Apple Bourbon Caramel Topping

If you’re following along on Instagram, you’ll have seen that N. and I have been up to big things. Huge things! House shaped things! According to the bank, and the escrow office, and our realtor, and the seller, we are now home-owners! We can’t quite believe it ourselves, but enough independent sources verify it that we’re coming to think it must be true. Between the searching, and the paperwork, and the other paperwork, and the packing, and the paperwork, and the fact that the semester is still in, if not full, at least substantial swing, there hasn’t been a great deal of time for blogging.

But still, home ownership achieved on a house that was, quite frankly, nicer than what we’d expected we would be able to find, feels like cause for celebration. So quickly, on a day during which I need to take care of so many things, I want to give you something with which to pause, and to celebrate.

The nice thing about May is that even though it’s spring, there are still the occasional chilly days during which something warm and sweet is everything you need, and on the others, you can just pile that something warm and sweet over something cold and thick. It’s a can’t-go-wrong topping. Think apples. Think bourbon. Think deeply melted and gooey and caramel-y brown sugar, and the right spice of cinnamon, and a swirl of butter, all melted gloriously together, ready to crown anything from waffles (as we did) to pancakes to bread pudding to french toast to ice cream.

My serving suggestion: make yourself a batch of waffles. I like these, as they allow me to use up some sourdough starter from baking days when I’ve gotten a little too enthusiastic, and unlike many sourdough waffle recipes, don’t require an overnight rise. Layer a waffle, a generous spoonful of caramel, then repeat, and add a heaping dome of greek yogurt right on top. The caramel is decadent and the apples provide excellent texture and fall perfectly into the holes of the waffle, and the yogurt is all tang and creaminess and acidic balance for the sweetness of the caramel. It’s breakfast, it’s brunch, it’s a sweet breakfast-for-dinner, and it’s an unquestionably good late-night-when-you-may-have-already-had-some-bourbon snack.

Enjoy. I hope you have something lovely on your plate to celebrate.

 

Apple Bourbon Caramel Topping
20-30 minutes
Makes ¾ – 1 cup (enough for 3-4 servings of waffles)
4 tablespoons butter
2 apples, quartered, cored, and diced into ¼ inch chunks (I leave the peel on because I like the texture. If you don’t like it, you can peel the apples first)
½ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-4 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons heavy cream

 

  • In a skillet or saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When it is fully melted and foaming, add the apple chunks. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are tender: 5-10 minutes. If they seem to be browning aggressively, give them a good stir and turn down the heat a bit.
  • Once the apple pieces are tender, add the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla. Turn down the heat to medium-low, if you haven’t already. Cook down until the brown sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is bubbly and thick: 2-3 minutes.
  • Off the heat, add the bourbon and the lemon juice, then stir to combine and simmer slowly for about 10 minutes. At the last minute, stir in the heavy cream.
  • Serve warm over waffles, pancakes, French toast, ice cream, or (almost) anything else you can imagine.
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Chocolate Stout Floats with Bourbon Caramel

2015 Blog September-0416Labor Day deserves to be celebrated. The reason we have not just a three-day weekend this week, but a weekend at all, is a result of the hard work and fighting of workers, federations, and labor unions demanding reasonable working conditions and time off. In many industries, they helped us get fair working conditions. Their efforts should be commemorated.

2015 Blog September-0420I think, though, on Labor Day we should treat ourselves more than fairly. We should treat ourselves well. We should celebrate what has been fought for and allow ourselves not an indulgence, but a reward we deserve. After all, we work hard!

real shoes: crucial caramel-making equipment!

real shoes: crucial caramel-making equipment!

In my case, of course, this reward is food. I’m not completely devoted to the Labor Day barbecue tradition (in fact, tonight we are having arroz con pollo), but I do think a special dish is an appropriate method of celebration. Let’s do dessert.

2015 Blog September-0399

dissolved sugar, rapid bubbling

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sugar caramelizing around pot edges

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approaching dark amber color; almost time to add the cream.

Like Labor Day, this dessert of just rewards has several origin stories. The first is simple: as I noted here, a few months ago my friend B. asked for my tips on bourbon dessert sauces. One of her attempts involved a bourbon caramel to douse over ice cream, and terrified as I am of the whole boiling sugar thing that is required for caramel, I couldn’t pass up the challenge. I wasn’t quite satisfied, though, with presenting a recipe for caramel sauce enrobing a simple scoop of ice cream. I wanted something a bit more exciting.

2015 Blog September-04042015 Blog September-04052015 Blog September-04062015 Blog September-0409The answer came during our summer trip to Oregon. The night of our reunion with our dissertation crew, we had chocolate stout floats for dessert: tooth-achingly cold scoops of vanilla bean ice cream drowning in a bitter fizzing cocoa bath of cold, black beer. With each spoonful, you can moderate the combination, choosing just a fleck of ice cream, or mixing the whole thing into a pale, drinkable swirl. The following day, we repeated the dessert with a new set of friends, and one of them judiciously declared the need to slosh in a shot of bourbon.

Mic drop.

There it was.

2015 Blog September-0411So what I have for you today, in celebration of our hard work, is a chocolate stout float drizzled with bourbon caramel. It’s a perfect dessert for a hot day, because though it’s far from light, it’s gloriously cold. You can make the caramel sauce earlier in the day, so by the time your belly is ready for dessert, it will have had ample time to cool (and, if you’re doing the barbecue thing, you won’t have had to deal with the stove for several hours). The ice cream and beer are in lovely, tenuous balance with one another – almost too sweet, almost too bitter – and the just-shy-of-bitter notes in the caramel (which is, after all, almost-burnt sugar), play off of both. The bourbon here is noticeable, especially after the caramel cools down, but it isn’t overwhelming. It’s a light, floral, vanilla note that capitalizes on the toasty flavors already created by making the caramel.

2015 Blog September-0413You can serve this in whatever quantities, by whatever process you like. I followed my usual method in considering the caramel and adapted several recipes, but mostly this one, along with several sensible suggestions by David Lebovitz. He’s right – you really do have brave the smoke and the suspiciously-close-to-burning smell of the sugar cooking, lest you end up with something that’s just sweet, not developed and complex. And warming your cream before adding it to the vat of boiling sugar makes good sense for easier integration, but you should still take precautions and wear shoes no matter how hot it is in your kitchen. Boiling sugar burns are serious business.

2015 Blog September-0417When it comes to serving, we like to scoop in some ice cream first, then top it up with the beer. As this delicious experiment explains, this nets you a lovely, creamy foam on top, on which you can drizzle as much caramel sauce as you want. The sauce thickens as it cools, so what barely coats a spoon while hot will pour even thicker than maple syrup once it’s had time to chill for a while. The layer that sinks and coats the bottom of the glass makes for a lovely last few sips, too.

2015 Blog September-0420

Chocolate Stout Floats with Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Makes about 1 cup caramel sauce
Approximately 20 minutes active cook time, plus an hour (or more) for the sauce to cool
For bourbon caramel:
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ cup room temperature or warm heavy cream (helps it incorporate faster)
¼ cup bourbon
½ teaspoon salt
For float:
Vanilla ice cream
Chilled chocolate stout

 

  • For the bourbon caramel, stir the sugar and water together in a medium pot that is heavy in weight and light in color (the light color lets you see the color change in the caramel sauce – very important). Cook over medium high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture becomes clear.
  • Now, stop stirring. If you have one, use a wet pastry brush to brush down any sugar crystals that have adhered to the sides of the pot so they can melt along with the rest of the mix.
  • Without stirring, let the melted sugar simmer over medium or medium-high heat until the outside edge starts to darken, about 7-8 minutes. Bubbles will be very fast. It’s important not to stir because you don’t want any unmelted sugar crystals falling in and marring the perfect smooth texture.
  • As the edges darken, swirl the mixture gently and keep cooking until the whole bubbling pot is the color of dark maple syrup, another 2-5 minutes. The bubbling will slow and thicken, and the mixture will smoke a bit and may begin to smell burnt – don’t be afraid! It really does need to cook to this dark amber color, or the final product will taste overly sweet (besides, as Lebovitz points out, if you do end up burning it, you’ve only lost 1 cup of sugar which, though bothersome, is not a huge financial disaster).
  • Remove from heat (I mean it!) and, with a whisk at the ready, add both the cream and the bourbon. Stand back! It will bubble up vigorously, and the bubbles will continue to form quite quickly for the rest of the cooking process. Whisk in the salt and set the pot back over medium heat, whisking until the sauce is smooth. Cook for an additional minute, just to ensure smooth texture (and to cook off some of the alcohol in the bourbon!). The sauce will remain thin at this point.
  • Remove from heat and cool – it will thicken to the texture of cold honey while at room temperature, and even to something more like dulce de leche when refrigerated.
  • To serve, place a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream in a tall glass. Pour in 6-8 ounces of cold chocolate stout, pausing as needed to avoid overflow. Atop the thick, rich foam that forms, drizzle a tablespoon or two of the caramel sauce and dig in.

Bourbon vanilla pastry cream over pan-roasted stone fruit

2015 Blog August-0309After a few scrapped drafts of this post, both on the computer and in the kitchen, I’ve decided it’s basically a food representation of “To a Mouse” by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Though the title may not ring familiar, it contains perhaps the most famous – or at least well-known – line of his whole oeuvre: “the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley” or, if you’re not adept in 18th century Scottish diction, “often go awry.”

2015 Blog August-0265Things go awry. They just do. In this case, the inspiration, the trial run, the ingredient acquisition, and even the writing itself (there are two previous drafts of this post in my trash can that I never want to see again), all caused enough problems that this post almost didn’t happen.

2015 Blog August-0274But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up to bourbon. Through a conversation with a friend and former colleague on Facebook, I assigned myself a project: she said she’s been experimenting with bourbon dessert sauces, and wanted tips. In particular, she’s interested in a bourbon vanilla sauce that would be good served over ice cream and peaches. There had been texture and thickness and sweetness imbalances along the way, and I was immediately hooked on the challenge.

2015 Blog August-0278For the next month I took this sauce through a ridiculous number of mental transformations – at first it was going to be a riff on this nutmeg sauce, then it was going to be more like a caramel, and then it was going to be akin to a crème anglaise, thickened with egg and carefully tempered. Never mind that pouring what is essentially unfrozen, unchurned ice cream over a bowl of ice cream seems excessive.

2015 Blog August-0282The crème anglaise plan, though, went awry, as you might have suspected. I crawled out of the kitchen leaving behind a bowl of curdled weirdness that had used up the last few tablespoons of bourbon in the house and refused to think about it for a few days. It wasn’t an eggs scrambling problem. It was a two-fold issue, I think, of poorly managed temperature differences, and the fat in the sauce not getting along with the quantity of alcohol I added.

2015 Blog August-0285When I tried again, the sauce had, again, transformed. Now, in a house with limited air movement, during a patch of quite warm weather, as the sun slowly dripped across our roof, sauce seemed too fast-moving. As if echoing my own sluggishness in my appetites, I wanted something thick and smooth to dollop atop a piece of fruit. And I wanted it to be ice cold.

2015 Blog August-0307So I ended up with a pastry cream. This is not a sauce, B., even though that’s what you were after. It’s not particularly easy or quick, and it’s almost not even pourable. What it is, though, is rich, and cold, and thick, and strongly bourbon-y (so make sure you choose one you like!), and magnificent draped thickly over whatever stone fruit you happen to have. It’s also a good option for entertaining, because once it has been cooked it needs to chill for a few hours, which makes it very easy to casually slide it out of the fridge, spoon it thickly over a row of grilled or pan-roasted plums, or peaches, or apricots, and sit back down again before your guests really registered you were “making” dessert.

2015 Blog August-0308This, then, seems an apropos message for the week before the semester starts up again: things go wrong. They are going to go wrong. And then you have to decide what you’re going to do about it and work it out. So if you’re expecting hiccups, and imperfections, and requisite second takes, you’ll likely be calmer and cooler in the long run. Not a bad state of being in a heat wave or a first week of school. And if we’re being absolutely honest, having a new bottle of bourbon in the house during that week is not a bad state of being either. Just in case.

2015 Blog August-0318

Bourbon Vanilla Pastry Cream over Pan-Roasted Stone Fruit
Makes 2 – 2½ cups of cream
For the pastry cream:
2 cups half and half or 1 cup cream and 1 cup milk
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons bourbon, divided
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar, divided
4 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cold butter
For the roasted stone fruit:
1 whole plum OR ½ a peach OR 2-3 apricots per diner
1 tablespoon raw sugar per diner
Pinch ground black pepper, optional (best on plums, I think)
2 tablespoons butter

 

  • To make the pastry cream, heat the half and half (or milk and cream mixture), ¼ cup of the bourbon, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the pinch of salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a bare simmer. We don’t want it to reach a full boil.
  • While the liquid mixture warms, whisk the egg yolks together with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. Beat well until you can no longer feel any graininess from the sugar.
  • Whisk the cornstarch into the yolk and sugar mixture until all powder is gone and the mixture becomes thick and pale. It will take on a texture like melted ice cream.
  • When the milk mixture has come to a simmer, remove it from the heat and dribble about 2 tablespoons of it into the yolks, whisking furiously and continuously. This tempers the egg yolks – that is, heats them up just enough so that when they are added to the pot, they will be less likely to scramble.
  • Now, take a breath and a firm hold on your whisk, and pour the yolk mixture into the pot of milk, whisking continuously. Place the pot back over medium heat and continue to whisk until the mixture returns to a simmer. It will quickly become very thick – a bit like slightly diluted mayonnaise in texture – and take on a glossy sheen. The occasional big, sluggish bubble might emerge.
  • Once the mixture simmers, remove it from the heat and add in the vanilla, the remaining 2 tablespoons of bourbon, and the cold butter. Whisk continuously until the butter has melted in and everything is combined.
  • Pour the hot pastry cream through a fine sieve or mesh strainer into a bowl. Stir and push through with a spatula to catch any solid bits of egg or other unwelcome textural imperfections.
  • Place a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the hot pastry cream (this prevents it from developing a “skin” across the top) and deposit it in the refrigerator until well chilled. The finished product will be approximately the thickness of mayonnaise.
  • When dessert looms near, prepare the fruit. Cut each fruit in half and twist or cut out the pit. Set halves cut-side up and sprinkle the exposed flesh with the raw sugar, using about 1 tablespoon per serving (so if you’re serving peaches, you might want less fruit per person than if you’re serving apricots. Either way, evenly distribute 1 tablespoon of sugar per serving over the halves of fruit). Sprinkle on the pinch of black pepper, if using.
  • Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a skillet large enough to accommodate all of the fruit halves. When it sizzles, add the fruit, cut-side down, and let it cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, until the sugar is well melted and has caramelized into the fruit.
  • Flip the fruit over so it is cut-side up and cook another 2 minutes, until the skin wrinkles and tears a bit. This will result in fruit that is warmed through, but still firm to the bite. If you like your fruit softer, cook a few minutes longer or cut into smaller pieces.
  • To serve, position the fruit cut-side up on a plate, and dollop on a few spoonfuls of the pastry cream. If you go back for seconds, consider letting a friend drive you home.

 

Apricot Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

Food Blog September 2014-0579I wasn’t expecting that a barbecue sauce would be one of the dozen pourable concoctions I developed this year. Call me a snob but, barbecue sauce? It just seems so… pedestrian. Break out a bottle, squeeze it over some drumsticks, and reach for the wet-naps.

Food Blog September 2014-0570But that’s exactly what happened. Faced with a summer that just won’t end (upper 80s/low 90s predicted for the first weekend of October. October, people!), we couldn’t bear to waddle back to the butter-laden list of French classics. Brimming from the success of last month’s gastrique, I found myself continuing to think about fruit-based sauces – at once sweet and tart and deep in flavor from long simmering – and realized that barbecue sauce is, at its core, something like a gussied-up gastrique. There’s almost always a molasses or brown sugar component, and there’s usually vinegar of some kind, even if that is hidden within one of the most ubiquitous barbecue sauce ingredients of all: ketchup.

Food Blog September 2014-0575I’ve never been a huge fan of ketchup, so I decided to steer clear of it here and build my own collection of flavors. I’d been considering the merits of combining the flavors of apricot and bourbon, and what better place to do that than in a sticky, bubbly sauce, well-spiced, just aching to be brushed gently over some lucky poultry? Deeply caramelized onions, a squeeze of dijon mustard, a whisper of cayenne, and some cider vinegar joined the party, and then, because the richness and depth of concentrated tomato is such an expected note in this sort of sauce, I gave in and added some tomato paste for verisimilitude.

Food Blog September 2014-0573The important thing about this sauce is the time you give it. The onions must be cooked down and toffee colored. The simmer must last at least twenty minutes – I did mine for thirty before I was satisfied. The thick, slightly lumpy result can be used as is, or you can give it a quick whir with an immersion blender or standard blender to make a glossy, velvety smooth glaze you’d eat just as happily on a piece of toast as on a grilled chicken breast or pork chop (at least, if you’re me). I briefly considered using fresh apricots here rather than preserves, but since the prep time already promised to be the better part of an hour, I decided to take just one shortcut. Besides, the sweetness quotient in fresh apricots is unpredictable, and dealing with their thin, impatient skins did not sound like a welcome addition to my weekend plans. The guaranteed sticky thickness of a pectin-laced jar of preserves was the kind of guarantee I wanted.

Food Blog September 2014-0576It should not come as a surprise that apricot and bourbon, balanced against a meaty tomato backdrop and laced with just enough spice, are a beautiful match. The chicken thighs we lacquered this onto never stood a chance. Neither would pork, or salmon, and I’d even venture that with a splash of soy sauce, this could make an interesting adaptation of teriyaki to sauce a bowl of perfectly steamed rice and veg. What’s more, even though it’s still summer here, the blend of fruity sweetness and dark caramel from the bourbon make this sauce a lovely offering for fall as well, if you are lucky enough where you are to be watching the seasons shift.

Food Blog September 2014-0582

Apricot Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
Makes 1 cup (will generously sauce 6-8 chicken thighs)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion (about ½ a large onion – I like the purple ones)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup apricot preserves
½ cup bourbon + 1 tablespoon, divided
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
6-8 boneless chicken thighs or desired protein

 

  • In a 10-12 inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the finely diced onions with a pinch of salt. Slap on the lid and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are nicely caramelized. Lidding the skillet will help the onions brown faster while allowing for less burning.
  • When the onions are caramelized to your liking (deeper brown = deeper flavor), add the tomato paste, mustard, and cider vinegar and stir through. Then add the apricot preserves, the water, the salt and the black and cayenne peppers.
  • Remove the skillet from the heat and add the ½ cup of bourbon (reserve the remaining 1 tablespoon for later). We are doing this off the heat to prevent an accidental flame-up; alcohol can and will catch on fire!
  • Stir all ingredients together, bring to a simmer, and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes (but 30 is better).
  • When sauce is thick and shiny, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Puree if desired for a smooth consistency, then stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of bourbon.
  • To use, season your chicken thighs to your liking (maybe just salt and pepper, maybe a fancy spice rub). Preheat your grill to high heat and oil the grates.
  • Add the chicken thighs to the grill, spreading them out for faster, more even cooking, and brush the exposed side with the sauce. Close the grill lid and cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.
  • After 5 minutes, flip the chicken over, brush with more of the sauce, and close the lid to cook for another 5 minutes.
  • With a clean brush, slick the chicken one more time with the sauce and cook for a final 1 minute, just to get the surface really sticky and glazed and good. Serve hot, with whatever you deem best for a barbecue. For us, that meant potato salad and corn on the cob.

Creme Anglaise

Food blog June 2014-3984Everyone starts off in the kitchen somewhere, whether it’s spreading peanut butter thickly onto a piece of barely toasted bread, or stirring spaghetti tentatively with a long-handled wooden spoon and watching it relax into the water, or even scrambling eggs because the planned entrée for that night looks “weird.” In my case, I started with dessert. Cookies and cakes were the first things I “helped” make, which probably explains why I’ve developed such a sweet tooth over the years. Mom would let me stir batter, pour pre-measured cups of sugar, taste a beater. She was there while I jammed my thumbs into an egg trying to crack it, while I spilled powdery fluffs of flour onto the counter and sometimes the floor. She was there, though not watching, when I had my first lesson in ingredient deception: my first taste of cinnamon. A few brown grains on the counter, a small, damp index fingertip, and the sourest face dipping away from the countertop. Vanilla extract was the same way. Each time, I’m sure Mom turned and saw, and probably tried not to laugh, as I learned that in dessert as in so many things, a dose of sugar makes things better.

Food blog June 2014-3981It seemed only fitting, then, when I embarked on the dessert selection of my sauce project, that Mom should be there. Together, in my bright, narrow kitchen, we talked and laughed and spilled and fumbled our way through crème anglaise.

Food blog June 2014-3959Crème anglaise is essentially an all-purpose dessert sauce, and provides a base for so many lovely simple sweets. Egg yolks, cream, sugar, and some vanilla for flavor, cooked gently but whisked fervently, and you have a beautiful, rich sauce that lovingly coats the back of a spoon. Cooled, run through an ice cream machine, and shoved impatiently into a freezer, you’d have vanilla ice cream. A few more yolks and a long, slow bake in the oven, and you’d have crème brulee. Some cornstarch to thicken during the cooking process? Pastry cream. But left liquid and chilled, it makes a beautiful summer treat poured in decadent quantities over a bowl of glistening berries. And if you want to build the whole thing atop a slice of cake, well who am I to stop you? Since Mom and I are both grown-ups now, we added a whisper of bourbon to our creation, for a floral warmth and slightly more complex flavor.

Food blog June 2014-3969I think the hardest thing about crème anglaise is waiting for it to cool so you can eat it. But the second hardest thing, which is not much of a challenge at all, is separating the eggs. This isn’t as dicey a prospect as separating the whites for a meringue or angel food cake, because a bit of white slopped in with the yolks does no damage at all. It’s just that we are after the glossy, dense fat of the yolk here, and so the light liquidy quality of the whites is better saved for something else.

Food blog June 2014-3964Food blog June 2014-3965Food blog June 2014-3966I prefer to separate my eggs by plopping the yolk back and forth between the halves of shell, letting the white drip down directly into the open mouth of a zip-top freezer bag. Once most of the white has detangled itself, I add the yolk to my work bowl and move on. You can also crack the egg directly into your hand and let the white ooze down through your fingers, while the yolk stays plump and golden in your palm, but the shell method works better for me. When all the whites are contained in the baggie, I write the number and the date on the outside and freeze it for later use.

Food blog June 2014-3973Food blog June 2014-3970Eggs managed, it’s a simple prospect of whisking in some sugar with the yolks, heating milk and cream together, adding the warm dairy to the thick, sweetened yolks, and cooking the whole thing to a thickness like, well, melted ice cream, since that’s basically what it is. Incorporate flavorings, strain the mixture to ensure a nicely textured final product, and chill until ready to use.

Food blog June 2014-3980With berry season upon us, I see no better motivation to make this sauce. Maybe for your mom. She’ll probably love it.

Food blog June 2014-3986

Food blog June 2014-3987Crème Anglaise
Barely adapted from Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio
Makes about 1 ½ cups sauce
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup milk
3 egg yolks (save the whites for another treat)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)

 

  • First, prepare an ice bath by filling a large mixing bowl with water and ice cubes. Set another bowl inside, so it rests in the bath but is in no danger of getting water inside.
  • In a small pot, warm the milk and cream together to a bare simmer.
  • While the dairy warms, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a medium bowl until quite thick. You want the sugar to be well incorporated to make the integration with the liquid easier.
  • When the milk and cream are just simmering, slowly – and I mean slowly! – pour them into the yolk and sugar mixture, whisking the whole time. If you pour slowly and whisk assiduously, you will end up with a smooth, thick mixture. If you don’t, you will end up with scrambled egg yolks.
  • Pour your smooth sauce back into the pot and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for 2-5 minutes, until the sauce is thick that when you dip in the back of a spoon and draw a line through the coat of sauce with your finger, the line remains clean.
  • Add the vanilla and bourbon, stir, and remove from heat.
  • Pour the sauce from the pot through a strainer and into the bowl you’ve rested in the ice bath. Whisk or stir as it cools to room temperature, then liberate from the ice bath and refrigerate until cold. Serve however you wish. I recommend a mixture of fresh berries, with or without a slice of moist cake, but a plain old spoon and no interruptions would be just fine too.

Blackberry Bourbon Bread (#Twelve Loaves April)

I’m a sucker for alliteration.  Call it having been an English major for so many years.  So when I read on April’s Twelve Loaves challenge that the objective was berry bread, I may have freaked out a little.  And when the idea of blackberries and bourbon zinged into my brain – dark, sultry, tartly perfumed – I may have freaked out a little more.  Food Blog April 2013-1083

Blackberries, bourbon, yogurt, and crumbly pebbly streusel all done up in a quickbread that we’ll pretend isn’t really an excuse for cake.  How could you want anything more?  Well, maybe a warming breath of cinnamon.  Granted.  And maybe some browned butter. Food Blog April 2013-1138

Just as this is barely a bread, it’s also barely a dough.  It only fits into my dough challenge by virtue of its attachment to the idea of bread, which, as I’ve noted, isn’t a very strong attachment at all.  Aren’t “quickbreads” really just desserts that we like to eat at non-dessert hours of the day?  But it is delicious, and warm, and comforting, and I think we could all do with a bit of that after this week.

Food Blog April 2013-1110Yogurt, browned butter, blackberries, bourbon, streusel, and cinnamon all in the same bread sounds a bit overwhelming, but really, all of the components played very well together.  Blackberries and yogurt scream breakfast, and mixed in a thick batter with plenty of melted butter they produce a moist, slightly dense loaf splotched with purple pockets of jammy tartness.  But the addition of bourbon makes this a naughty thing to consider having a slice of too early in the morning (unless you are still up from the night before, I suppose).  When I tasted the batter, I was concerned about how assertively the alcohol came through, but after baking what lingers is a lovely floral aroma – all the peaty, throat-searing headiness fades (and honestly, it left me wondering whether another tablespoon or two of bourbon might be welcome in the recipe).  Really, this is a loaf perfect for that most wonderful of British institutions we are sadly lacking in the U.S: afternoon tea.  And if you slathered a thick slice with clotted cream, I don’t think anyone would complain. Food Blog April 2013-1115

Blackberry Bourbon Bread

Makes 1 large 9×5 loaf

For the bread:
1 ½ sticks butter (12 TB, or ¾ of a cup)
2 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup bourbon (I like Knob Creek)
½ cup Greek yogurt, though likely any plain, unsweetened yogurt would do
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
12 oz. blackberries, rinsed and air-dried (I realize this is an odd quantity, but that’s how much was in the container I found.  The advantage here is that it means you can start with two pints [16 oz.], and the inevitable handful you end up eating by sneaking “just one more” at a time will leave you with just the right amount!)
Food Blog April 2013-1123For the streusel:
½ cup flour
½ cup powdered sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
4 TB (½ a stick) cold butterFood Blog April 2013-1124
  • First, you’ll need to brown the butter for the bread.  In a small saucepan, preferably not black (it’s harder to see the browning against a dark background), melt the butter over medium heat.  Continue cooking, occasionally swirling gently, as it foams up.  That’s the water separating and steaming away.  After a few minutes, the solids will start to collect on the bottom of the pot, and begin to darken to gold and then coppery brown.  When that happens, turn off the heat.  It’s amazing how quickly those cooking solids go from perfectly brown to burned.  Set the pot aside to cool while you work with the other ingredients (I stuck mine in the freezer on top of a pot holder to chill down quickly).
  • While your butter cools, preheat the oven to 350F and prepare a 9×5” loaf pan by rubbing the bottom and sides with butter or spraying with a non-stick spray.
  • In a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer), beat the eggs until slightly foamy.  With the mixer running (you could do this by hand with a whisk, I suppose, but an electric mixer of any kind will make it much easier), add the sugar ½ a cup at a time, integrating it completely before the next addition.  When all of the sugar is added, continue mixing for another 2 minutes, or until the mixture has become quite pale in color and increased in volume.
  • Add the vanilla, bourbon, yogurt, and cooled butter, and mix until well combined.  The yogurt may break up a bit and make things look curdled, but don’t worry.  Once you add the dry ingredients everything will be fine.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Add 1/3 of the dry mix to the wet ingredients, mixing on low speed just until the flour is integrated.  Add another 1/3 of the dry mix and combine again.
  • When you have just 1/3 of the dry mixture left, toss the blackberries in it gently.  This will help keep them evenly distributed in the batter as it bakes, rather than all sinking to the bottom.  Add this final portion of flour, with the berries, to the batter and fold it in gently with a spatula.  This is harder to do evenly, but will keep the berries intact better than using a mixer blade.  The resulting batter will be quite thick.
  • Scrape-pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan.  Mine got tremendously full, and to prevent any chance of overflow during baking, I relocated some of the batter to a 6-inch cake pan instead.  If you are concerned about overflow, I suggest filling the loaf pan only about 2/3 full, and make muffins or tiny cakes out of the rest of the batter. Food Blog April 2013-1116
  • For the streusel, which I insist you use because it adds such a nice textural contrast, combine the flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Using a fork to whisk them together works nicely.
  • Rub in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until it is very well integrated.  Ordinarily I use a pastry blender for this sort of thing, but here I think your fingers really do work best, since you can squash and smoosh the butter more efficiently.  You want tiny pebbles – the biggest should be smaller than peas and the smallest like grains of couscous.
  • Sprinkle the streusel over the surface of your bread in an even, thick layer.  You will probably have a bit extra, but I think that’s hardly a bad thing. Food Blog April 2013-1117
  • Deposit your loaf in the oven and bake for 80 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it.  Since ovens are all different, I recommend you first test for doneness at 60 minutes, just to be safe.
  • Remove and cool in the pan on a wire rack until you can’t stand it any longer.  Then slice and enjoy with tea, with cream, with a dollop of yogurt, or just all on its own. Food Blog April 2013-1160