I never fancied myself a baker. I never thought I had the chops. Sure, I can follow direction and ice a cake albeit in a half-assed fashion without the ability to really seal in the crumbs. So, it’s kind of funny that I would turn to baking as therapy. Well, in truth, I had already made enough vegetable and beef chili to feed an army the day before, and God knows I wouldn’t know where to put more food if I made it. The sensible way to take on making another huge dish would be to make something that thankfully, Frank would be able to take to work and share. His coworkers needed a big “thank you”, that’s for sure.
You see, last week you may have noticed the “bookmark” I posted on the blog. That’s because we spent several days visiting my dear mom while in the hospital, which took me away from farmers markets and cooking in general. Back now for the time being, I am exorcising my stress by cooking like a whirling dervish, until I go back to see her after she has surgery. Truly, there is something about food that is soothing to the soul, and cooking and baking has become a welcoming outlet and respit for me.
Perhaps, just perhaps, I am a baker after all.
The wonderful thing about visiting “back home” is eating all the wonderful food that I miss. Now, if you’re thinking cheesesteaks……well, you’re right! (chicken cheesesteak with provolone and sauce).The other thing that I miss is good delicatessens. In the Northeast section of Philadelphia, where I grew up, there is a large Russian Jewish population. I was never at a loss for finding good bread, brisket, bagels and matzoh ball soup. In truth, I took it for granite until I moved away. I miss good, really good ,rye and pumpernickel bread. These breads make the best sandwiches and toast. And challah– oh good, yeasty, eggy and slightly sweet challah! I almost swooned (well, perhaps I actually did swoon) when eating a light, delicious matzoh ball in soup, made ethereal by dipping a slice of warmed challah into the chicken broth at the Tiffany Diner last week.
Diners! Don’t even get me started! They just don’t make them here like they do in Philly. At least I can take a bit of the goodness home with me from Stein’s Famous Deli. Early on Saturday morning, I paid a visit there and picked up a truck-load of carbs from their “day old” rack. Bagels, breads and oh yes..one single loaf of challah that I couldn’t't resist.
Once home, into the freezer went the rye and pumpernickel bread, along with the dozen assorted bagels. Freezing the challah? Not so much. It needed to be eaten or used while still fresh. But, what to do when Frank and I are only two people….I mused about how to use it.
Bread pudding. Yes! Challah bread pudding and best of all, we could enjoy a piece and then share it with Frank’s friends at work as a way of saying “thank you” for covering for him while he was away.
The first recipe that I googled was the Food Network’s Dave Lieberman’s. I don’t seem to find him on the FN very much lately, but I enjoyed his show Good Deal with Dave Lieberman, so I used his recipe. The only thing that I added was 2 peeled, cored and chopped apples to the middle layer. I thought it would be a great way to use some Pennsylvania Honey Crisp apples that I picked up at None Such Farm in Buckingham, PA. More on that lovely area later!
Here’s the Dave Lieberman recipe from the Food Network site. The ganache puts the bread pudding over the top. I think it’s best to serve the bread pudding while still warm, along with warm ganache. I really did taste just as good as it looks.
- 4 cups whole milk, warmed
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted in microwave
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 6 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 loaf challah bread, cut into 1 1/2-inch slices
- 1 cup chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2 apples, cored, peeled and chopped
- Chocolate Ganache, recipe follows
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine warmed milk and melted butter with the sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until incorporated and smooth.
Line a large baking dish with two-thirds of the challah slices. Sprinkle with apples, half the chocolate chips and half the raisins. Top with remaining challah slices, layering them one on top of the other, and then remaining chocolate chips and raisins, making sure the chips and raisins get inside the layers created by the challah slices.
Pour milk mixture slowly over the top of everything and let stand until the bread has absorbed almost all of the liquid, 5 to 10 minutes.
Wrap the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and cook 10 to 15 minutes longer until set in the middle and lightly browned on top.
(I turned on the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top)
Remove from oven and let cool before serving. Serve with the Chocolate Ganache drizzled over top.
Chocolate Ganache:1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream to just below a simmer.
Place the chocolate chips in a medium heat-proof bowl and pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 5 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap and whisk vigorously until ganache becomes a uniform smooth chocolate sauce. Serve while warm.
Cook’s Note: To make in advance, let cool, cover tightly and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Then microwave on low heat for 20 to 30 second intervals or heat over a double boiler.