bread

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

Directions:
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.


Enjoy!


Share Share this post with friends!

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

Ingredients:
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)

Directions:

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!


Share Share this post with friends!

Freshly Baked Cheese Bread

Every now and then, I’ll stumble upon an opportunity to walk down a silent gravel road or drive through seemingly endless farmland. My heart always feels simultaneously full and a little desperate during these bits of quiet countryside — desperate for what, I’m not sure. Maybe just to spread out a blanket and stay awhile? To escape the scatter and pace of the indoor internet version of life? To hug as many fat farm animals as possible?

I’m pretty sure it’s all of those things rolled into one. My desires seem to be whispering to me: sloooooowww dowwwnnn. Every now and then I’ll whine a bit to Mike about wanting to live on a farm, and he’ll start in about how much work it is, how financially unstable it can be — but I still can’t help running through (tickless, snakeless) fields in my mind.

That’s what farmers do, right? Run through fields? Ah, well, anyway . . .

Another experience recently evoked that desperate/full heart feeling: the rustic, yeasty, floury, humbling, satisfying process of baking fresh bread. I don’t mean a quick-mix bread, though I love those as well; I mean honest-to-goodness yeast fermentation, mixing and kneading with ardor, proofing, baking, tearing, sopping, devouring bread. Cheese bread, to be exact.

My bread fanaticism began when publishers sent me a copy of Andrew Whitley’s new book, Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own. To be perfectly honest, I waffled for awhile about this book. Did the busy modern cook have time to pour over the 138 pages that precede the first recipe? At one point as I was reading, though, a thought struck me: perhaps I was viewing all of this with my fast-paced lens. Maybe ignoring that urge to slow down and — in this case — enjoy the process of crafting a loaf of bread was compounding the problem. Maybe the busy modern cook would feel a little less like the energizer bunny if he or she watched yeast ferment on the counter for a couple of days. Who knows?

It also became clear that bread is Andrew Whitley’s passion, and here I was, reading through a whole-hearted, sometimes playful, sometimes vehement opus! Within the pages, bread became political capital — something to fight for — as well as a connection to the past and a work of art. This wasn’t just a cookbook; it was a masterpiece of bread!

Politically speaking, Bread Matters is the namesake of Whitley’s organization, which is devoted to changing people’s mindset about bread. It’s a noble mission, considering the dirty economic battle being fought for our allegiance. Society is saturated with advertising offering more more more faster faster faster, as a stroll through any grocery store will confirm. Frozen meals, baking mixes, and preserved foods abound, and healthful foods are only offered insofar as they’re profitable and trendy. While I’m vehemently not a food snob and don’t mind a baking mix here and there, I am incensed by the idea that the food industry is pumping products full of corn and chemicals in order to turn a profit. Conscience has been consumed in capitalist lust. Whitley charges that you should be angry, too, and that, “One way of fighting back is to refuse to buy foods produced in ways we find unacceptable.”

Beyond the political, though, Whitley connected with some powerful inner urge of mine in a section entitled, “The simple life”:

[Artisans] gain satisfaction from intimate contact with the materials of their trade and from direct involvement in the whole process from flour to baked loaf. The feel of soft, warm dough under the hands, the sight of an oven well set with loaves, the beguiling smell of baking bread, the satisfying sound of crackling crusts — all these can be yours when you make your own bread.

While I may not be able to own a farm, I can pick up some pure, natural ingredients and set out to make freshly baked-from-scratch bread. I can be literally in touch with my product from start to finish, control every addition, and enjoy the fruits of my own labor. With this compelling inspiration, I grabbed up Bread Matters to search for my first recipe. The book is physically lovely and almost like a loaf itself, with a smooth cream cover and some heft to it. Two sections of plates show rustic images of various breads. I chose a savory, tangy bread to try first: Cheese Bread.

The process was just as Whitley described: a few minutes of work here and there (he calculates around 30-40 total) punctuated by periods of waiting. In this particular bread, I prepared a sponge that fermented for a couple of days, and then worked that sponge into a basic bread dough. This dough rested a couple of hours before the extra goodies were added to it and it was shaped. After a final proof for the better part of an hour, it was into the oven and out in a flash. I was frustrated at a few points by Whitley’s apparent vagueness (“Proof until well-risen”), and at other points by his apparent nit-pickiness (“bring the final dough to […] around 81°F”), but in the end, everything worked out perfectly. Incidentally, who knew kneading could be so much fun?! Mike snapped this blurry shot of me mid-laugh:

My freshly baked cheese bread was thick and hearty, with the subtle tang of fermentation and the warmth of chili powder and cumin. Mike and I enjoyed it with a pot of steaming chicken and dumplings (which, okay, turned out too salty due to over-reducing the broth — nothing some bread sopping can’t fix!)


Freshly baked cheese bread and steamy chicken and dumplings.

We devoured two entire loaves with dinner, but still had one loaf left over. What did I do with that last loaf after being so charmingly domestic and wholesome throughout the breadmaking process? That’s right, I sliced that baby down the middle, toasted it in some butter, and filled it up with eggs, cheddar cheese, bacon, and some fresh chopped parsley (see? healthy!) Breakfast of champions! No matter what you’re, ahem, planning on doing with your delicious cheese bread, I do hope you’ll give this freshly baked bread a try.




A less wholesome use for baked-from-scratch cheese bread!

Now for the task of summarizing my review of Bread Matters. I wouldn’t have purchased this book had I seen it sitting on a shelf. I’ve never thought of myself as a “bread person,” and thus the subject wouldn’t have caught my eye. There are also only two small selections of plates in the book — a drawback for me, since I love cookbooks with tons of images. That being said, I’m so glad publishers sent it to me for free — so I could review it and tell you that I would’ve been missing out. It’s certainly worth the $23 it’s currently selling for on Amazon, since it’s done much more than provide me with a few bread recipes. It’s really changed my mindset and been a lovely introduction into the bread craft. Because of the thoughtfulness and care with which the book was written, and because of the connection I feel with Whitley’s perspective on baking, I do wholeheartedly recommend Bread Matters.

Book Stats: 373 pages, $34 list price ($23 on Amazon), indexed.
Accessibility: Enough information for a beginning baker; includes sections describing materials required for breadmaking, techniques used in breadmaking, etc.
Examples of Recipes: Olive and Pumpkin Seed Bread, brioche, pains au chocolat, various European festival breads, sourdoughs, ciabatta, crumpets, etc.
Overall Impression: Very thorough and provocative, but I would’ve preferred more photos.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Other Notes: Whitley has a sweet and rather quirky conversational tone, sometimes winding through his recipes with a few tangents here and there (see the recipe below). Throughout the whole book, he passionately demonstrates the depth of knowledge he’s gained in his 25 year breadmaking career.


Same as above, but with the bread torn open so you can see its lovely innards.

Cheese Bread



Recipe from: Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own
Yields: 3 medium rounds of cheese bread (about 12 servings)

Sponge Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast*
2/3 cup water (around 68°)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
*Note: book also includes measurements for fresh yeast.

Basic Bread Dough Ingredients:
1 cup sponge (from above)
1 cup plus 2.5 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
scant 1.2 cup water

Cheese Bread Additions:
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup shredded cheese
2.5 cups basic savory bread dough (from above)
beaten egg, to glaze
2/3 grated cheese for topping

Directions:
To make the sponge: Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flours and mix to a soft sponge. There is no need to mix this vigorously: gluten development by physical means is irrelevant in dough that is allowed such a long time to ferment because naturally occurring enzymes and acids transform it anyway.

Put the sponge in a bowl with plenty of room for expansion (up to 2 times its volume) and cover with a lid or plastic bag to conserve moisture. Leave it at room temperature to ferment for 16-48 hours. During this time, the sponge will rise up and collapse. The yeast cells will multiply and lactic and acetic acids will begin to develop.

To make basic bread dough from sponge: If the sponge has been in a cool place, you will need to use fairly warm water to bring the final dough to a reasonable temperature of around 81°F (27°C). To work out how hot the water should be, follow the formula on page 68 [of Bread Matters]. For the purposes of this calculation, treat the sponge as part of the flour. Since they are equal weights, you can add their temperatures together and divide by 2 to arrive at an average. NOTE: I thought this would be the undoing of my bread, because all of this temperature business sounds so complicated. I estimated my sponge’s temperature based on room temperature, and estimated the temperature of the water (a little warmer than lukewarm). It worked out fine.

Mix all ingredients together and knead until the dough is stretchy and “silky” (not so easy to detect if you are using a high proportion of whole-wheat flour). Cover and allow to rise for an hour or so.

To make basic bread dough into cheese bread: Stir the spices into the grated cheese and add this to the prepared Basic Savory Bread Dough. Fold the cheese through the dough until it is fairly evenly distributed. You may need to add water if the dough shows signs of tightening. NOTE: I did add a bit.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and mold them into round balls. Give them a minute or two to relax and then, with the palm of your hand, press them down so that they roughly double in diameter. Put these flat disks on a baking sheet lined with nonstick baking parchment, placing them far enough apart so that they will not touch.

With a plastic scraper or the back of a knife, mark the cheese breads with 2 cuts at right angles to make a cross. Simply press down on the dough aiming to cut through almost to the baking sheet but not quite. (If you press too hard and the dough breaks in 2 [or 4], do not worry: it will probably join up again during proofing or baking.)

Brush the visible surface of each bread with a little beaten egg. Divide the remaining shredded cheese and place it as evenly as possible on top of each bread, but do not put it too near the edge. The cheese will partially obscure the cuts made by the scraper, but this does not matter. As the dough proofs, it will spread the cheese out a little.

Proof until well-risen, then bake in a moderate oven (375°F [190°C]) for 15-20 minutes. These breads are small and flat, so the heat will penetrate fairly quickly to the center of the dough. Take care not to let the cheese topping get overcooked; it can change from softly melted to dried and “foxy” in a few minutes.

The deep cross you pressed into the dough should be just visible after baking and the cheese breads should break easily into 4 wedges, which make good soup rolls. NOTE: I’ll say! If you plan to fill a cheese bread, it is best to keep it as one, divide it horizontally, insert the filling and then cut the whole thing into halves or quarters.


Chicken and Dumplings on the stove and bread kneading!


Bread proofing and then baking.


Leftover cheese bread toasting and bacon sizzling in preparation for the breakfast sandwich of all time.


Bake bread! This loaf is getting submitted to YeastSpotting!


Share Share this post with friends!

Overnight Yeast Rolls

When I was little, my family enjoyed packing into the car and driving to Quincy’s Buffet. I don’t even know if Quincy’s exists anymore. Even if it does, it’s probably not the magical wonderland of food my childhood brain made it out to be. At any rate, I so loved making the pilgrimage to it back then. My memories from the all-you-can-eat buffet include ravaging the macaroni and cheese and visiting the soft-serve ice cream dispenser. I’d get a chocolate vanilla swirl cone with lots of random candy, sprinkles, nuts, and goo for good measure. But the most memorable part of Quincy’s — the part we all raved about before and after our visit — were the warm, fluffy yeasts rolls with honey butter smeared all over them.

Those are fond memories, but even Quincy’s yeast rolls were just a pale imitation of the light, soft, and buttery rolls my mother would make from scratch a few times a year. In the middle of the nights following Thanksgiving, I would creep out of my downstairs bedroom and warm up some leftover rolls with butter, turkey, and gravy tucked in each one. It might be easier to head to a restaurant, but you won’t regret spending a bit of time in the kitchen to make these homemade rolls. As a bonus, this same dough can be used to make phenomenal cinnamon rolls, as my mother does each Christmas morning.


Overnight Yeast Rolls

My rolls in the pictures below are a bit darker than normal because, for this batch, I used part wheat flour in an attempt to make these healthier. While they’re good either way, I’ll stick with all-purpose flour all the way next time around. No reason to mess with a good thing!

Overnight Yeast Rolls


Recipe By: Clyta Lundsford
Yields: Makes a big, rectangular pan and a half

Ingredients:

2 packages yeast
2 1/2 cups water
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup shortening
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
8 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

Soften yeast in water. Add sugar, salt, eggs, shortening and 4 cups of flour and mix until smooth. Let sit 1 minute, then add rest of flour and mix well. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, pinch off dough and form into rolls and cover with a towel. Let rise for 1 hour (or until doubled in size) in a warm place, such as on top of the preheating oven. Then bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Let the tops get a little browner than you think they should to ensure the rolls aren’t doughy in the middle. Brush the tops butter when the rolls are done to soften. Can use 5 cups white flour and 3 cups wheat flour for a slightly healthier, slightly less delicious version.


Dough rising in the refrigerator.


Rolls rising on top of the oven.

1 9 10 11