Last October, when I was out in California visiting my son Alex’s family, I picked up a freebie publication called California Home Design. In it was an article about a wine making family in Healdsburg who, with the help of local chef, put together one of those classic wine country dinners. Held in the middle of a vineyard, these parties are wildly photogenic as you can see in this photo from the magazine. And the menus tend to contain things that this Easterner has never heard of before or at least in combinations that I’ve never even imagined. California Cuisine, as defined by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Michael McCarty of Michael’s in Santa Monica, emphasizes freshly prepared local ingredients incorporated into recipes that are often a fusion of cooking styles as diverse as the population of the Golden state itself. Among the items on the menu at the Healdsburg dinner was a very different take on a Bread Pudding. In fact, the ingredient list made me wonder whether this was savory or sweet, a dessert or a side dish. So I set out to make it and to figure out when to serve it once I had.
|Eish es Serny, the Middle Eastern Bread Pudding|
|Om Ali, Egypt’s Bread Pudding|
|India’s Shahi Tukra|
Bread Pudding is as old as time itself. For most of human history, wasting food was unthinkable so recipes for stale bread were commonplace. Stale bread was used to make stuffings, to thicken soups, and as edible food containers. (Think of present day bread bowls filled with soup, to say nothing of carbohydrates.) The Romans used eggs as a binder but Custard, an essential part of bread pudding, wasn’t invented until the Middle Ages. Early bread puddings were made simply for milk, stale bread, fat and, sometimes, a little sweetener. But the Romans were hardly alone in their bread pudding making. The Egyptians had Om Ali, made from bread, milk or cream, raisins and almonds. In the Middle East, Eish es Serny combined dried bread, honey, rosewater and caramel while in India Shahi Tukra was made from bread, ghee (clarified butter) saffron, sugar, rosewater and almonds. Lately, bread pudding seems to be everywhere in recipes both sweet and savory. But nothing I’d seen recently came close to the one served at the Wine Country dinner.
|Our Butternut Squash and Bacon
Bread Puddings are not at all difficult to make. You can use virtually any day old bread, float it in a custard of egg yolks and milk, either season it or sugar it, add in almost anything your could imagine—raisins, nuts, fruits or vegetables–bake and serve. We’ve already shared a fantastic recipe for a Crabmeat Bread Pudding http://www.chewingthefat.us.com/2012/02/buttery-crab-bread-pudding-from-river.htmland one made with Tomatoes http://www.chewingthefat.us.com/2010/08/tomato-bread-pudding.html. But today’s recipe is completely unique. Bacon has reached a point of obsession in this country and the generally held belief is that it makes absolutely everything taste better. So in goes the bacon as a crispy counterpoint to the sweet squash and the layers of puff pastry created by using Croissants as the stale bread element. Once the bread pudding has been baked and cooled to room temperature, hot caramel sauce is poured over it. And hot caramel sauce, like bacon, never hurt anything it was ever poured over. Ahah! So this is a dessert! Well, maybe, but in the picture of it in California Home Design, the square of Bread Pudding is pictured with a large strip of bacon and the caramel sauce is in one those minimalist platings that make the whole dish look more like art that something you would actually eat. But if you don’t eat it, you’re missing something completely unique and intriguing. The original recipe called for Blue Hubbard Squash. That’s not a squash that’s readily available in the East. The California cook allowed as how you could substitute any fall squash and in the East nothing is more ubiquitous than good old Butternut Squash. Here’s the recipe.
Recipe for Butternut Squash and Bacon Bread Pudding
Serves 12 – 16
8 day old croissants
1 4-5 lb. Butternut Squash
4 cups Half-n-Half
6 egg yolks
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsbp. Pure Vanilla Extract
8 pieces of thick cut bacon
Caramel Sauce (Store Bought)
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the Squash in half and remove the seeds. Coat the squash halves with Olive Oil and lay them cut side down on a sheet pan. Put the sheet pan in the oven and cook for 45 minutes.
Remove the squash from the oven and, when cool enough to handle, scoop or cut the flesh out into a bowl.
While the squash cools, raise the temperature of the oven to 425 degrees. Cover the bottom of a sheet pan with aluminum foil. Then place a baking wrack over the foil and put the bacon onto the rack.
Bake in the oven for 12 -15 minutes. Remove bacon to a paper towel covered plate to drain. Cut bacon into 1 inch squares. Set aside.
Butter a 9 x 12 inch baking dish and cut the croissants into 1 inch pieces avoiding compressing them as you do. You want nice fluffy pieces of croissant. Put a layer of croissant pieces in the bottom of the baking dish.
Now take your squash and put a layer of it over croissant layer. Top this with a layer of bacon pieces.
Take the remaining croissant pieces and top the squash with them. Then take the remaining bacon pieces and put a layer of them over the top.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, the Vanilla and the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is a pale gold color. Whisk in the Half’n’Half.
Pour the custard mixture over the bread pudding. Cover the bread pudding with foil and bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove the foil and crisp the top for another 10 minutes. Heat the Caramel Sauce in the microwave when ready to serve.
Now here’s a point that’s up for discussion in our house. Andrew loved the bread pudding slightly warm, or close to room temperature. (In reality the hot caramel sauce had actually heated the pudding above room temperature.) The California instructions suggested cooling the pudding completely- even refrigerating it—before serving. Late at night, after I’d put the pudding into the fridge, I took a cold piece out, covered it with Hot Caramel Sauce and I thought it was better than ever. Next day, I served in that way to Andrew. He still thought the room temperature version was better. You can decide for yourself.