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.

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.

Coconut Bread Pudding with Rum Caramel

Food Blog May 2013-1375When I’m not frying in the summer time, it seems like I’m baking.  But in the on-and-off foggy uncertainty of June gloom, sometimes you need a little baking.  Of course, now it’s July and the whole West Coast is panting and dreaming of snow drifts so, as usual, I’m behind.  This dessert, though, plush with custard and drenched in rum caramel, is worth it.

Food Blog May 2013-1368Food Blog May 2013-1369Food Blog May 2013-1372Bread pudding is an old dish and, like so many of the “comfort foods” we’ve embraced and raised to new levels of trendiness sophistication (I’m looking at you, French onion soup…), it began as a way to use up aging products in a way that made them still taste good.  In this case, it’s combining cubes of stale bread with milk, eggs, sugar, and whatever else you think is particularly delicious, whether that be fruits, nuts, or chocolate.  Savory as well as sweet iterations exist, and though the dish possibly has European origins, versions now exist in Cuba, the Philippines, Argentina, and in probably every gastropub in the U.S. playing the amped-up-comfort-food angle.

Food Blog May 2013-1366For me, bread pudding is a godsend, because N. loves toast, which means we end up with a lot of crusts.  It seems such a shame to throw them away that I forestall the problem by jamming them in the freezer.  At the point that they fill up a shelf all on their own, it’s time to make bread pudding, a dish that I see as appropriate for a steaming dessert, warm breakfast, straight-from-the-fridge-3pm-snack, or even lunch on a day that I’m feeling particularly lazy.

This iteration, though, I wanted to be special.  I wanted something comforting and homey and rich and delicious, but I wanted a twist.  And that’s where summertime, and N., and my dad, all come in.

Husbands are great, aren’t they?  But most of them (sorry, guys) aren’t perfect.  N. is no exception.  He’s close, oh he’s close, but here’s the thing: he doesn’t. like. coconut.  I know.  And it’s not one of those “no thanks on the coconut cream pie, not a fan” kinds of dislikes.  It’s deep.  It’s subconscious.  The man can tell if a granola bar has coconut in it with one bite.  He once declared that a cookie we were sharing tasted “odd,” and sure enough, down at the bottom of the ingredient list was ground coconut.  Curries at Thai restaurants are dangerous business.  And summer, this glorious season, is a hazardous time of year for N. thanks to sunscreen.  Once, decked out for a gardening session, I gave him a kiss and he told me my face smelled funny.  SPF coconut.

Food Blog May 2013-1353But I adore coconut.  It means vacation and swimming and luxury.  It smacks of the tropics: rum-laced drinks.  Shave ice.  Coconut shrimp (N.’s ultimate nightmare).  And, oddly enough, French toast.  When my sister and I were little, every once in a while my dad would pull down the electric skillet from some cabinet too high for anyone else in the family to reach and make coconut French toast for breakfast.  After dredging the bread in milk and eggs, he dipped each side in coconut before subjecting it to the buttery-slicked heat.

The result was a revelation.  The coconut caramelized into a crunchy, lacy, almost-burned web of texture on the outside of the bread, and its flavor made the addition of syrup all but unnecessary.  This, then, was the mission.  I set out to create my own version of this childhood memory.

Food Blog May 2013-1355Food Blog May 2013-1356Generally I soak my bread puddings before cooking them.  I load my baking dish with stale crusty cubes, mix in whatever bits and bobs I want to add (craisins are a frequent suspect), then pour the custard mixture over the top and set a heavy dish on top to press the bread sponges down into the drink.  And then I shove the whole thing into the fridge for a few hours to promote full incorporation.

This time, though, I decided to employ a different method.  I mixed up the custard with coconut milk and coconut cream instead of regular dairy, and dumped in the bread and, after a moment’s consideration, most of a bag of sweetened shredded coconut.  Thorough mixing followed, and the result – a bowl of creamy soft crumbles of bread and the heady smell of the Hawaiian vacation I wish I were on – spoke summer.  All I could think of, while I pushed the baking dish into the oven, was a piña colada.

Food Blog May 2013-1361Food Blog May 2013-1364The problem with piña coladas, though, is that pesky piña part.  I’ve got no hatred for pineapples, don’t get me wrong, but their aggressive tartness sometimes overpowers the gentle, creamy sweetness of coconut and the spicy complexity of the rum.  A bread pudding sodden with coconut and no pineapple to be found seemed like the perfect excuse for, let’s say, a rum caramel sauce.  Why not?  It’s summer… Dark rum.  Sugar.  A daring sprinkle of garam masala.  Bubbled away in a tiny pot until barely thickened, and the dessert went from homey and comforting to decadent and warming and, oddly enough, somehow reminiscent of camping.  I swear my parents didn’t give us rum when we sat around the fire toasting marshmallows, so all I can figure is that the sweet spiciness reminded me of gingersnaps or molasses cookies or some other well-spiced treat.

Food Blog May 2013-1386Once this heat wave breaks, I think you should make this bread pudding, with or without the sauce.  You won’t, unless you are like my coconut-hating husband, be disappointed.  And if you are, well, someone in your family will be glad they don’t have to share.  Food Blog May 2013-1388

Coconut bread pudding
Serves 8-10
4 eggs
½ cup sugar
14 oz. coconut cream
14 oz. coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups shredded coconut – mine was sweetened.  If yours was not, you might add up to 1 cup of sugar above.
10-12 slices sourdough bread, cut or torn into cubes
  • Preheat your oven to 350F and spray or oil a 9 inch square baking dish.
  • To measure how much bread you will need, tear the slices directly into the baking dish.  Press them down once or twice, packing them until they mound up just a little over the edge of the dish in the center.  This gives you the right amount of bread to mix into the custard.
  • In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together for a minute or two, until the mixture is homogenized.
  • Add the coconut milk, cream, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended.
  • Tumble the shredded coconut and torn or cut pieces of bread into the custard and mix well, ensuring that every bread cube is well moistened and the sticky clumps of coconut loosen and disperse through the mixture.  I used a wide bladed spatula and it seemed to do the job well.
  • Carefully relocate the custard-soaked bread to your prepared baking dish, pushing it down if needed to fit everything in.
  • Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes.  This seems like a wide range of time, but depending on your oven and the relative staleness of your bread (which will determine how much custard it soaks up) your cooking time may vary a bit.
  • To determine doneness, check to see that the center of the pudding has puffed up, and the top is nicely browned.  Some of the coconut shreds will toast to a dark gold.
  • When done, let it sit for 10-15 minutes to allow the custard to firm up a bit.  This will make it easier to cut or spoon out.
  • For an elegant presentation, cut into squares and set on a puddle of rum caramel, or drizzle the caramel liberally over the top.  Or forgo elegance, and scoop out big spoonfuls to pile into your bowl or plate.


Rum caramel sauce
Makes a scant ½ cup
½ cup sugar
½ cup dark rum
½ tsp garam masala (or more to taste – I used a full teaspoon and it was quite strong)
2 TB cream, optional
  • Combine the sugar, rum, and garam masala in a small saucepan and cook over medium low heat for 10-15 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and sauce thickens and becomes slightly syrupy.  Stir or swirl frequently to prevent sugar from burning.
  • If you want your caramel thicker or more luscious, stir in the optional 2 TB cream.  Stand back as you add the cream, as the caramel may bubble up upon contact.
  • Cool slightly before serving.

This is dynamite with coconut bread pudding, but would be equally delicious dribbled over ice cream, or mixed into a milkshake, or maybe even as a puddled base for your 4th of July slice of apple pie.