It seems writing this blog has inspired me to be a bit more creative in my kitchen endeavors. It will also (hopefully) motivate me to cook more methodically: try something out, see what works, try again. I read a lot of recipes. I guess my most recent experiment was inspired by pudding week on Food 52. Puddings are so delicious and, in many cases, you can incorporate leftovers. And I love cooking with leftovers. So there you have it.
Perhaps you have never had the problem of leftover pancakes? I must confess that I really don't like pancakes very much. 19 times out of 20 I will chose a savory breakfast over a sweet one (yesterday's breakfast was braised cabbage!). But on Sunday pancakes seemed like a good idea, mostly because it was rainy and I had all of the ingredients in the house. The simplest way to deal with leftover pancakes is obviously to heat them up and enjoy them for breakfast another day. But my mind was stuck on pudding and so I began to concoct a recipe.
I started out reading recipes for bread pudding. Mostly I was looking at milk and egg ratios, but I also noticed that Paula Deen (that minx!) puts a crust on hers. Crunchy, buttery edges on a bread pudding? Yes, please! Deen uses butter, pecans and sugar for her crust (a fun game is to start the sentence "Deen uses butter, pecans and sugar for her..." and see how many true statements you can make). That idea swirled around in my head and became a sort of paste of almond flour, melted butter and brown sugar. The forward thinking among you will realize that this is (a) not going to distribute evenly across the top of a pudding and (b) not going to crisp up without burning the shit out of the rest of the pudding. So, pudding crust is half baked idea number one.
I knew that this bread pudding was not going to rely on the pancakes soaking up eggy custard for its texture. But since pancakes are eggy already, I figured, "no big deal." I kept thinking of components that would create a really rich, heavy dessert. Since this was a Monday night project, I thought it would be best to scale back on richness. So I used whole milk where I might have used cream and decided to forgo the idea of mixing melted butter into the dairy mixture (you read one Paula Deen recipe and you start thinking about pouring melted butter into everything!). I used two eggs and one cup of milk (arbitrarily decided from glancing at the bread pudding recipe currently on my computer screen). I thought about parcooking the custard a bit so it would form up before I layered it with the pancakes, but ultimately made the lazy choice not to. I did have the epiphany that separating the eggs and beating the yolks with the sugar and spices, then adding the milk and finally folding in the beaten whites would produces some sort of alchemical velvety texture. Guys, this was not correct. Or maybe it could have been, had I been using a better ratio. Again, you forward thinkers may have already guessed that two egg yolks beaten with three tablespoons of sugar is not going to retain any of it's thickness when mixed with an entire cup of (pretty cold) milk. Additionally when I attempted to fold in the egg whites, they did not blend so thoroughly and ended up separating out again in the pan. Mistake number two was custard ratio.
I love cardamom. It is, however, quite strong. I used one green cardamom pod in the pudding. I discarded the husk and crushed the seeds with the back of a spoon.* I added a bit of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg. I mixed these spices with sugar so that the spice oils would bind to the crystals (this is the only advice I really took from the very comprehensive Food 52 pudding coverage). I had about a quarter cup of sugar in the spice bowl but only used two or three scant tablespoons. Mostly I was eyeballing to see that the sugar blended completely with the egg yolks. I did not remember to add vanilla extract, unfortunately. I think this would have rounded out the flavors a bit. The cardamom was pleasantly present in the finished product, but the flavor had an almost tonic quality. In my experience (with eating desserts) cardamom and vanilla show one another's best qualities: cardamom makes vanilla taste exotic and vanilla makes cardamom taste sweet. Next time I won't forget the vanilla.
Assembly and Cooking
I decided that 350 was the correct temperature at which to cook a bread pudding. I decided this not merely based upon the fact that is the default temperature for my oven, but also because it just felt right, you know? I cut all of my pancakes into strips that were about half an inch wide. I greased a small, ceramic casserole with butter and laid the strips along the bottom. I tore them to fit into a more or less even layer. Then I added the custard and pressed another layer of pancake scraps into the fluffy top (recall that the egg white separated out again). Then I sort of gobbed my "crust" on top. I really should have just left it off. It looked a lot like poop before and after baking. Some of the top layer of pancakes stuck out of the custard and created an alarming burning odor during the baking process. This led me to preemptively remove the pudding after less than 20 minutes. After I realized it was still very liquid-y I returned it to the oven until it was set in the middle. I imagine that it was about 35-40 minutes, but it's easy to tell it's done because there is no liquid when you push on the pancake pieces.
Some time during the cooking process- maybe after the first bought of baking- I realized that this recipe could as easily be a variation on kugel** as a variation on bread pudding. I decided that in the second round I will try to incorporate more kugel-like methods. Mostly in the custard creation. I have been toying with the idea of substituting one half cup of the whole milk for sour cream (or, let's be honest, Greek yogurt). I don't think am ready for using a cheese product, though I think we can all agree that ricotta would be heavenly. I think that this would solve the issue I had of white and milk separating. Though I might also add another yolk or two (they are, after all, the best part). I could also have benefited from more liquid or less pancake. In addition to the above mentioned addition of vanilla, I have thought that a tiny scrape of citrus zest (orange?) to brighten up the spices. My line of thinking goes something like: "I would totally order any dessert that said it was orange, cardamom, vanilla flavored." It is important to remember that I am not a pastry chef. Maybe this would be taking on too much? Finally, though I think that my flavors are much more suited to almond than pecans, the texture of my crust was woefully wrong. I think in version 2.0 I'll try slivered almonds tossed with some of the sugar-spice mixture. They'll spread evenly over the surface and maybe even toast up while the pudding cooks.
I was surprised by how much I liked eating it. It was sort of intensely egg-y warm, but I drizzled on some maple syrup and it was actually pretty nice. I enjoyed a piece cold the next day as well. Generally it is chewy and formed, rather than soft and gushy. Which is stylistically valid, I suppose. I would like it to be a little softer and less formed in future incarnations though. I am particularly interested in any feedback any of you might have.
Less successful than: Paula Deen's Best Bread Pudding
More successful than: Pudding and Yogurt cubes.
*Dear Santa: Please bring me a mortar and pestle.
**It must be noted that everything I know about kugel I learned from my goy of a mother. She's a beautiful, inspirational cook, but I have no idea if her recipe is authentic.