for my Sunday school Christmas party, but then couldn’t go at the last minute. So I kept it. And was secretly really glad that I got to keep it. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Let me explain!

Heirloom Baking is “more than 100 years of recipes discovered from family cookbooks, original journals, scraps of paper, & grandmother’s kitchen.” You know the box in your kitchen stuffed full of your great aunt Ida’s best dishes, scrawled down in her own lilting handwriting? Or the dusty, well-worn church recipe album from 1982 that includes pictures of every church member — thick-framed glasses, 80s hair and all? Those recipes are some of the best: loved and fiddled with by generations of family cooks, served annually for decades, passed down verbally or jotted on scrap paper. If you’ve ever wished you could round up all of your family recipes and solicit your friends for theirs, you’ll love Heirloom Baking, because that’s exactly what the Brass sisters have done for you.

Obviously, I am in love with this charming book. Recipes include Brass family favorites as well as personal recipes from collections the sisters found at flea markets, yard sales, used bookstores, or friends’ houses. Scattered throughout the book are gorgeous images of the original recipes, dated cookbooks, and antique bakeware. Mike and I amused ourselves for an hour flipping through pages, perusing lovely images of handwritten recipes from decades and centuries past, and drooling over the full-page photographs of delicious baked goods. Let me stop being quite such a fangirl and just say, simply, that the book was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Baking and Dessert Book Award for good reason.

Book Stats: 312 pages, $29.95 list price ($19.77 on Amazon), indexed.
Accessibility: Enough information for a beginning baker.
Examples of Recipes: Auntie Dot’s Dutch Apple Cake, Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding with Plum Jam, Louise Zimmerman’s Cookies Without a Name, Ida’s Cheese Turnovers, and various other assortments of cookies, cakes, puddings, breads, pastries, and pies.
Overall Impression: Fun to read because of such intriguing subject matter and engaging anecdotes. Full of exciting recipes and photos.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In case you’re wondering how I managed to convince Mike to enjoy a cookbook with me for longer than a millisecond, it has a little something to do with my offer to make him anything he chose from its pages. I’m not above a little strategic bribery! It was a difficult decision, but he settled on this rustic and beautiful Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding. You already knew he had good taste, right? I hear he’s got a pretty awesome girlfriend. Just something I heard . . .

Truth is, this pudding was fantastic. Bread pudding is the soul food of dessert for me: humble, dense, and gorgeous. It’s a peasant dish in its thrift and convenience; it makes use of sometimes stale bread or cake scraps by soaking them and baking them into a filling new dish. It’s also a dish fit for royalty: luxurious, silky, warm, and indulgent. The toasty, custardy texture reminds me of the milk toast my family used to covet for breakfast each morning: buttered toast topped with cinnamon-spiked, buttery hot milk. But this bread pudding takes bread to a whole new level.

Pumpkin, spice, and cream cheese form the delicious custard base poured over and around sliced brioche (or in my case, a firm loaf of fresh-baked Italian bread from my local grocer). The best part of the pudding, though, is definitely the buttery brown sugar topping that crisps up on the top layer of bread, forming a gorgeous, golden brown layer of cinnamon toast!

Before and after baking.

The flavor combination couldn’t have been more perfect — the pumpkin was light and balanced by the cream cheese custard. Even Mike’s granddad, who is not enamored with pumpkin, said he loved the pudding. I whipped up some fresh cinnamon whipped cream (2 cups heavy cream, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, icing sugar to taste) to heap on each serving. Ice cream would also be delightful, or just pour a little cold heavy cream over your puddin’ and dig in.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding

Recipe by: Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters
Yields: 20 servings

For bread layers:
14 to 16 1/2-inch slices brioche or firm white bread, trimmed of crusts and cut in half
1 1/2 cups butter, melted (I only needed about a cup)

For custard:
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
6 eggs
1 15-oz. can (about 1 3/4 cups) pumpkin
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For topping:
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9-inch by 13-inch ovenproof glass baking dish with vegetable spray. Set aside a larger metal baking pan and rack for the water bath.
2. To prepare the bread: Brush each slice of brioche on both sides with melted butter.
3. To make the custard: Combine cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and mix until smooth.
4. Combine eggs, pumpkin, milk, heavy cream, vanilla, salt, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (Note: I used my hand mixer without difficulty). Beat until smooth. Add cream cheese mixture and combine.
5. Pour 1/2 cup pumpkin custard in bottom of baking dish. Tilt and swirl dish until bottom is completely covered with a thin layer of custard. Layer 6 slices of brioche on top of custard. Pour half of remaining custard over brioche. Add remaining brioche and custard in layers.
6. To add the topping: Use a knife to cut 8 slits through layered pudding. Cover top of pudding with plastic wrap and press down gently with your palm. Let stand 15 minutes. Remove plastic wrap and sprinkle brown sugar over top of pudding. Pour melted butter over sugar.
7. Place baking dish on rack in large metal pan. Pour hot water from a glass measuring cup into the outer pan until water level rises halfway up sides of baking dish. Place carefully in oven. Bake 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until top is nicely browned and custard has rise to top of baking dish (Note: I covered very loosely with foil to prevent top from getting too brown, but did not crimp foil down so as to avoid steaming the crisp topping). Check water bath occasionally and add more water if needed. Do not let the water evaporate form the water bath.
8. Carefully remove baking dish from oven and water bath. Allow pudding to cool on rack 1 hour. Serve slightly warm or cold with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Store covered with a paper towel and plastic wrap in the refrigerator.

Reprinted from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters by permission of Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc. © Copyrigh 2006 Marilynn Brass and Sheila Brass.

Soaking bread, and then the whole pudding in the oven.


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Best of Willow Bird Baking 2009

My Dear Willow Bird Readers,

This past year has been full of exhilarating kitchen challenges. Making puff pastry from scratch; frying up homemade cannoli; tackling a beautiful, historic Dobos Torte; piping everything from buttercream roses to butterflies to snowman arms . . . the list goes on and on! I’m excited and humbled when I think back on all the fun I’ve been able to have and share with you this year. Byrd and I have had a ball in the kitchen baking up treats to post here, and we hope you’ve enjoyed every visual bite!

Are you busy making resolutions? I was inspired by Megan of Delicious Dishings to set a few culinary resolutions for 2010!

1. Make more fresh, homemade bread.
2. Cook a lovely Beef Wellington for Mike.
4. Buy more ethically minded meat, dairy, and eggs.
5. Make homemade pasta.
6. Fashion a lovely Baked Alaska — hopefully with some flambé action.
7. Weather kitchen disasters with grace and humor!

What about you? Thinking ahead to the new year, what do you hope to accomplish in your kitchen life? No matter what your goals, best wishes for health, happiness, and blessings in the new year! Oh, and speaking of all the wonderful times we’ve had together in 2009, here are some of Willow Bird Baking’s absolute best, most delectable dishes from the past year. Enjoy!

Plum and Cream Mini Tortes: Sweet and splushy mini plum cakes with a smooth dollop of ricotta frosting.

Lemon Burst Fairycakes: Lemon cupcakes stuffed with fresh lemon curd and a raspberry “surprise,” and topped with lemon buttercream and royal icing butterflies.

Mango Raspberry Rosecakes: The perfect white cake stuffed with fresh mango curd and topped with raspberry buttercream roses.

Cheddar, Chive, and Bacon Cupfakes with Avocado Frosting: The cupcakes can’t have all the fun! These adorable dinner biscuits combine sultry bacon, fresh chives, and sharp cheddar with the smooth, rich flavor of avocado.

Giant Red Velvet and Oreo Kisses: Cake balls with a twist! Red velvet and oreo truffles get in touch with their inner “kiss” when wrapped with some cheap aluminum foil.

Best Ever Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Easy Caramel Frosting and Spiced Apples: The name says it all! The best ever rich, moist, delicious pound cake.

Peach Crisp Pie: Fresh peaches, oats, brown sugar, and butter meld inside a flaky, butter crust.

Mini Pies: Sour Cream Apple, Pumpkin, and Peach Crisp: These sweet little individual pies can be made with any pie filling you like!

Chocolate Tart and Raspberry Cream Cheese Tart: One of these tarts holds a tangy combination of raspberries and cream cheese, while the other boasts rich chocolate and mounds of luxurious whipped cream.

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas with Mexican Sausage Rice: The best dinner of 2009! Cheesy, gooey, tangy enchiladas with a side of spicy Mexican sausage rice.

Oreo Truffle Snowmen: These little snowguys are so tasty and so sweet! Golden oreos, cream cheese, chocolate coating, fruit roll ups, and some sprinkles are used to create these winterfolk.

See you next year!

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Taco Stuffed Crescent Rolls

Can you stand a little product placement? The truth is, Pillsbury isn’t paying me a dime or mailing me a single free biscuit (not that I’d mind a shipment if the doughboy happens to be reading!), but I’m still going to brag on their crescent rolls. If you’ve only been making little bread rollups with these, you’re missing out!

Pillsbury has plenty of creative ideas on their website for how to make better use of the crescent, but I’ve never tried a single one of them. That’s because every time I get a can of crescents (and to be honest, I sometimes buy the generic brand — are you rescinding my biscuit shipment, Pillsbury?), I have to make Taco Stuffed Crescent Rolls.

It’s funny (and a little depressing) that after all the hours I’ve spent in the kitchen making things from scratch — fresh puff pastry? a full traditional lasagna? homemade yeast bread? — these little Tex-Mex treats are some of Mike’s absolute favorites. He loves these things! And for good reason: the flaky, buttery crescents are stuffed with a creamy, gooey, cheesy, spicy, meaty mixture and topped with toasted cheddar. They’re so simple to make, too! Perfect for a busy weeknight or a last-minute supper.

Not a fan of cans? No problem; any leftover yeast roll dough will serve just fine to bake up a batch of these crescents. Serve them with salsa, sour cream, guacamole or fresh avocado slices, and a sprinkle of cilantro. Or just burn the tarnation out of your tongue eating them straight off the baking sheet! By the way, this is just the beginning — think of all the possible sweet and savory crescent stuffings! Pizza crescents, apple pie crescents, Mediterranean crescents, ham and cheese crescents, spinach and feta crescents . . . what would you stuff in your crescent?

Taco Stuffed Crescent Rolls

Recipe By: Willow Bird Baking
Yields: 16 large crescent rolls

1 lb. ground beef (or a little less)
1 packet McCormick’s cheesy taco seasoning (or taco seasoning of your choice)
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
2-3 heaping tbsp. salsa
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 cans giant crescent rolls (I usually use “big and buttery” or “big and flaky” crescents)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees (or whatever is listed on crescent roll package). Brown ground beef, drain, and return to pan. Add packet of taco seasoning with a bit of water and cook until combined. In a separate bowl, combine cream cheese, salsa, and cheddar cheese. Add ground beef mixture to the bowl (which will melt the mixture a bit) and stir to combine.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons of ground beef mixture onto each crescent roll (I pressed them out a bit to make them bigger) and roll up like normal, carefully sealing the openings. Sprinkle a bit of cheddar cheese on top of each roll. Bake 11-13 minutes (or whatever is listed on crescent roll package), watching carefully. Rolls should be a golden brown to make sure they’re done inside.

Notes: This recipe actually makes more filling than needed, but it would be delicious in tacos or burritos, on a taco salad, or eaten with a spoon. Seriously!

Gathering all of my ingredients and mixing the taco filling.

Stuffing, rolling, and baking.

Big pile o’ stuffed crescents and one ridiculous serving suggestion: yes, Mike and I actually ate a dinner that consisted of stuffed crescents and oven-baked macaroni and cheese. Carbs, anyone?

Taco Stuffed Crescent Roll love!

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Oreo Truffle Snowmen

The next few days hold the possibility of many bright, full moments: cutting into my mom’s annual pan of fresh cinnamon rolls, watching my niece and nephews swashbuckling their way through jungles of Christmas wrapping paper with their foam swords, the beautiful Christmas afternoon nap. But there were also some shining moments in the past few days that made this holiday a special one. Moments like this one, for example:


In case you couldn’t tell — what, my shaky hands and shrieking aren’t helping? — that’s Mike graduating from college with a BS in Mathematics. His family and I were sitting about a mile high in the stands, just as proud as fresh-plucked plums. Afterward we got a closer view of his handsome cap and gown.

Mike and a proud, plum-like Julie.

All of these special moments — the holiday celebrating my Savior’s birth, the coming new year, and the culmination of Mike’s undergraduate studies — warranted some special treats. I got a little crafty with some golden oreos, cream cheese, white candy melts, fruit roll ups, melted chocolate, and sprinkles. Okay, I bet you’re confused by now. Why don’t I just show you?

Voilà, oreo truffle snowmen! What do you think — would Bakerella, queen of cuteness, be proud? Personally, I was as tickled as a hungry hyena in a flock o’ flamingoes. Which is why, despite numerous setbacks, I persevered for about 13 hours to make, decorate, and photograph these little snow sweeties. I did take frequent breaks when things were going particularly bad to watch Ballet Shoes (don’t bother with the movie, but the book is cute), drink coke zero, mourn, sing Christmas carols, and dance around with Byrd. She doesn’t mind a bit when we’re up ’til 5 a.m. because of baking shenanigans. More time to play!

Why were these so time consuming? Well, I think the fat/moisture content in the oreo truffles this time around caused my candy melt to crack and ooze repeatedly. I redipped a gazillion times before finally realizing that refrigerating my snowpeople stopped the ooze. If I’d made that revelation sooner, these might have been relatively simple. Well, other than cutting out the little scarves from fruit roll ups, piping little branch arms, and sorting multicolored sprinkles. Okay, so these aren’t the treats for you if you’re in a hurry. But you have to admit, they are somethin’ special!

Not just appearance-wise, either. This happens to be a delicious group of snowfolks. I love golden oreo truffles even better than their chocolate cousins, and the vanilla flavored candy melts (I use CandiQuik) with chocolate accents was the perfect flavor addition. Mike said he might even love these more than red velvet cake balls — and that’s saying a lot! Speaking of Mike, of course I had to do a little something special to honor his special day. How about something like this:

Want to make these cuties? The recipe below includes notes I wish I’d known the first time around. Clear yourself an afternoon (and evening), put on some Christmas carols, and enjoy! Happy holidays!

Oreo Truffle Snowmen

Recipe By: Kraft Food & Family Fall 2006 (adapted, with decorating ideas by Willow Bird Baking)
Yields: About 15 large snowmen

Oreo Truffle Ingredients:
2 packages golden oreo cookies (divided; use cookie including the cream center)
2 8-ounce package cream cheese (softened)
white candy coating or candy melts (I use CandiQuik)

multicolored or chocolate sprinkles
candy-coated chocolate kiss sprinkles
strawberry fruit roll ups (or fruit by the foot)
chocolate (for melting)

1. Finely crush all but 14 cookies in a food processor or place them in a ziploc bag and crush into a fine consistency. Note: As for the extra 14 cookies, just eat them. Or, if you have extra dipping chocolate, make some chocolate covered oreos.
2. Stir in softened cream cheese. Use the back of a large spoon to help mash the two together.
3. Roll the mixture into 2″ balls (for the bodies) and 1″ balls (for the heads) and place on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Make sure you have enough heads for your bodies!
5. It helps to put the uncoated balls in the freezer for a few minutes to keep the mixture from starting to fall apart when you drop into the melted chocolate. Note: I refrigerate mine for an hour or two in lieu of the freezer. I’ve heard folks say that if they get too cold, they can crack.
6. Melt candy coating as directed on package and then dip balls one at a time into candy coating. Let excess coating drain off onto wax paper covered cookie sheet to dry. Note: Dipping is often the most difficult part. Find what works for you. Let your kitchen be your playground. Look through your utensils for useful tools, and be creative. I used a grill fork to hold my “bodies” while spooning coating over them, and then redipped the bottoms separately. For the heads, I usually skewered them with a toothpick, dipped them, and then wriggled them off onto the wax paper after draining excess coating.
7. As soon as each body and head is dry (which usually only takes a couple of minutes) transfer it to the refrigerator immediately to prevent cracking/oozing. If it does crack, blot with a paper towel, redip, dry, and then refrigerate.

To decorate:
1. Take a head and body out of the fridge, and “glue” them together using melted candy coating (I used a sharp paring knife here to whittle away some of the excess coating around the bottom of the heads).
2. Use melted coating to “glue” on chocolate sprinkles for eyes, mouth, and buttons if desired. “Glue” on an orange candy-coated chocolate sprinkle (or a regular orange sprinkle) for a carrot nose.
3. Cut a strip of strawberry fruit roll up, and snip “fringe” into each end. Wrap around snowman’s neck and “glue” together with melted candy coating.
4. Melt chocolate and pipe out tree branch arms. Using a bamboo skewer or a toothpick, carve out a hole in each side of the snowman. Gently slide a “branch” into each hole to serve as arms.
4. Refrigerate snowmen in an airtight container.
5. Immediately before serving, you can create a snowy scene with coconut and/or glistening sugar sprinkles. Optional but pretty!

Mixing up the golden oreo truffles and shaping snowman parts.

My very first snowman, and then three chilling out in the fridge.

All the snowmen decorated, and then finally receiving arms!

Mike seeing his “surprise” snowman and Byrd giving her daddy graduation kisses.

My favorite snowman! Happy as can be!

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