Indiana Persimmon Pudding

A few months ago, I was shopping the Borders going out of business sale, and I came across a book of regional American Thanksgiving recipes. It was in the remainder section, and with the additional mark-downs, it was practically free. I picked up a copy for myself and a few extra copies for some of my online baking friends. Once everyone had their books, we all set out to find the recipes we wanted to try.

My friend Kayte was the first to point out this recipe, and I knew as soon as I saw it that I wanted to try it. Although I’m a Hoosier born and bred, I never had persimmon pudding growing up. If fact, even though I lived in Indiana until I was 10 years old, the first time I tasted a persimmon was in high school in Lancaster County, PA.

The most challenging part of this recipe was finding the persimmons. They are in season from October through February, but it was mid-November before they appeared in the produce section of my local grocery store. And the ones that I bought were quite underripe. If you know anything about persimmons, you know that you can’t eat them until they are dead ripe or your mouth will completely dry up and leave you puckered like a toothless old codger. So I put my persimmons in a paper bag and waited. And waited. And waited.

It was several weeks (yes, weeks) before they were ripe. And they actually could have benefitted from another week or so. But my patience was at an end, so I peeled and mashed them and pressed on with the pudding.

Besides the persimmons, the recipe called for butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, buttermilk, and heavy cream. After mixing the ingredients, I baked the pudding at 350°F for about 45 minutes, until the pudding was set and nicely browned.

This bakes up more like a cake or custard than what I usually think of as pudding. It smelled really good coming out of the oven, and I was glad the recipe said to eat it warm. I didn’t taste a strong “persimmony” flavor, but the pudding was really delicious. We ate it with a dollop of whipped cream for dessert the evening I baked it, and continued to enjoy it over the next few days.

Kayte claims to be able to buy persimmon pulp in the frozen section of her local groceries. If I am ever able to find that around here, I will probably try this recipe again. But as much as I enjoyed it, I don’t think I have the patience the wait for persimmons to ripen to make it very often.

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Raspberry Mille Feuille {ModBak}

This week’s recipe for the Modern Baker Challenge is raspberry mille feuille, a light, creamy, custardy dessert. 

Mille feuille (pronounced “meel fwee”) is French for “thousand leaves”, a reference to the many-layered puff pastry that forms the base of this dessert. Like the Napoleons that I made recently, the mille feuille is made with a baked pastry layer. In this case, the filling is a vanilla custard layered with raspberries and whipped cream.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned my love for King Arthur’s pastry cream mix and noted that I generally use it whenever a recipe calls for pastry cream. This time, however, I decided to follow Nick’s recipe and make my own pastry cream. The recipe called for milk, sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, butter, and vanilla. It came together quickly and made a delicious pastry cream.

I covered the pastry cream and refrigerated it overnight. The next day, I baked and cooled a pastry layer, whipped some cream, and set about assembling the dessert.

For the baked layers, I cut the puffed pastry into three circles. The recipe called for 9-inch disks, but I made mine smaller, as I was scaling the recipe down.

With my pastry circles, homemade whipped cream, raspberries, and pastry cream at the ready, assembling the mille feuille was a breeze.

I began by putting a dollop of pastry cream on a plate.

I covered the cream with a pastry disk.

Since I would be serving the mille feuille on the same plate, I slid pieces of waxed paper under the disk to keep the plate clean. I covered the pastry layer with pastry cream,…

…added raspberries,…

…then spread whipped cream over the berries.

I repeated the layering and finished with the third baked pastry disk.

Then I compressed the mille feuille, smoothed the filling around the edges, and pressed crushed pieces of pastry dough around the outside.

When I was ready to serve the mille feuille, I topped it with a bit of whipped cream and some raspberries.

The scaled down version, for which I used half recipes each of the pastry cream and whipped cream, yielded six generous servings.

We really enjoyed this dessert. My father-in-law, who happened to drop by while I was putting it together, raved about it. It was easy to assemble, and the results were both visually stunning and delicious. 

This was another over-the-top dessert from The Modern Baker that can make any home cook look like a professional pastry chef. If you don’t have this book on your cookbook shelf, you’re really missing out.

Sour Cream Apple Pie {ModBak}

This recipe, the last of three apple pie recipes in the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker, is the only one that really seems like pie. The other two — Breton apple pie and Maida’s Big Apple Pie — are more of a cake and tart, respectively. Each one is delicious in its own right, but none, including this one, reminds me of a classic apple pie. When I think of apple pie, I picture a double-crusted pie (although I don’t have anything against crumb topping, either) with a filling made of apples, sugar, cinnamon, butter, maybe a splash of lemon juice, and not much else.

The twist in this recipe is the addition of sour cream, which makes a custard-style pie. To make the pie, I began by cooking down some apples in butter and sugar. While the apples were cooking, I whisked together flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and sour cream. Then I made the crumb topping, which consisted of flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and butter. Finally, I rolled out and panned a single crust sweet pie dough.

Once the apples had cooled, I combined them with the sour cream custard mixture.

As soon as I put the filling into the pie, I knew I had a bit too much. Fortunately, I had placed the pie pan on a parchment-lined jelly roll pan, so it caught the overflow.

After topping the pie with the crumbs, I baked it at 350°F for about 55 minutes, until the filling was set and the topping nicely browned.

I cooled the pie (more or less), then sliced and served it for a late-evening snack.

The recipe says that the pie needs no accompaniment, and it was certainly good on its own.

Don’t tell Nick, but it was also awesome with ice cream and whipped cream!

Ham & Egg Tart {ModBak}

The first recipe I made from the Savory Tarts & Pies section in The Modern Baker was the Ham & Egg Tart on page 136. This recipe couldn’t be any easier. The ingredients list consists of ham (turkey ham, in my case), milk, cream, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. I also followed one of the suggested variations of the recipe and added Gouda.

As with all recipes in this section, this one began with the formation of a tart crust. I made the Rich Pie Dough on page 128. After mixing the dough, I patted it out into a circle.

I rolled the dough into a circle about three inches larger than the pan, then transferred it to the tart pan and pressed it into place.

As you can see from the picture above, my dough rolling skills aren’t quite up to pastry chef level yet. But I’m hopeful that as I bake my way through the next few sections, I’ll develop mad dough skills. Stay tuned and see.

Once the dough was ready, I scattered the ham into the pan, then topped it with cheese.

Then I mixed up the custard and poured it over the ham and cheese.

I baked the tart in a 375°F oven for 30 minutes, until the custard was set and puffed. I cooled the tart in the pan for a few minutes, then removed it to a serving platter.

I served the tart for a light lunch. It was savory and delicious, and reminded me of the ham and cheese breakfast bake my mom used to make when we were growing up.

As often happens around the holidays, I’ve found myself a little bit sweeted out lately. So I’ve been looking forward to this new section, where all the recipes are savory. And if this tart is any indication, I’m going to enjoy the next few months immensely.

Gruyère, Scallion, & Walnut Tart {ModBak}

The first recipe I claimed for the Savory Tarts & Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge was one that Nick Malgieri claims he could “bake and eat… once a week”. Having made it myself, I can see why. This recipe is quick and easy to throw together, and what little effort it required was well worth it.

I started by making the tart crust. Nick gives three recipes for tart dough in this section — Rich Pie Dough for Savory Pies and Tarts; Olive Oil Dough for Savory Pies and Tarts; and No-Roll Flaky Dough. He suggests either the rich or no-roll dough for this recipe. I’ve made the rich dough several times and am actually getting pretty good at it, so I decided to try the no-roll dough for this recipe.

I’ll admit that my no-roll technique needs a bit of work. I think the dough was either too dry or that I didn’t mix it enough. Whatever the case, the dough was a bit too powdery. Nonetheless, I was amazed at how quickly it went from this…

…to this…

…and finally to this…

With my dough made and in the pan, most of the work was done. The tart filling begins with walnuts toasted for a few minutes in a pan, then set aside too cool.

Next, I sautéed scallions in butter for a few minutes, until they were soft and brightly colored.

After letting the scallions cool for a few minutes, I scattered them over the crust in the pan, then sprinkled on the cheese. I mixed up the custard, which consisted of milk, cream, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and poured the whole thing into the crust.

I put the tart in a 350°F oven to bake, then turned back to the counter and noticed this:

Fortunately, the tart had only been in the oven for a few minutes at the time, so I pulled it back out and scattered on the walnuts.

Back in the oven, the tart baked for about 30 minutes, until the custard was puffed and lightly browned. I cooled the tart in the pan for about five minutes, then removed it to a serving plate.

I served the tart for a light weekend supper. I didn’t measure the walnuts, and I think I might have used too many, as they somewhat overpowered the other flavors in the tart. Even so, this tart was absolutely delicious. The scallions, cheese, and nuts all complimented each other well, and I found myself going back for small slices throughout the evening.

I can see why Nick is so fond of this recipe. And while I may not make this tart once a week, it will certainly be featured on my table on a regular basis.

Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake {FFwD}

I have to put this out front: I don’t like semolina. It’s fine in pasta, and I grew up eating — and still enjoy — Cream of Wheat. But I have yet to find a bread recipe made with it that I like. And believe me, I’ve tried. And tried.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t vote for this recipe. In fact, I’d have voted for just about any recipe in the book over this one. But the majority spoke, so I would bake.

Two things about this recipe gave me a small glimmer of hope. First, it was made with Cream of Wheat rather than straight semolina flour. That may not sound like much of a difference, but as I said, I like the cereal, so I hoped the finished product might be more akin to it than to the semolina breads I’ve made. In any case, I hadn’t had Cream of  Wheat in a while, and making this recipe prompted me to go out and buy a fresh box.

The other thing about this recipe that encouraged me to try it is that it is a dessert. I’ve rarely met a cake I don’t like, so I was willing to give this one a go. And the promise of caramel didn’t hurt matters, either.

The recipe itself is quite simple. You cook the Cream of Wheat, then add sugar and vanilla. After stirring the sugar and vanilla into the cereal, I was tempted to just give up on the recipe and eat the Cream of Wheat. It was really good, especially while it was still hot.

While the cereal mixture was cooling, I made the caramel sauce, which consisted of sugar, water, and lemon juice. The mixture is boiled and then allowed to keep cooking until it takes on an amber color.

If you make this recipe, be aware that, because it is such a small amount of sugar syrup, it will go from light to amber to burnt really quickly. My caramel had a nice amber color, and it wasn’t until the cake was in the oven and the caramel pan had cooled to the point that I could sample it that I realized my caramel had overcooked and become slightly bitter.

After pouring the caramel into a preheated cake pan, the final step was to mix eggs and golden raisins into the cereal mixture, then put the mixture into the pan on top of the caramel. The cake bakes for about 30 minutes in a 350° oven, until it is puffed up and firm.

I let the cake cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turned it out onto a serving plate.

The caramel pooled on top of the cake, and the whole thing smelled really good. I began to think my reservations had been unfounded.

I allowed the cake to cool to room temperature, then sliced it, spooning some caramel onto each slice.

We had the cake for dessert after dinner, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. No one complained about the burnt caramel, although I found it quite bitter. And the cake itself didn’t do much for me, either. It tasted like Cream of Wheat that had been allowed to firm up.

So I guess I’m still batting .000 when it comes to semolina recipes. But I’m not sorry I tried it. And at least I have a fresh box of Cream of Wheat to enjoy as the weather gets colder.

Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flans {FFwD}

It happens every Fall. I get on a pumpkin kick. Actually, I love pumpkin enough that I cook and bake with it year-round. But there’s something about the weather changing around this time of year that always sends me to the store to stock up on canned pumpkin and has me scouring the Internet and my cookbooks for untried pumpkin recipes.

So, when I got my copy of Around My French Table, it was only natural that I turned to the Index and started looking at the pumpkin recipes. This recipe caught my eye right away. And I knew I couldn’t wait for French Fridays with Dorie to make it. So on a recent weekday evening, we had Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flans for dinner.

This recipe is easy enough to whip up after work. The ingredients consist of pumpkin, eggs, heavy cream, salt, pepper, gorgonzola, and walnuts. You mix the first three ingredients in the food processor, season with salt and pepper, then pour the mixture into buttered custard dishes.

The recipe says that it makes six flans, and Dorie writes that she uses 6-ounce custard cups. My cups are also six ounces, but, as you can see, the custard mixture only filled four of them. I’m not sure why my results differed from the recipe.

Another difficulty I had with the recipe, besides the custard cup issue, was trying to balance the salt. After adding salt and pepper to the custard, I tasted it, added a bit more salt, and tasted again. It still seemed to be slightly under-salted, but I knew the gorgonzola would be salty, and I didn’t want to overdo it. I did sprinkle the flans with fleur de sel before putting them in the oven, both for appearance and for that final burst of flavor.

After filling the cups and adding the gorgonzola and walnuts, I baked the flans in a water bath for 35 minutes, until the custard was set and the cheese melted and bubbly.

Next came the nearly impossible task of waiting for the flans to come to just-warm temperature before eating them. I drizzled the tops with a touch of honey before serving.

My wife, who is not a big fan of French cooking (at least not yet, but I’m working on it), initially said she didn’t want a flan, but wanted to take a taste of mine. One taste was all it took, and she was hooked. Even though she had just had a few pieces of pizza, she ate her flan and declared it one of the best things she had ever tasted. And I would have to agree.

The mild flavor of the pumpkin custard paired perfectly with the tang of the gorgonzola and the slightly sweet finish of the walnuts. The salt level was perfect, and I was glad I had given it that final sprinkle of fleur de sel.

This is another winning recipe from Dorie’s new book. And I’m one step closer to making a French food lover out of my wife.