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NEW ORLEANS STYLE BREAD PUDDING WITH WHISKEY SAUCE

Our daughter who lives in Los Angeles paid us a short but welcome visit last week. My wife asked her if she had any food requests.  Without hesitation, Carol said, “Bread pudding.” She grew up in Louisiana and so she loves Southern, Cajun and Creole cooking. Bread pudding is one of the classics. Other cuisines and cultures have other versions of bread pudding. Mexican capirotada comes to mind. But New Orleans style bread pudding with whiskey sauce may be in a class on its own.

The best restaurant version of the dessert I have ever eaten was served at Stephen & Martin, a New Orleans neighborhood restaurant on Saint Charles Avenue in Uptown. It was hidden in the back of a building that faced the street. The place was popular with locals but not greatly frequented by tourists because it was a bit out of the way and somewhat hard to find. They served everything from po’boys to fancy Creole specialties, but I believe that the best dish on the menu was the bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Unfortunately the restaurant has been closed for many years, so the bread pudding is a thing of the past.  My wife took all of that as a challenge to create her own version of Stephen & Martin’s masterpiece. The whole family enjoyed participating in her experiments, and that’s the bread pudding that our daughter remembers and requested.

This is not Sue’s Bread Pudding. I would be out on the street if I shared her hard-earned recipe. My version is, however, a fairly close resemblance of the real thing. Enough so that I think you might enjoy giving it a try. You should use the very best French bread you can find. That is not hard in New Orleans, but it may be a challenge elsewhere.  The usual supermarket version is not a good substitute. When you serve the bread pudding, it should be warm. Ladle over a generous amount of whiskey sauce. If you are averse to whiskey, you can substitute lemon sauce. A generous dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream is the perfect finishing touch.

RECIPES

New Orleans Style Bread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 medium loaf good quality French bread
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 2 cups half and half

Method

  1. Cut bread into ½ inch cubes and spread out in a baking pan to dry overnight. Stir occasionally. You should have about 8 cups.
  2. Mix dried bread cubes with raisins and chopped nuts. Transfer to a well-buttered  8 x 11½ inch glass baking dish. The pan should be about half full.
  3. In a large bowl and using an electric beater, beat the eggs until foamy. Then add the sugar and continue to beat until completely mixed. Add the vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Beat in the melted butter and half-and-half.
  4. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the bread cube mixture and let soak for at least ½ hour, pressing down occasionally to make sure the bread absorbs the milk.
  5. Place the pan in the middle of an oven that has been preheated to 350°F. Immediately turn the temperature down to 300°F and bake for 40 minutes. Then increase the temperature to 425°F and bake for 10 more minutes or until the pudding is well browned on top. Be sure to watch closely so that it does not burn.
  6. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes and then serve while still warm. Top with whiskey sauce and, if desired, whipped cream.

Whiskey Sauce

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup whiskey
  • whipped cream (optional)

Method

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth (note: the sugar may not melt completely until the whiskey is added)
  2. Add the whiskey and stir until completely combined. The sauce should become translucent.
  3. Serve immediately. A perfect topping for bread pudding. You can gild the lily with a dollop of whipped cream.  If the sauce cools, the butter may set up and the sauce will lose its translucency. To correct that, just reheat gently.

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BOUILLABAISSE

Live lobster

Fish soup or chowder in one of the true delights of an early winter evening this time of year. There are so many delicious soups that it is hard to list them: clam chowder – both New England and Manhattan – cioppino, fish stew, seafood gumbo, and on and on. Probably the most elegant of all, though, is bouillabaisse.

Cooked lobster

Lobster ready to go in the soup

In Volume I of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, Julia Child reminded us that bouillabaisse started out as a simple fish soup made from the catch of the day or from leftovers of the fish monger. These days, though, the soup has morphed into something special served at the best restaurants.  There are hundreds of variations of this French classic, and each is claimed to be more authentic than the next.

Fresh vegetables for the soup

Prepared vegetables

Whenever we visit our daughters, they always try to make something special and yet also play on one of our favorites. This year, we visited our daughter in Los Angeles during the Thanksgiving week. This is her version of bouillabaisse, based upon a recipe by Alfred Portale in his classic cookbook, “Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook”, Doubleday, 1997. It is filled with lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, and crabs. You can add any other fish you like, and squid is also a good addition.

Stirring the pot

Ready to be served to the hungry crowd

The recipe is lengthy, to say the least, but worth the effort and expense.

Serve it with a light salad. My daughter chose a salad of roasted golden beets, sugared pecans, and warm goat cheese on a bed of mesclun. She also served a crusty French bread for dipping after the shellfish and lobsters are all eaten.

Roasted beet salad with candied pecans and warm goat cheese

RECIPES

Ingredients

Bouillabaisse

2 live lobsters

1/2 Cup olive oil

4 Cups fish stock

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 Cup chopped fresh fennel

1/2 Cup chopped leeks, whites only

1 head garlic, cut in half

2 teaspoons ground fennel seed

2 teaspoons ground white pepper

10 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh tarragon

1 star anise

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/8 teaspoon red pepper

1 bay leaf

4 Tablespoons tomato paste

1 Cup canned tomatoes with juice

1 Cup dry white wine

2 Cups chicken stock

1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

24 large, unshelled shrimp

24 Manila clams

20 mussels

8 ounces lump crab meat

2 Tablespoons Pernod

Bouilli Butter

3 three-inch strips of orange zest

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 large garlic clove mashed to a paste with salt

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

Kosher salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground star anise

1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed

1/4 teaspoon saffron

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

  1. Bring at 3 gallons (12 quarts) of salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Plunge the lobsters in the boiling water, cover, and cook for about 4 minutes.
  2. Remove the lobsters to a cutting board, twist off the large claws and return them to the pot for an additional 4 minutes.
  3. Separate the lobster heads from the tails. Cut the tails in half lengthwise and combine them with the cooked claws in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
  4. In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat the oil and then add the lobster heads. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the lobster heads are bright red. Then add the fish stock, onions, fennel, leeks, and garlic. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the fennel seed, white pepper, thyme, tarragon, star anise, saffron, paprika, red pepper, and bay leaf. Cook for 5 minutes. Then add the tomato paste, tomatoes, and wine. Raise the heat to high and cook until reduced to about half.
  6. Add the chicken stock and enough water, if needed, to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.  Remove from the heat for 20 minutes. Then strain into a large container, pressing the solids to extract the flavor.
  7. Cook the fingerlings in  a large pot of salted boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside in the cooking water.
  8. In a large stockpot, heat the remaining oil over low heat. Add the onion and fennel, cooking until tender. Add the red and yellow peppers, cooking for another 15 minutes
  9. Add the strained stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the potatoes and add them to the boiling stock. Add the shrimp. clams, and mussels. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Then add the cooked lobster with its juices and the crab.  Cook until all the shellfish open, about 3 minutes.
  10. In the meantime, prepare the bouilli butter. Blanch the orange zest in boiling water for 1 minute, drain, chop finely, and combine with paprika, star anise, fennel, saffron, cayenne, and white pepper. Add to the softened butter and combine throughly. Place the mixture on a plastic wrap, shape into a log, and chill for one hour in the refrigerator.
  11. Strain through a large colander into a large bowl. Transfer the shellfish and vegetables to a large serving bowl. Pour the strained liquid back into the stockpot and bring to the boil. Add Pernod and 4 tablespoons of the prepared bouilli butter. Then pour the soup into the serving bowl.
  12. Serve in large, deep soup bowls with plenty of good French bread for dipping.

Serves 6 to 8

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