Sunday, April 29, 2012

pretzel time

This weekend, I was introduced to two things with which I had not previously been familiar: Alton Brown's Good Eats series and making pretzels. The latter involved all sorts of fun new things: hand rolling (with a little pressure while stretching) elastic pretzel dough, forming pretzels, dipping them in a baking soda bath (2/3 cups of baking soda - I had no idea you could buy it in such large containers!), brushing with egg yolk and sprinkling with gigantic sea salt. And then the best part - ok, almost best part - watching them brown in the oven while the house filled with smells of bread baking loveliness. The best part came when we ate the pretzels - warm from the oven dipped in mustard (with ein bier und brat, natuerlich! oh, and I'm supposed to mention that the brats were cooked in beer - "Milwaukee style").

While we enjoyed the bounties of our labor, we watched the two-segment series on YouTube from Alton Brown's Good Eats, where he walks through how to make same pretzels that we did: first segment, second segment.

If you haven't made pretzels from scratch before, this is a super fun project. It takes a bit of time: an hour for the dough to rise and then an assembly line set of steps plus baking to get to final pretzel product. But one made pretzel and you'll realize it was all worth it. 

Here are some pics from our pretzel-making party:

Friday, April 6, 2012

blackberry baked french toast

All settled in the new house! This past week has been a busy one, between moving and working and entertaining. But I am getting comfortable in the new kitch, which has been used this week for some old favorites (camembert & caramelized onion crostini, pea and pancetta risotto, brown butter chocolate chip cookies - all part of entertaining a fun crowd last night) and a new one: the beautiful baked french toast pictured above.

Randy's friend Paul is visiting from Milwaukee this week. In the rundown of Paul's background that I was given, two of his passions stood out for me: history and breakfast. I don't have much of a brain for the first, but breakfast I can do. In my search for a baked french toast recipe I've used in the past, I came across a new one that sounded scrumptious (and an amusing new cooking blog: link to blog and original recipe) that I decided to try with a couple of twists.

One (brilliant) difference between this version and others that I've made is that you cut the bread into pieces. This results in a sort of french-toast-meets-bread-pudding custardy goodness that is hard not to love (and eliminates the challenge of trying to squeeze bread slices in the pan to ensure even egg coverage). All of the conveniences of baked french toast come through: easy night-before preparation, aesthetic result, amazing flavor. It makes a big pan, so perfect for bunch. You could definitely substitute other berries (perhaps even frozen ones?). The next time I make it, I'll include some chopped walnuts or pecans in the topping. But it's delicious as written. My main changes to the original recipe were substituting maple syrup for the white sugar called for and adding the blackberries. The original recipe calls for topping it with butter and maple syrup, but it was perfect for me as it was (and it's rare that I pass up an opportunity to drench something in maple syrup!).

We enjoyed our blackberry french toast warm out of the oven the first day and leftovers straight out of the fridge this morning. Sadly, two days plus two hungry guys means that this morning marked the end of this batch. Silver lining is the prospect of thinking up something new and delicious for our weekend morning breakfast tomorrow. I can deal with that.

Blackberry Baked French Toast
Serves 8-12, depending on portion size

French Toast:
1 loaf crusty bread, chopped into 1" cubes
8 eggs
2 c. milk
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/3 c. pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp. vanilla

1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 c. blackberries or other fresh berries

Generously grease a 9x11 baking pan with butter. Arrange bread cubes in pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cream, maple syrup, and vanilla. Pour mixture over bread in pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The topping can be made the same night (and stored in fridge until ready to use) or the following morning as the oven is heating. Combine all ingredients (except blackberries) in a bowl. Use a pastry cutter until mixture is combined and the consistency of small peas.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove pan from fridge. Top with blackberries and topping. Bake for 45 minutes for custardy goodness (longer if you prefer a dryer, crisper french toast). Enjoy!
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