The soup was a pretty tasty proposition, and Eric did the prep-work and cooking himself. As it was his recipe, and I didn’t watch to closely, I’ll let him save that for his current employer, should he ever wish write something about it. I couldn’t sit by without providing something for my friends, so I contributed a dessert of New Orleans-style bread pudding with rum raisin sauce.
As a bit of an aside, I have been on a New Orleans/Cajun kick lately. Last week’s column, as you recall featured gumbo. I also took a shot at red beans and rice, which you may be seeing in a few weeks. I am not sure what it is about New Orleans cuisine that makes my mouth water like one of Pavlov’s dogs. I went to the Crescent City when I was 15 with my mum and stepfather and had a great time. I don’t ever recall eating so many great dishes in one period of my life. One of my earliest mimicries of my experience there was to make a capellini and vodka sauce dish. Maybe it is because the Mardi Gras season is close, or maybe a subtle tribute to the New Orleans Saints for providing a high point to a city destroyed. No matter what the reason, Hawkins and I have had some pretty good dinners that could have been taken straight from the French Quarter.
Bread pudding starts naturally, with bread. Stale bread works best. I had about ¾ of a loaf of sourdough bread in my freezer, that I defrosted and allowed to dry for most of the day. Many recipes call for the removal of the crust. My “Gran,” Mary Boyd, said that bread pudding was often served to her as a child during the Great Depression. I cannot imagine that her mother, my “Othermother” Martina Belle LeCroy Smith would have let bread crusts go to waste, so I left it on. I tore the bread into bite-sized pieces and set aside while I prepared the “pudding” part of the treat.
I took two-and-a-half cups of milk and heated in a saucepan. Make sure the milk does not boil because it will take on a bitter taste. If you have a thermometer, I suggest heating to 140 degrees, maybe 145 at the most. Beat four fresh eggs well, and gently add the warm milk.
Good vanilla makes any dessert that much better, so avoid imitation extracts. The real thing may be a bit more costly, and premium vanillas even more so. It is worth the cost, without a doubt. I added a teaspoon full of vanilla extract to the egg mixture, along with a half-cup of white sugar.
Spices for bread pudding are no mystery- cinnamon, and a lot of it. I like the cinnamon in the pudding itself, so I added about a teaspoon-and-a-half to the egg mixture. A little nutmeg goes a long way, though, so I only used about an eighth of a teaspoon of that. Beat well.
Raisins! All of the bread puddings I have enjoyed had raisins. I plumped a half-cup of dark raisins in an ounce of dark rum, a pinch of cinnamon, and ¾ cup of water. Lightly boil the mixture until the raisins are plump and soft. Drain the raisins, and add to the bread. Pour in the egg mixture and mix well. After everything was blended, I dusted the top with more cinnamon. Pour the bread and egg mixture into a deep casserole pan. Bake at 300 degrees for an hour and check with a knife. Poke the knife into the center of the pudding. If it comes out clean, it is done. If it comes out with runny egg mixture, continue to bake, checking again every five minutes.
My cousin Laura Sanborn said that she had never had a bread pudding without a sauce on the first occasion I ever enjoyed it. I took that as good advice. Once the pudding was out of the oven, I went to work making a rum-raisin sauce.
I prepared another ¼ cup of raisins in the same way as for the pudding, reducing other ingredients by half. The sauce begins by melting 4 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan. I added a half-cup of packed brown sugar and two tablespoons of light corn syrup and two teaspoons of vanilla.
The next part is the fun part. After the sugar begins to soften in the hot butter, I added an ounce of the dark rum and ignited the alcohol with a long “candle lighter,” in a technique known as flambé. Flambé style cooking adds the flavor of the alcohol, and a bit of drama to the presentation. The small amount of alcohol will burn quickly, leaving the flavor behind, but none of the alcohol. After the pale blue flames died completely, I added a half-cup of heavy whipping cream, then combined the raisins. If I had any pecans, I probably would have added a quarter cup, but alas, I was pecan-less.
Stir the sauce well on low heat, until the mixture reaches a simmer and is smooth and well blended. Drizzle over the pudding and serve warm.
Eric’s soup was quite good. I did assist by providing some beer-batter onion rings as a side dish, but those are for another day and another column. After a short period to digest, we went to work on the bread pudding. The three of us ate about half of it, after having seconds. I would say that it had enough to serve between six and eight adults with generous portions.
With Eric’s soup, Hawkins’ DVD’s and a tasty dessert, and some great fellowship, a good time was had by all. Good eating!