Friday, April 29, 2011

Bread in a Pot

Although I've know about the No-Knead bread baked in a large pot for a while, I never tried it.

Looking for a change of pace, I finally tried it. At the end of last week, before we left for our anniversary trip, I took the sourdough starter 'toss-off' and made some really slack dough. I didn't use the stand mixer, just stirred the usual flour and water mixture in with a wooden spoon. Once that had sat for an hour or so and was bubbly, I stirred in bread flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until it was almost the density I was looking for. Next I added a teaspoon and a half of sea salt and the last 1/4 cup bread flour. This was basic, basic bread...wild yeast, all-purpose and unbleached bread flours, salt and water.

The instructions for getting the dough ready for the pot included making it into a ball. Well, like that Garlic Bread, this dough was too soft and runny to create a ball. What I did instead was to heavily flour a piece of parchment paper, dump the dough onto it, lift the edges with my bench scraper and put more flour underneath as I did, then eventually I flipped half the dough over on top of the other half and sprinkled the top heavily with flour.

The recommendations for baking bread in the pot are to put the pot into the oven and let it heat along with the oven until both are very hot...about 20 minutes. Then you take the pot out of the oven, slide in the dough, cover it up and put it back into the oven. Since (mostly) the dough was on flour, it slid off the parchment and into the preheated pot and only needed a little adjustment once in the pot.

By baking it this way you are creating a small oven inside of the larger oven. It captures the moisture from the dough as it bakes. The loaf rose in the center and got really beautifully crusty top and bottom. I took the cover off for the last 10 minutes and that may have helped give it a crisp crust.

We loved this bread with its chewy texture and lots of holes. Great crust combined with a moist crumb and tangy sourdough taste is easy to like. It makes wonderful toast, too.

No-Knead Bread in a Pot Elle's Way

makes 1 large loaf

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups water
2 -3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Put the sourdough starter in a large bowl. In another bowl whisk together the all-purpose flour and the water. Add it to the starter and whisk to blend. Let bowl sit, uncovered, on the counter for at least 1's OK for it to sit longer (another hour or two is OK) for a stronger sourdough flavor.

Stir the bread flour into the starter mixture 1/4 cup at a time with a wooden spoon, stirring until all the flour is mixed in before adding any more. You should have a shaggy dough that doesn't hold a shape. When you have added 2 cups of flour, sprinkle in the sea salt, then another 1/4 cup of the flour and finish stirring it in. You will have a very slack dough. You can stop here or add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time but the less flour the more holes.

Let the mixture sit, uncovered, on the counter for 1 1/2 to 4 hours. Mixture will be bubbly.

Place a large piece of parchment paper on the counter and flour it heavily. Place/pour the sourdough mixture over the flour. Using a bench scraper, lift up the dough all around the edges and sprinkle heavily with flour under the edges, then let dough fall on top of the flour. When you have gone all around the dough mass, use the bench scraper to flip half of the dough on top of the other half. Sprinkle top heavily with flour and let sit until pot is ready.

Place heavy cast iron pot or Dutch oven, with lid, in the oven and preheat for 20 minutes to 450 degrees F. When 20 minutes have passed, remove pot and lid from the oven and slide the dough into the pot, discarding the parchment paper. Cover with the lid (remember to use oven mitts for all of this...the pot is very hot!) and return the covered pot to the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 -25 minutes or until loaf is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool, outside of the pot, for 10 minutes on a rack. Serve warm or cool before eating.

NOTE: The New York Times recipe that started the No-Knead craze had the dough ferment much longer, but I was in a hurry and this seemed to work just fine.

Just in case you want to see some travel photos, here we have Sweetie and Xam at a Monterey beach. The Bread Baker's Dog loves to travel and is a good traveler.

This was an especially important trip because we just found out that Xam has an inoperable breathing just wore out...he is the equivalent of a 95 year old man so the old guy is getting tuckered out. Unlikely that we will have any more trips with him, but this one was lovely even if the weather was rainy and/or cloudy almost the whole time until we crossed the Golden Gate bridge heading home.


Friday, April 22, 2011

First Garlic Now Onions

It must be strong flavors month. The phenomenal garlic bread that the Bread Baking Babes baked this month was such a treat that when I saw this Onion Tart with Honey in an issue of Bon Appetit it was a irresistible draw. Who can resist warm, flaky puff pastry, tangy creme fraiche, a bit of nutmeg and thyme, crumbled bacon and ooodles of caramelized onions soaked in honey and wine? Not me.

Since Sweetie and I don't usually indulge in this sort of thing as a twosome, it was provident that we were invited to a birthday party and asked to bring the appetizer. Our hostess even warmed it slightly just before serving. It was a huge hit. In record time every morsel was eaten and we all wanted more. Next time I'm making two batches. The tart almost outshone the delicious marinated grilled lamb and fresh corn salad that were the highlights of dinner, but not quite, at least for me because I just love lamb!

One of the appeals of this tart is the way the sweetness of the onions and honey plays off the saltiness of the bacon. Another is the nice mix of textures with the delicate but crisp puff pastry and the gooey chewiness of the onions. If you use ready made puff pastry and pre-cook the onion mixture as I did, the whole thing comes together fairly quickly. Next time I plan on using the food processor to slice the onions and to make at least two recipes' worth so that I can make two tarts or so that I can freeze the onion mixture to make a tart at another time. Wouldn't that be a nice thing to have in the freezer so that you could create a party worthy appetizer in record time? Totally yum!

Honey-Roasted Onion Tart
February 2011 Bon Appetit magazine

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-oz. package), thawed

3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup dry white wine
2-3 large sweet yellow onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3/4 cup creme fraiche
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Few sprigs fresh thyme leaves

Using lightly floured rolling pin, roll out puff pastry on lightly flour surface to 14 x 10-inch rectangle. Fold 1/2 inch of pastry edges in toward center on all sides, forming 13 x 9-inch rectangle. Transfer pastry to large rimmed baking sheet. Press firmly on pastry edges with fork to form rim. Chill crust.

Cook bacon in small skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp. Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F while bacon is cooking. Transfer crisp bacon to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon drippings from skillet.

Whisk honey, wine and reserved 1 tablespoon bacon drippings in large bowl. Add onions; toss to coat. Coat another large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Spread onion mixture in even layer on sheet. Roast 30 minutes. Turn onions over, allowing rings to separate. Roast until onions are caramelized, turning often for even browning, 30 to 45 minutes. (I cooked them until the least colored ones were pale gold, which meant that some edges were charred, but mostly the mass of onions was medium gold, not darker because they will still be browning while tart cooks later.) cool onions slightly. (At this point, and without leaving the oven on, I refrigerated the onion mixture, then brought it back to room temperature the next day for the baking part.)

Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Mix creme fraiche, sea salt,nutmeg and dried thyme in small bowl. Using offset spatula, spread creme fraiche mixture over crust almost to the folded edge. Arrange onions atop creme fraiche. Sprinkle with bacon. Bake tart until crust is light golden brown and topping is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and serve.

Makes about 6 appetizer servings.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Crafty Bites

When I was much younger with very small kids and a full time job I did astounding things like making Black Forest Cake from scratch, including marinated fresh cherries and elaborate whipped cream and chocolate curl decorations. Nothing slowed me down it seemed, so making onion soup from scratch...from roasting the beef bones to make the stock kind of 'from scratch'...which took two or three days if I remember it correctly, really wasn't daunting. I must have been at least slightly insane. There were more of these complicated culinary shenanigans, but you get the idea.

These days I still enjoy the culinary challenge or two but more often I go for simple and easy. (Dan's Garlic Bread wasn't either, but it was worth it.) Having been snuffly and sneezy and hoarse with either a cold or the flu for the last week, simple and easy wasn't even enough.

When in doubt, go crafty.

I needed to provide the dessert at a ladies luncheon today...for up to 40 women. I started by purchasing Costco's Brownie Bites because they are dark, intensely chocolate, and not too big. Two on a small plate with a swoosh of our local Clover brand canned whipped cream sounded about right. For the photos, taken later at home, I added another bite to the plate, but for the luncheon we added a few nuts and a couple of Easter candies. It was a hit.

So why crafty? Because presentation is important sometimes and I dolled up the bites two ways. You are probably clever enough to figure out dozens of other ways to embellish them but here is a place to start.

First I ordered little sugar decorations from King Arthur Flour (and, no, they do not pay me for recommending them) choosing cute daises and bright stars. One or the other decoration was on sale and they often have seasonal decorations on sale right after the season.

I had some sparkly sugar, also from 'the King' on hand from a previous crafty project.

All I had to do was make a small batch of Royal Icing. It went into a Ziploc bag, a corner was cut (very tiny opening) and I squirted icing on to the center of enough bites to take care of the sugar decorations...just over 40. A star or flower was then plopped on top of the icing dot and give a tap to settle it. Believe me this sort of mass production goes quickly; it takes longer to line up the brownie bites to be decorated!

The next craftiness took only a bit longer. The next 40 bites were given a spiral of Royal Icing...using the same bag of icing...and the spirals were sprinkled with the sparkly sugar. Everything was allowed to dry, put away, and that was it.

Everyone was quite taken with the cute little bites and I still had energy left to pour tea at the luncheon. Imagine how exhausting to make all those little cakes and then decorate them! I'd have to be 20 years younger and/or in perfect health.

Feel free to steal this idea. Would work for decorating cookies for a party, too.

Royal Icing (half recipe)
from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book

1 egg white
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar (plus a little extra if needed to make it the consistency you want)
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine the egg white, sugar, lemon juice, and slat in a mixing bowl. Beat at high speed for several minutes, until the mixture holds soft peaks. If needed, add additional sugar a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. (Note: for these decorations I made the icing stiffer so that it would hold the decoration without running and so that it would hold the spiral shape cleanly.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Stinking Rose Bread

Fortunately for me I've never had a fear of yeast so bread baking has always been delightful fun. I do find that even though I'm not fearful of super wet bread dough that I find it annoying which gets in the way of the fun, but can be educational. The devilish stuff seems to have more of a mind of its own than regular bread dough, which certainly seems to have some. The wet stuff slithers over the board and tries to make a getaway down the side, or a bit of it jumps...really...on to the nearest appliance or my sleeve as I'm 'kneading' it with my bench scraper. This month's Bread Baking Babes challenge, brought to us by the talented (but perhaps diabolic?) Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies, is for an addictive garlic bread that has an amazingly wet dough. Since garlic is sometimes called the 'stinking rose' you could say that this is a stinking slack dough bread.
I followed the recipe as written, very carefully, and can only conclude that what I buy in the market as "Bread Flour" isn't as sturdy as the "Strong white bakers flour" specified in the recipe. My loaf was flat and misshapen, but it was COMPLETELY delicious! Sweetie loved it and I enjoyed it and so did our friends whom we shared it with on the first picnic of the season. It goes well with many things, especially if they have a flavor that will stand up to the pretty intense garlic flavor.

The nice thing about the garlic is that it is cooked before going in to the bread so we didn't experience too much 'garlic breath' afterwards even there there were three very large heads of garlic in it. Because you cook the partially cooked garlic cloves with some balsamic vinegar, you get a hit of that, too. Once I'd drained the excess liquid off the garlic cloves mixture in order to put the cloves in the bread (couldn't imagine putting any more liquid into this bread!) Sweetie used the remaining balsamic/rosemary/garlic infusion to glaze some meat for the grill...and it was wonderful, too.

The temptation here (and I was very tempted) is to add lots of extra flour. If you make this, try it as written...I want company in the frustration department or better yet, I want YOU to be more successful than I was! Check out the posts of the other Bread Baking Babes for hints and tips and/or to commiserate. The links are on the bar at the right.

DO make this is truly delicious and unforgettable, wet or not. To be a buddy, just make it and post by April 29th, then send a link to Natashya at livinginthekitchenwithpuppies(at)hotmail(dot)com. Don't forget to check out Yeastspotting, too. Susan of Wild Yeast hosts this weekly event that is a wonderland of bread and roll recipes.

So here it is:

Dan's Garlic Bread
adapted from Dan Lepard, Exceptional Breads, by Dan Lepard
Dan has reworked the recipe to include a longer rise, less yeast, and less sugar.

for the pre-ferment
200ml water, at about 35C - 38C (95F - 101F)
1 tsp fast acting yeast 200g strong white bakers flour

for the dough
225ml water at 20C (68F) 10g sea salt
325g strong white bakers flour 75ml extra virgin olive oil

for the garlic filling
3 heads garlic, separated
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
50ml water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 spring fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped

for the pre-ferment
To easily get the temperature of the water roughly correct measure 100ml of boiling water and add 200ml cold water, then measure the amount you need from this. Stir in the yeast then, when dissolved, stir in the flour until evenly combined.

Leave the mixture covered at about 20C - 22C (warmish room temperature) for 2 hours, stirring the ferment once after an hour to bring the yeast in contact with new starch to ferment.

for the garlic filling
Break the heads of garlic into cloves and place in a saucepan, cover with boiling water from the kettle and simmer for 3 - 4 minutes.

Then strain the garlic from the water, cover the cloves with cold water to cool then peel the slivery skin from the garlic. It's surprising how few cloves you get after peeling so don't be alarmed if "3 heads of garlic" sound like way too much.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan then place the add the cloves to it and cook until they are lightly brown (not burnt) on the outside. If you burn the garlic the flavour is nasty and you will have to start again, or serve it to your friends with a straight face, so watch them carefully.

Measure the balsamic and the water then add this to the pan with the sugar, salt, pepper and rosemary. Simmer for 5 minutes until the liquid has reduced to a thick caramel.

Scrape into a bowl and leave to cool. The garlic cloves should be tender when pierced with a knife.

back to the dough:

After 2 hours the pre-ferment should have doubled and look bubbly on the surface. Measure the water into a bowl and tip the pre-ferment into it. Break it up with your fingers until only small thread-like bits remain (this is the elastic gluten you can feel in your fingers)

Add the flour and salt then stir the mixture together with your hands. It will feel very sticky and elastic. Scrape any remaining dough from your hands, cover the bowl and leave for 10 minutes so that the flour has time to absorb moisture before being kneaded. Be sure to scrape around the bowl to make sure all of the flour is incorporated into the dough.

Pour 2 tbsp olive oil onto the surface of the dough and smooth it over the surface with your hands. Now rub a little oil on your hands and start to tuck your fingers down the side of the dough, then pull the dough upward stretching it out.

Rotate the bowl as you do this, so that all of the dough gets pulled and stretched. You'll find that the dough starts to feel and look smoother. Leave the dough in a ball, cover and leave for 10 minutes.

Repeat the pulling and stretching of the dough, for no more than about 10 - 12 seconds. You may find that an oiling piece of dough breaks through the upper surface. This isn't a bad thing, but it is a sing to stop working the dough. Cover the bowl again and leave for a further 10 minutes.

This time oil a piece of the worksurface about 30 cm in diameter. Oil your hands, pick the dough out of the bowl, place it on the oiled surface and knead it gently for 10 - 15 seconds. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave for 30 minutes.

Uncover the dough, oil the worksurface once more and flip the dough out onto it.

Stretch the dough out into a rectangle, then fold the right hand side in by a third.

Then fold the in by thirds again so that your left with a square dough parcel. Place this back in the bowl, cover and leave for 30 minutes.

Lightly oil the worksurface again and stretch the dough out to cover an area roughly 30cm x 20cm. Dot the garlic over the 2/3rds of the surface and then fold the bare piece of dough over a third of the garlic-covered dough.

Then roll this fold of dough over so that the remaining garlic-covered piece is covered by dough. Then fold this piece of dough in by a third...then in by a third again. Finally place the folded dough back in the bowl, cover and leave for 30 minutes.

Wipe the oil off the worksurface and lightly dust it with flour. Pin the dough out again as above and fold it in by thirds each way. Replace it in the bowl, cover and leave for a further 30 minutes.

Pin the dough out again fold it in by thirds each way again as shown. Leave the dough for 10 minutes while you prepare the tray the bread will rise on.

Cover a large dinner tray with a tea-towel. Lightly dust it with white flour, then cut the dough into thirds with a serrated knife.

Place the dough cut side upward on the tray then pinch the fabric between each so that they stay separated.

Preheat Oven and Prepare Baking Sheet/Stone
Cover and leave for 45 minutes while you heat the oven to 200C (same for fan assisted)/390F/gas mark 5-6. I put a large unglazed terracotta tile in the oven and shovel the dough directly onto it with the back of a small cookie tray. It gives a much better finish and perhaps the bread is slightly crisper, but the bread will still be good placed on a tray just before baking. I also put a small tray of water in the bottom of the oven so that the heat is a little moist, which will help the bread to rise and colour.

Lightly dust the back of a cookie tray (if you have a stone in the oven) or the surface of a baking tray with semolina or flour. Carefully pick the dough up off the cloth, scooping it in from end to end with your finger then quickly lift it clear of the cloth and onto the tray.

Either shovel the dough onto the hot stone, or place the baking tray in the oven, shut the door quickly and bake for 20 - 30 minutes until the loaves are a good rich golden brown

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Plain and Simple

When the days fill up like quickly like the rain gauge did this past winter (and still is, a is rainy today) the appeal of plain and simple food is strong. On the weekend I made up some of my favorite pasta sauce, full of ground turkey, onions, herbs, tomato sauce and zucchini. The recipe is here if you want to try it.

Yesterday I was busy potting up seedlings to give away, including a variety for Natasha since I'm having lunch with her today and she has some nice, new raised beds and, in summer, lots of the weather that tomatoes love. I also planted out morning glory and sweet pea seedlings, ready to start climbing up the netting on the south side of the deck. I can hardly wait for their cheerful colors and the sweet scent of the sweet peas.

About 2:30 I took a bread and decided that the pasta and salad I'd planned for dinner would be enhanced by some fresh bread. Seeing as I wanted to get back to the garden quickly, I went for a plain and simple bread and it was delicious just as it was.

The simplest is flour, water, yeast and salt, so this is a bit fancier than that because it also includes olive oil, mashed potato flakes for tenderness and flavor and I used two kinds of flour...but still pretty basic. I did a short rise for the first rise...about an hour 15 minutes, and only 1/2 hour rise once the loaf was shaped, so it was in the oven in time for dinner at 6:30. The difficult part, as always, was to get Sweetie to wait to cut it until it was at least somewhat cooled. Who can resist the fragrance of fresh from the oven bread? I'm sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting event. Check it out HERE!

Plain and Simple Bread Loaf
Makes one large loaf

1 packet (.25 oz.) active dry yeast - I used Rapid Rise
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 cups bread flour (plus as much as another 1/2 cup if needed)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup dried mashed potato flakes
1 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
3 tablespoons olive oil

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water in a small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes.

Stir the flour(s), mashed potato flakes, salt and sugar together in another bowl or large mixing cup.

Place the dissolved yeast mixture and the lukewarm 1 1/4 cup water, plus the olive oil, in a large bowl of an electric mixer. Attach the paddle to the mixer. Stir in 1 cup flour mixture into the water/yeast mixture. Beat until smooth.

Switch to the dough hook. Stir in enough remaining flour until soft dough forms. Knead with the mixer for 8-10 minutes, then knead on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes before putting in an oiled large bowl or rising container. Cover and let rise in warm place until double, about 60-90 minutes.

Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured board. Press down on dough to create a rectangle, roughly 8 inches by 10 inches in size. Roll up jelly roll fashion, pinching the edges together. Fold in the ends. Pull the dough from the top to the bottom, creating a free form long rectangle. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Flour generously, cover with a tea towel and let rise another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven during the last part of this rise to 375 degrees F. Slash loaf down middle. Bake until crust is medium golden brown, about 45 minutes. Loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the underside. Let cool slightly before slicing (if you can restrain yourself).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Siren Song

Looking back at this blog in years gone by I see a pattern every April...although sometimes it starts in March...the siren song of the garden starts limiting the number and, perhaps, interest of the posts.

I've been an avid gardener since I was a very little girl. Before I was out of the second grade I had a 'business' of selling hollyhock seeds to the neighbors. Being an observant sort I noticed that hollyhocks formed a nice seed head after the flower finished and that when it dried out, if you kept track of it and got to it just as it dried out, you could harvest the seeds before the drying seed head spewed them all over the place. We had some lovely old fashioned hollyhocks, including dark purple ones, so I was actually able to sell a few waxed paper packets of seeds...and enjoy it when they could be seen the next year in neighbors yards.

My Dad was the vegetable gardener. I learned a little from him but he wasn't interested in a chatty child when gardening...I think it was more a meditative occupation for him. With so many noisy little kids in the house I can't blame him.

I learned more about gardening from my Mom. She showed me how to plant spring bulbs and how to prune roses and lots more. Just as I really only wanted to bake cookies and cakes when young, I really was far more interested in flowers anyway. Now I love, and grow, both. The seedlings that are taking up my time at the moment are for flowers like sweet peas and morning glories and for veggies like zucchini, tomatoes and chard. I like to direct sow the green beans and cucumbers so those seed have to wait a week or so until the soil warms a bit.

If you, too, are a gardener, you may want to know of my experience this year with Baker Creed Heirloom Seeds. Never tried their seeds before but this time I started one variety of their tomato seeds. The germination rate was almost 100%...unheard of with most of the seeds you get at the big box stores or even most drug stores or hardware stores. Now I'm busily asking friends if they would like to try this new-to-me tomato...and the seedling is free. How else will I get rid of them? No way do I need something like 38 Purple Russian tomato plants. Baker Creed Heirloom Seeds are on the web and do mail order...and have a huge number of heirloom seeds available.

So, no food post this time...but there are some photos of seedlings...Think Spring!

Sunday, April 03, 2011


We have reached the time of transition between winter and spring, and not a day too soon. When we first moved here spring was generally something that started up in February and really got going in March with the apple blossoms finishing things up in early April.

The last four or five years it seems like the rainy season last longer and the warming up takes place much closer to the timetable I remember as a child on the East Coast. The fruit trees still seem to follow the old schedule, so we have finished seeing the almond blossoms in February, plums in March and we are now seeing the pear, quince and apple blossoms.

Everything else, like the tulips and other bulbs have been much slower so they are just now hitting their peak. As you might have guessed from my gushing on about the garden and growing things, my attention has turned to those topics, too. Now that it isn't raining everyday I've been able to do some weeding, some soil preparation, and a bit of pruning.

Indoors I've gotten the seedlings going with hopes to plant them out in mid-April.

Food is still making its way to the table of course, but being creative in the kitchen has taken a back seat to other pursuits.

I did make up some festive 'brownies-in-a-jar" for a fundraiser which was fun. If you want to do the same...perhaps for and adult's Easter basket or for a hostess gift? the URL for how to make the jar of ingredients and also the recipe for baking up the brownies is HERE. There are lots of variations, too. Love mint and chocolate? Just add some chopped up peppermint patties instead of all or part of the chocolate chips. That's just an example...lots more are at the referenced post.

The other recent creative flight of fancy was taking my favorite bread pudding recipe and making a rum-raisin and bannana version. Here is where the transition part comes in because bread pudding is a cosy, winter type of dish and the additions are also easily found in winter most places...but the flavors speak of palm trees and balmy breezes and wicked drinks with paper parasols, the sort of place that almost shouts 'spring break'. This is not the most photogenic of dishes but you get a moist pudding soaked bread, soft and mellow bannanas, raisins spiked with rum, some walnuts for crunch, and nicly browned bready crust on top, too.

Banana Bread Pudding with Rum Raisins

Variation on a recipe from 1971, from a Fredicksburg, Maryland friend

4 cups dry bread cubes
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup raisins
3 cups milk, scalded
1 tablespoon butter
4 slightly beaten eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 sliced ripe, peeled bananas
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Place the rum and raisins in a microwave safe dish. Cook in the microwave 1 minute at high power. Set aside until cool.
2) Melt the butter in the milk. Add a little of the milk to the beaten eggs, then add eggs to rest of milk. Stir in the brown sugar, salt, and vanilla. Mix to combine.
3) Put the bread cubes in a large bowl. Pour the egg/sugar/milk mixture over, stir gently, and let sit 15 minutes.
4) Butter a large baking pan. A deep one will give a softer center, a shallower one will give more crispy crust. Gently stir banana slices, rum/raisin mixture and chopped walnuts into bread mixture and pour into baking pan.
5) Bake in a pan of hot water until firm, about 1 hour. Serve warm.