Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Double Chocolate Espresso Crackle Cookies

Assumptions are tricky business.  Take for instance, don't assume that after you scream at kindly beg your beloved felines to stop scratching the hell out of your brand new couch, that they will refrain from doing so.  Don't assume that just because you've never before worked this hard in your life, that you'll get that raise.  Don't assume that just because you had the best. date. ever. the cute boy will call.  And don't assume that just because he didn't means the world will stop turning.  And for God's sake don't assume that people can read your mind, unless of course you're hanging out with Sookie Stackhouse (if you are, what fun!).  And never assume you have the proper ingredients on hand before you start a recipe.  Do a little digging first.  Don't do what I do.

You're going to laugh when I tell you what kind of chocolate I used in these cookies.  For some reason I thought the recipe called for cocoa.  Not sure why in hell I thought that as I haven't seen the recipe in a year.  I assumed cocoa was listed amongst the ingredients, and I was dead wrong.  Semi-sweet and milk chocolate chunks all the way.  There was not nearly enough Callebaut chocolate on hand, but luckily further frantic digging in my cupboard produced an unlikely hero - the 99 cent IKEA chocolate bar I hastily grabbed at while waiting 30 minutes in line.  Who knew my impulse buy would come to my rescue?  I'm not super proud I had to swap in cheap lesser quality chocolate, but I kind of figure it all balances out with the Callebaut.  Not my finest culinary moment, but hey, sometimes a girl has to do what a girl...

So there I was on a Friday night, in my bunny hug hoodie and leggings and wool slippers, singing along to David and Freddie and mixing up a mighty fine cookie dough.  (Sometimes I'm positive I put the "ee" in "geek" and I'm down with that.)  One of the beautiful things about this cookie is that you can break it up in stages...do the dough up the night before and bake the cookies off in the morning.  The dough is quite soft, so it does that need that extra chilling time.  I love tossing the dough in icing sugar and making a mess, but hey, it's only sugar.

If you need a cookie recipe to add to your pile this holiday season, look no further.  These babies are soft and oh so fudgy - perfect for stashing away in the freezer and for sending across the country to loved ones, or just down the road.  Chocolate lovers will rejoice!  And look how darn pretty they are, all crackled up.  A cookie plate needs a little drama, no?  I found this recipe scrawled in a recipe binder from years ago, but I've switched things up quite a bit.  For instance, the original calls for just 2/3 can of condensed milk.  And what is going to happen to the other 1/3?  If you're like me, it would just sit in my fridge and drive me mental.  Or it would go in my coffee, and like I need that.  Plus the recipe calls for shortening instead of butter, and I just think that's weird.  I'll save my shortening for pie dough, thank you very much.  And I added the espresso because when I was searching for chocolate I found instant espresso.  Hooray!  What else did I do.  Oh, increased the flour to balance out more condensed milk. I think that is all...Below is what my recipe ended up looking like after I played around on that Friday night.  Pretty good,  all things IKEA considered.  Now excuse me a moment while I detach claws from couch. 

Double Chocolate Espresso Crackle Cookies

1/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cups (312ml) semi sweet chocolate chips or chunks (substitute IKEA chocolate if you dare)
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 300ml can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups (375ml) milk chocolate chunks/chips
3/4 cup icing sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Line 2 bake sheets with parchment.  In a glass bowl melt butter and chocolate in microwave on medium, OR, do what I did and melted chocolate and butter in a large saucepan on the stove over medium heat.  Add the espresso powder after it's melted.  Stir in the sugar and eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Let cool 5 min.  Mix in the condensed milk, and vanilla.  Add the flour, baking powder, salt and milk chocolate chips.  Mix well to combine.  Dough will be soft.  Refrigerate over night, or for 8-12 hours.
Have your sifted icing sugar in a shallow bowl.  Between the palms of your hand, roll pieces of chilled dough to form 1 1/4 inch (3 cm) balls.  Drop balls into icing sugar and toss lightly until well coated.  Place on prepared bake sheet and flatten just slightly.  Repeat with remaining dough, spacing about 1 1/2 inch apart.  Bake for about 10 minutes, until beginning to feel firm in centre.  Let cool on bake sheet on wire rack for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes about 45-48 cookies.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Something Different: Cranberry Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust

December.  It's right around the corner.  Usually I greet it with a great deal of trepidation and anxiety.  If you've ever worked in a kitchen during the holidays, you know of which I speak.  The long, long hours, providing merriment for everyone else, take a toll physically, mentally and emotionally.  December is turbo charged with excitement and and a fast-paced ferociousness to churn out high volumes of food in a short amount of time.  At the end of the day, after I drive home in the quiet dark of the Winter night, I peel off the boots and parka, sink into my couch for a good half hour and stare at the ceiling in a semi-vegetative state.  The cats' cries for food rouse me from zombieland my stupor and after a nice hot shower that runs for too long (gotta wash that onion out of my hair!) I feel human again.  A mug of steaming tea helps too.  Or a glass of wine, depending on just how shitty bad the day was.  Often too exhausted to go out and visit friends, or else I'm working most weekends, I don't start feeling the Christmas love until Dec.23 when work is over for 10 days and I can sleep until noon if I wish.  And I sometimes do.  For the last 12 years that I've been cooking professionally this is how December looks and feels in my world, plus throw in a meltdown or two, chapped hands and cranky panties.

I'm aiming for this year to be different - less shivers of anxiety, more comfort and joy.  No tears in the bathroom - only Christmas cheer.  (Ha ha.  That sounds like I'm drinking in the bathroom at work, but I'm not, really!).  I'm going to have a lovely elf help me out of peeling a million pounds of potatoes, and I've already decided to delegate.  And ask for help.  Being somewhat a control freak, this is huge for me.  I've checked off  "yes" to a couple of party invites and booked myself a few hours of massage.  And breathe.  I. Will. Breathe.  I will make it through to the 23rd with nary a meltdown.  Or a cranky panty.  Promise.

Because of my frenetic work schedule, I like to get my Christmas baking done relatively early, so I'm not running around Safeway like a mad woman on Christmas Eve looking for condensed milk and Oreo crumbs.  I adore baking at Christmas - I crank Charlie Brown's Christmas and cream butter like crazy.  Boxing up my goodies for family and friends has become a tradition of mine - sending it across the country too, to places like Windsor, Toronto, Edmonton, Lloydminster and Preeceville.  So far no one complains that they get shortbread instead of a gift card at Walmart.  Or else they are just being very polite.  Being of a crafty nature, if I can make a gift personal and from the heart, isn't that really what this season is all about?

My Christmas baking round-up looks something like this:  some traditional standbys that I must bake or else the family would flip.  Like gingerbread trees with lemon icing, chocolate espresso crinkle cookies, and my infamous rosemary oatmeal shortbread.  Hold onto your hats, they are all coming your way very soon!  I also like to shake up the repertoire and include new recipes (because they are everywhere my eyeballs go these days) into the mix.  These cranberry bars from the Kitchn caught my gaze last year and as soon as I saw them I knew they'd make a pretty addition to my dessert gift boxes this year.  That colour is fab, no?  Three cups of cranberries produce that perfect shade of pink.  Don't be intimidated by the few steps here, it's just some simmering and straining.  The crust is easy-peasy press-in, and the walnuts really rock it.  If you prefer pecans or almonds, go crazy.  I know I say this all the time, but yet again I licked the pot of cranberry curd clean.  A longtime lover of lemon curd, I'm happy to report that this tasty business holds up to par.  It's smooth like butta and tastes like it too.  In terms of recipe research I did sneak one out of the freezer to see how well they are holding up and I tell you they freeze like a dream.  The candied lemon peel is a nice finishing touch, and not at all difficult to make.  What ever doesn't make it onto your bars makes good snackage. Santa may like a taste too.

Cranberry Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust

1 cup walnuts
1 cup flour
1/2 cup icing sugar, tamped down
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter

3 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen.  I used frozen and it worked fine!)
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar (use a little less if you want a less-sweet square, with more cranberry punch)
4 eggs
4 egg yolks
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. 

To make crust, in a food processor, pulse the nuts 15 times or until coarsely chopped.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients and pulse a bit more to combine.  Add the butter and process until dough holds it shape.  Line a 9x13 inch pan with parchment and press the dough into the pan, trying to get it as even as possible.  Freeze for half hour.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden around the edges.  In the meantime, make your filling....
Add the cranberries and water to a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until they are popped and mushy, about 5 minutes. Pour and press this through a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl.  Using the back of a spatula works well.  Cool puree to room temp.  Discard all of the pulpy bits.  To the bowl with the cranberry puree, add sugar, eggs, yolks, lemon juice and salt.  Stir until smooth and even.  Put this mixture back into a clean saucepan and over medium heat, stir continuously until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  About 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter all at once.   Pour the cranberry curd through a clean fine mesh strainer and into a clean bowl.  Pour this mixture into your par-baked crust and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees.  The centre should be set, but still a little jiggly.  I baked mine for close to 15 min.  Let cool on a rack, then refrigerate before slicing into squares.  Makes about 24 squares.  Dust with icing sugar and a little candied lemon peel to make them look pretty.  Adapted from the Kitchn.

* You could also make the cranberry curd all by itself and keep it in the fridge for up to a week.  Amazing on toast and fresh scones and anything else yummy. 

Candied Lemon Peel

5-6 lemons
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup cold water
2 cups sugar

Peel lemons into long, thin strips.  Fill medium pot 3/4 full of water and 1/2 tsp salt.  Add the lemon peels and bring to a boil.  Simmer 10 min, then drain.  Repeat using other 1/2 tsp salt.  This softens the peels and removes the bitterness from the pith.  Drain peels second time and set aside.  Add the 1 1/2 cups cold water and 2 cups sugar to pot.  Stir to dissolve.  Add the drained peels and bring to a boil, simmering over low heat for 45-60 minutes.  Keep an eye that you don't caramelize them near the end.  Spray wax paper with cooking spray.  With a fork, remove peels from pot and place on waxed paper.  Coil around toothpicks so they go all spiral-like. Let cool, then take off toothpick and garnish your cranberry squares.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups.  I halved this recipe and still had lots.  Adapted from the Kitchn. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In the Family: Making Sauerkraut (with Turkey Sausages)

It's an annual event:  one weekend in October, my sister comes for a visit, toting along her beautiful daughters and her father-in-law's cabbage shredder.  It's sauerkraut making time!  If my sis has a bumper crop o' cabbage, she brings that too, but this year the worms killed most of it.  Bloody worms.  Mom got a massive deal on cabbage from one of the local farmers at the market, so all dreams of sauerkraut were still intact. (Yes, I dream of sauerkraut, don't you?)  We grew up eating this stuff - fried with onions and perogies; baked with pork chops; the most perfect grilled sausage topping. In fact sauerkraut and sausages were born to party together.  Us Kohlmans, we love the stuff.  My younger brother is especially crazy for sauerkraut - like he almost has a problem.  Mom says that when she was pregnant with him she ate it like crazy, so maybe that accounts for something.  (In my case, she must have ate her weight in bacon and chocolate.  Must ask her.)  Even the little ones among us have acquired a fondness for cabbage. 

Disclaimer:  I had no part in the making of the sauerkraut - this is totally my Mom's and sister's show.  I had strict instructions to keep the kidlets occupied/entertained and the wine glasses topped up.  Two very important tasks indeed!   My sis cranks out the cabbage like nobody's business and makes us laugh.  And not just because we've tucked into a bottle of white.  She's the funniest person I know and I love it when she comes for a visit. On this mid October Sunday, we make our kraut (I watch, they make), gossip a lot little, watch the kids torment chase the cats, and count the days until we can crack one of these jars open. 

There are a couple of ways to make sauerkraut, that I know of anyway.  First is to layer the shredded cabbage and salt in a crock, weigh it down with something heavy, and let it bubble away and ferment.  After month or so it's good to go, with freezing in containers usually the way of preserving it.  We don't make it like that.  Our method is simple too, in that shredded cabbage is placed into sterilized jars, a simple brine poured over this, lids screwed on and done.  Here, I'll show you:

Start with clean, sterilized jars and lids.  

Shred the cabbage.  If you don't have a cabbage shredder (this one is quite old, not sure if they even make them anymore), you can do it by hand. Mom doesn't like how cabbage turns out in the food processor. Just sayin'.

Toss the shredded cabbage with coarse salt.  I asked Mom for quantities, and I got "the look".  She told me to tell you, sprinkle some pickling salt over a bowl-full of cabbage.  Thanks Mom. 

Put the cabbage into jars and pour a brine over this.  (Mom uses the same recipe every year, from this  Community cook book that I've known all my life.  Next year there is talk that they may pack some peppers in with the cabbage just to shake things up a bit.  That will be interesting.)  Screw lids on tight, and Voila!  You've made sauerkraut!  Let stand on the counter, with tea towels underneath just in case it bubbles over.  I know Mom will add more brine if a jar loses a lot of liquid.  

After 3-4 weeks, you can unscrew a jar and enjoy in your favourite recipe. This is simple yet delicious  peasant food that I cut my teeth on.  Mom gives us each a couple of jars to take home, but I'm lucky. I just live a few blocks away and I have keys to her house, so if I've run out and got a hankering, I know where to find the best sauerkraut in the world.  

I really like kraut with fried onions and sausages, especially when they are crispy and super flavourful like mine were.  (The turkey sausages came from Pine View Farms and were amazing.)  Here's what I did:  in a skillet, heat some oil, and cook off the sausages until all crispy and golden.  When done, remove from pan.  To the same pan, add a bit more oil (canola is fine) fry sliced onions, add a bunch of sauerkraut, minus the juice, to warm through and get a little browned.  Add sausages back to pan and let the whole thing mingle for about 5 minutes.  Add some cracked pepper and dish up some garlic sour cream mashed potatoes or cooked perogies alongside.  Comfort food all the way baby. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Epicurean Epiphany: French Onion Soup

Me and the onion.  We're pretty tight.  Good thing, since I slice and dice anywhere from 5-15 onions everyday.  That's a lot of onion.  And at the end of the day I smell like a lot of onion...not one of the perks of being a chef.  Just hope I don't run into any cute boys on the way home from work.  On the good days when I'm wearing contacts, the whole onion vs. eyeball  thing isn't much of an issue.  But the days I don my glasses - it's a river running down my face.  Horrible stuff, crying at work. Don't recommend it at all, unless they are tears of joy - like you just got that massive raise you were hoping for. Or you just won the lottery.  Good thing I don't have much of a social life so I almost always wear contacts at work.  No one wants tears in their food, am I right?

We never ate out super lots when I was a kid.  The small town I grew up in had 2 Chinese restaurants, a handful of Greek family style restos, some pizza places and of course the fast food joints.  Quite the dining landscape, no?  Birthdays, and the odd night Mom was too tired to cook, we piled into the car and headed down the four-laner, usually for mediocre Greek/Italian food.  My very first job (outside of babysitting for $3/hour), was bussing tables at one of the Greek restaurants.  I was 13. maybe 14 (was that legal? I don't know), and oh my God, I totally sucked.  I spilled water on people, ruined the coffee machine, broke a tray of wine glasses.  And that was just my first night.  Won't get into the dirty details; therapy has helped me suppress them I think.  But the good news is I didn't last long (surprise!), and went on to better part time jobs after that.  Who knew that only 10 years later I'd be enrolled in culinary school?   I'm still better behind the scenes than amongst the people, clearing their plates.

Before I was traumatized employed by the restaurant world, I fondly recall tucking into my first bowl of French Onion Soup.  (Mom never made this soup at home - we were a chicken noodle, cream of mushroom, and tomato clan - all from scratch, thankfully!)  I was probably around 10 and the first time this bowl of steaming cheesy goodness was placed before me, I was like, hello.  Maybe the cook was having a good night, or maybe my taste buds were thrilled with the taste of something new, (probably a combo of both), but I fell in love.  While my siblings were dunking chicken fingers into honey mustard, or beef dip into jus, I had an epicurean epiphany:  melted cheese on top of soup good.  It was dreamy.  Still is. 

Any vessel for melted cheese always gets bonus points with me, and I know I'm not the only one who thinks this.  Unless, of course, you are not eating dairy, then I'm sorry.  Truly.  If you are eating dairy and have a fondness for onions like I do, then this soup is for you, and it's really not that difficult to make.  The recipe calls for heaps of onions, but don't be scared by that - they cook down to pretty much nothing, in a good glob of butter.  Get them nice and brown too, scraping up all of those lovely bits from the bottom of the pot.  I could have let mine go longer, but like I've said before, patience is not one of my virtues.  I used sweet white onions and white wine to deglaze, but you can use red for both if you like.  Chicken stock was all I had in the house, but you can use beef (traditional) or veggie, if you prefer.  Cheese, again is all up to you.  Gruyere is my fave, but Swiss or Asiago or a combo would be wonderful.  Don't think you can't make this soup because you don't have pretty little bowls to put under the broiler.  (I got mine for $1 at the second hand store!)  In years past I've just made cheesy croutons and placed them on top of the hot soup.  Not authentic, but the flavours and textures are still there, and that's all that matters.

French onion is physical soup - breaking through that cheesy lid; slurping up that sweet onion broth  Cheese usually strings allover the place and broth runs down the chin.  Might not be pretty, but so worth it.  I'm still prone to ordering French Onion Soup once in awhile if I see it on a menu - if only to take me back to when I was 10, sitting in an upholstered booth with my Mom and siblings, sipping a Shirley Temple and wondering who shot J.R.

French Onion Soup 

3 tbsp butter
3 large onions, about 10 cups, thinly sliced
salt, pepper
2 tsp sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 cup white wine
4-5 cups chicken, beef or veggie broth
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp dried thyme or fresh
crusty sour dough or French bread or baguette
Swiss, Gruyere, Asiago cheese, your choice

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium high heat.  Add the sliced onions, stirring well in the butter, keep on med high heat until they start releasing some liquid.  I sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar at this time, to encourage the caramelization process.  Once the onions start to wilt, reduce heat to medium low, leave them be for a bit, so they get a little brown, stir, then ignore for a bit.  Do this until they are nice and golden brown.  About 30-40 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, cook a few more minutes.  Stir in the Dijon, then white wine.  Bring to a boil and bring up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  Stir in the broth and soy sauce.  Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and let it go for another 15 minutes.  Season with thyme, more salt and pepper if needed.  Scoop into oven proof bowls, top with bread and a good sprinkling of cheese.  Place under preheated broiler and leave there until golden and gorgeous.  If you don't have oven proof bowls, just make place cheese on bread, bake until golden and place on top of hot soup.  Done.  Makes about 4-6 servings.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pumpkin Whole Grain Waffles with Maple Greek Yogurt

Sunday mornings 'round my house kind of look like this:  I'm wakened either by cat paws stepping on my hair or gingerly tapping my face (I prefer the latter.) The poor things are of course starving.   If it's a reasonable hour, I'll get up, stretch, and feed the faces that will not stop wailing meowing until there's a dish of Fancy Feast before them.  Spoiled little beasts, I know.  Face gets washed, hair thrown into pony tails, and I change into my weekend uniform of leggings, over-sized sweatshirt, and knee high wool slippers that I can't live without during the freezing cold Winter months here.  Sexy, right?  Kettle boils, green tea made.  I check my Facebook take a look at the paper, and of course, think about food.  Like what's for breakfast Ren?

I'd totally be fibbing if I told you these waffles were a spontaneous event this Sunday morning.  Being a food blogger and a little uptight someone who loves to plan, I pretty much know what I'll be cooking for the entire week.  Given the waning Autumn light, all of the action that you see before you has to take place on Saturdays and Sundays.  It's the best part of my week, that's a true story.

These waffles were born mostly from my need to use up some sour milk in my fridge.  Nothing more, nothing less. They almost were a lemon cake, but then I remembered some frozen pumpkin puree in my freezer from when I made that incredible Thanksgiving tiramisu.  Pumpkin waffles it is!  I totally healthified (it's my blog and I can make up words if I want to) them with the addition of whole wheat, oat bran, ground flax and oats.  Healtharama!  You'd figure they'd be heavy globs of grain, but they're not.  Sure, they are substantial, like you won't want to eat more than two, maybe three, but really, should you be eating more than three?  The pumpkin and the spices it parties with so well are a great switch up for the everyday waffle.  And those pockets, that catch the butter and maple syrup.  Those pockets leave me speechless. 

You may be wondering about the yogurt part?  It's kind of crazy to put yogurt on waffles, but this Greek stuff is the shit best.  Thick and creamy, and especially wondrous mixed with a little maple syrup.  You won't even miss the whipped cream.  Okay, I lie about that.  You will miss the whipped cream, because nothing compares to whipped cream.  That very well could be my epitaph.  You will miss the whipped cream, but you will feel healthier opting for the yogurt.  In the approaching Season of Excess, a little healthy substitution isn't such a bad thing.

On this Sunday I sit at the counter in my little kitchen, with just a few bits of pumpkin waffle remaining on my plate; hands wrapped around my mug of tea.  The cats, with their belly's full too, have decided to curl up and sleep, again.  Outside the first flakes of snow are falling, and I think could things get any better than this?  

Pumpkin Whole Grain Waffles with Maple Greek Yogurt

1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk, or sour milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp honey
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup oat bran, or wheat germ
1/3 cup large flake oats
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt

In a medium bowl whip together the butter, pumpkin, eggs, milk, vanilla and honey.  In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients.  Stir the wet into the dry until combined, batter will be thick.  Heat your waffle iron and drop batter onto iron.  Make waffles as per manufacturer's instructions.  Keep waffles warm in oven until all batter used up.  Makes about 10 waffles.  Serve warm with butter, maple syrup and if you like:

Maple Greek Yogurt

1 cup Greek yogurt
1/8 cup maple syrup

Combine together and serve with warm waffles. Recipe adapted from The Little Red House. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Savouring: Sour Cherry Bread Pudding

Bread pudding is kind of like November - not particularly glamorous, and even a little econo, because let's face it, there's a bigger rodeo to come in, oh about 50 days.  (Yes, I guess I've started the countdown.)   The saver in me has, well, started saving, or is at least planning to save.  A just-announced Prince concert in my town means there may have to be a small ticket purchase - if I miss him singing Purple Rain I don't think I could stand it.  There's no doubt about it, over the next 7 weeks there will be saving, savouring and there will be a little splurging.  Making a delicious dessert out of pantry staples is definitely key to my saving program.

My Mom likes to tell stories of growing up on the farm, especially food stories.  There was always an excess amount of eggs, dairy and bread, thus bread pudding was a regular feature at the supper table. Sometimes with raisins (ew) and sometimes without.  I asked her if she made it for us when we were kids and she said we hated it, so she didn't really bother.  How times have changed!  Now I kind of adore bread pudding, for it's crusty, caramelized edges, and the smooth, custardy middle. Studded with fruit and not-too-sweet, it's super comfort food, and super easy on the bank balance.  Me like!

Bread pudding is one of those desserts that comes out and surprises you with its loveliness. Seemingly not made with anything special - I mean, what's so awesome about bread soaked in milk and egg?  It's all so humble, right?  The key is to start with good bread - not the junky white stuff - but a substantial sourdough, or a crusty French loaf, or a gorgeous challah.  You want this bread to have some body, some life, to it.  Eggs are the other key player here and their super farm fresh, bright yellow yolks make me happy.  Dressed up with some generous shakes of cinnamon and a decent amount of vanilla this bread pudding would be fine.  But wait!  Why settle for fine (I'm not a believer in settling for anything or anyone) when you can knock it out of the park with some sour cherries?

Remember the sour cherries from one of the best things I did this Summer?  Every time I see the bright red beauties tucked away in my freezer I have a little flashback to that late August morning, laughing with my cousin Leanne as we picked them in the early light.  Geese flew above me and Fall was around the corner; Winter not even on my radar.  Now I'm bundled in layers and scarves; gloves must keep my hands warm especially in the early morning because I hate cold hands (and cold hearts.)  August mornings are a distant, but happy memory and I kind of love that sour cherries take me back to that orchard in the early morning light.

Sour cherries are just the jumping off point for all things possible with bread pudding.  If you don't have a stash like I do, just substitute blueberries or raspberries, heck even canned peaches would be fabulous.  Apples and pears are aplenty right now, and would be perfectly at home in this recipe.  If you've been reading me for awhile you know I have a massive aversion to all things raisin - but if you'd like to toss some into this bread pudding, go right ahead, we can still be friends.  I'd rather soak some dried cranberries or apricots in brandy first, then throw them in.  Imagine that. (Noting to self as we speak.)  There are a million recipes for bread pudding, some which call for placing the baking dish in a water bath while the pudding bakes in the oven.  I don't bother here - the only time I bust out a water bath is when I'm baking either a cheesecake or crème brûlée.  I don't think the dessert suffers - the caramelized edges are my favourite part - well that and its econo-friendly ways.  Saving is not so bad after all.  It's the savouring that matters most. 

Sour Cherry Bread Pudding

6 cups day old French, sourdough or challah bread, cut into 1 1/2 " cubes
3 cups of sour cherries, thawed (I strained mine so they weren't so juicy) or other fruit
5 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cup half and half or whole milk
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 8 or 9 inch square baking dish.  In a medium bowl toss the cubed bread with fruit. Set aside.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy.  Add sugar and half and half.  Beat until well blended.   Add the spices and salt.  Add the bread to the egg mixture and using your hands, stir everything together.  Pour into your prepared dish and let stand for 30  minutes before baking.  (At this point it can be prepared overnight and baked the next day.) Bake for about 25 minutes, covered with tin foil.  Unwrap and bake for 25 minutes or so more, until golden, puffed and set.  While still warm, brush with the maple syrup.  Best served warm, but also delicious cold, for breakfast!  Makes about 6 servings.  

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