Can bread pudding save the world?

Despite being a carb-loving family, we frequently aren’t able to get through a loaf of bread before it goes stale or, even worse, starts to grow green stuff. I hated throwing away the last bits of gluten-filled goodness and started stashing leftovers in the freezer. The most obvious solution was to transform those bread cubes into bread pudding, which I love—especially topped with a creamy, buttery, boozy sauce!—but opportunities for a decadent dessert proved few and far between. Inspiration hit and I tried turning regular, sweet bread pudding into a main-course-worthy dish. Voila savoury bread pudding, also known as strata and more commonly served for brunch. 

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Hiding from the heat and eating flatbread

Zürich is having its second heatwave of the summer and it’s making me more than a little aggravated. I am not a fan of hot weather. (That’s an understatement!)

Weather in Zurich: Wed 8:20, sunny and 24.6°C
Almost 25°C before 8:30 in the morning!

Thankfully, this round of high temperatures isn’t quite as extreme as the +40°C days and 22°C nights we had back in June. And most of Europe is seeing the mercury climb, so I can take comfort in the fact that I’m not suffering alone—but I’ve still become somewhat obsessive about keeping our flat cool.

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Baking in translation

Baking in Translation - Cinnamon almond oat cookies
Cinnamon almond oat cookies

Adjusting to a new kitchen, new tools and a new oven is always a challenge when settling into a new home. Add in the difficulties of a new language and new ingredients in a different country and things get even more complicated! The various measuring systems also throw in another dimension of complexity…

Fahrenheit or Celsius? Or whatever ‘gas mark‘ means? Metric or imperial? Grams or cups or ounces? Is a kitchen scale required? Or a set of measuring cups?

A few years ago my sister-in-law knocked me for a loop with the revelation that there are American and metric cups (a US cup is 240ml and a UK/Australian cup is 250ml) and now I take an extra moment to determine the nationality of a recipe author before blindly following their proportions.

While I grew up using volume measurements (cups and tablespoons) for dry ingredients, the system of weighing ingredients (using grams and a digital kitchen scale) now seems much simpler. I love the ease of plopping a bowl on the scale and zero-ing out the scale with every new ingredient I add. Although teaspoons and pinches still rule for smaller increments – measuring out a gram and a half just seems impossible!

Conversions between grams and ounces and cups (I use UK cups, being a Danish-based Canadian the commonwealth still holds sway) are inexact at best (these Cooking Equivalent Measurements can help), so I like it when recipe authors indicate what consistency or texture the dough or batter should have before baking. That way I know if I should adjust with a bit more flour or an extra shot of liquid.

Sometimes translating between languages for ingredients is a bit of work, too. Rest assured that caster sugar is the same as white, granulated sugar regardless of whether it’s spelled (or is that spelt?) with an ‘e’ or an ‘o’ (caster or castor) and most oatmeal (large-flake, rolled, Irish, Scottish or instant) will work in the majority of baked goods.

Here’s a super-simple recipe for several dozen delicious cookies using multiple systems of measurements. The batter is very sticky before it chills in the fridge, so don’t worry if it seems like the proportion of liquid to dry ingredients isn’t quite right. The melted butter (or margarine if you want to make the recipe dairy-free) cools quickly in the fridge and yields a much firmer dough.

Happy baking – and translating!

Cinnamon almond oat cookies

Ingredients

  • 85g (3oz or a heaped 1/2 cup) almonds
  • 100g (3 1/2oz or just under 1/2 pound) unsalted butter or margarine
  • 100ml (3 1/2oz or just shy of 1/2 cup) maple syrup
  • 140g (4 1/2oz or 1 cup + 1 tbsp) all purpose flour (regular white flour)
  • 1/4 tsp (1/25oz or 1.5g) baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarb)
  • 110g (4oz or 1/2 cup) white sugar (also known caster/castor sugar or berry sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp (1/2oz or 6g) ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp (1/25oz or 1 1/2g) fine sea salt
  • 140g (5oz or 1 1/2 cups) rolled oats (the kind you’d make porridge with – not oat flour)
  • 1 egg
  • A small spoonful of cinnamon & a large spoonful sugar for rolling, if desired

Method

  • Toast the almonds in a pan over medium-low heat; when they are fragrant, but before they brown (about 8 minutes), remove from the heat and cool slightly before chopping
  • Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F, using the convection setting if your oven has it, and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Place the butter and maple syrup in saucepan over medium heat until the butter has melted; stir together and set the mixture aside to cool slightly
  • In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, salt and oats
  • Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk with a fork; add a tablespoon of the butter/syrup mixture to the egg while stirring
    • This raises the temperature of the egg and ensures that it won’t turn into scrambled eggs when mixed with the warm butter and syrup – also known as tempering
  • Mix the tempered egg into saucepan with the remaining butter and maple syrup, stirring continuously until well-combined
  • Pour egg/butter/syrup mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and gently combine
  • Stir in the chopped almonds until evenly distributed; the dough will be soft and sticky
  • Refrigerate the cookie dough for about 10 minutes to allow the mixture to firm up and become easier to handle
  • Roll teaspoons of the batter into balls (they should be about the size of unshelled walnuts) and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture if you want
    • I like the extra cinnamon sugar, but the cookies are good without the extra step (and additional dirty dish!) of rolling them in addition spice and sweetness
  • Place the balls on baking sheets at least 2cm (1 inch) apart and gently flatten with a spoon or your finger
  • Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes (15 minutes if not using a convection setting) until the cookies spread out and the edges are firm
  • After the cookies come out of the oven, allow them to cool on the baking sheet for a couple minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool
  • Makes about three dozen, two-bite-size cookies

Meringue over meditation

Easy hazelnut chocolate cookiesMy commitment to daily meditation in March faded almost immediately after my mid-March update – and my commitment to posting seems to have ended with it 😉 I have, however, been making an inordinate number of meringue-based treats! Spring has been all about whipping up egg whites to use in pavlovas or cookies.

These Nutella-inspired confections are based on an Italian recipe for Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but delicious) cookies that has just three ingredients (egg white, sugar, ground hazelnuts). I’ve added a bit of depth with vanilla extract (or vanilla sugar) and amped up the deliciousness by covering them with chocolate.

These really aren’t that ugly (especially when topped with chocolate!), but they sure are easy – and delicious! 🙂 If only committing to daily meditation was as delicious as meringue!

Hazelnut crunch cookies

Ingredients
  • 1 large egg white
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (if you have it available, use 3g vanilla sugar and cut down the regular sugar by 3g)
  • 100g (2/3 cup) ground hazelnuts (ground almonds also work)
  • 80g (1/3 cup + 1/2 tbsp) sugar
  • 80g (1/2 cup) baker’s chocolate (most chocolate chips contain wax and won’t melt well, so stay away from those)
Method
  • Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F) and line baking sheet with parchment
  • Beat egg white and salt in a bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form
  • Combine sugar and nuts; then gently fold mixture into beaten egg whites
  • Spoon teaspoons of batter on baking sheet, making sure they have a little room to spread
  • Bake until golden brown – about 30 minutes
  • Remove cookies from baking sheets and cool on wire rack
  • Melt chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave
  • Dollop each cookie with a bit of melted chocolate and allow chocolate to set, which takes at least half an hour – you may need to hide the cookies in a cool location to keep from eating them while the chocolate is still soft 😉

Martinsmann pudding

Man-shaped pastry with red poppyWhile 11 November is Remembrance Day for Canadians (and Armistice or Veterans Day in other countries), it’s St. Martin’s Day in Germany. St Martin’s Day is the feast day for Martin of Tours and was one last great banquet before the start of Advent fasting in the middle ages.  In modern Germany, St Martin’s Day is known for roast goose (Martinsgans), lantern processions, and, in Mannheim, human-shaped pastries called Martinsmann.

We picked up a Martinsmann from our local bakery and were underwhelmed by its relative flavourlessness. Rather than waste the leftovers, I bumped them up with spices and apples in a bread pudding.

This recipe is modified from one I use for leftover hot cross buns at Easter. It works best with sweeter bread, but would be just fine with regular bread, too, although maybe with a little more sugar.

Partially eaten bread pudding

The bread pudding filled the kitchen with a lovely warm spicy smell, just like holiday baking – but it’s absolutely easier to make than gingerbread men or Christmas cookies 🙂 All the delicious smells with the ease of chopping up bread and stirring together milk, eggs, and spices!

The end result was so tempting that we devoured most of it before I snapped a photo 😉

We ate this bread pudding plain, but it would also be good with ice cream, whipped cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce. Adding chopped apple keeps everything moist and makes a sweet, buttery, boozy sauce unnecessary – although not any less welcome!

And if you’re interested in the traditional Martinsgans, check out this roast goose recipe from Ginger & Bread.

Bread pudding with apples

Ingredients
  • 450g (1 pound) day old hot cross buns or leftover Martinsmann
  • 700ml (3 cups) milk (or a combination of milk and cream for a richer pudding)
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 75g (1/3 cups) sugar
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 of a large apple, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Demerara sugar (or other coarse sugar)
Method
  • Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and lightly grease an ovenproof casserole dish that will fit all the bread cubes
    • A 23cm (9″) square baking dish should do
  • Cut leftover bread into cubes (roughly 1cm square) and place in a large bowl
  • Whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, spices and vanilla; pour mixture over bread and stir until coated
  • Let the milk mixture and bread rest for 15 minutes; the bread should absorb most of the liquid
  • Gently stir in chopped apple and pour into casserole dish, pressing down the bread a bit
  • Sprinkle coarse sugar over top and dust with additional nutmeg and cinnamon if desired
  • Bake until pudding sets and the top is golden brown – about 1 hour
  • Eat while warm and serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce if you’d like

Pancakes & packing – part 1

We’re leaving our flat in Munich tomorrow for one more new-to-us German city. We’ve done a lot of relocating in the last year and I’ve definitely gotten better at not leaving good stuff in the pantry.

In order to clean out our cupboards over the last week (and because baking is one of my stress-relievers), I made ham & cheese loaf, applesauce muffins, two batches of brownies (one that failed miserably), and super-easy pancakes (recipe below).

These come together super-quickly (as you’d expect with pancakes) and don’t require any measuring equipment other than a teaspoon and a mug – very useful for ill-equipped kitchens, lazy cooks, and short-on-time mornings!

Sadly, I doubt there will be more pancakes tomorrow morning. Probably just last-minute packing, breakfasting on the remaining random bits in the fridge, and grabbing leftover ham & cheese loaf for the drive 😉

Berry-banana Pancakes

Banana berry pancakes with strawberriesIngredients
  • 1 mugful of flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 1 mugful of milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 mugful of berries (if frozen, roll them in little flour before adding to the batter to prevent their colour from running too much)
  • butter for the pan (or nonstick cooking spray)
Method
  • Stir together flour, baking powder, spices, and salt
  • Mash banana and mix with egg and milk
  • Add wet ingredients to dry and combine; then gently stir in berries
  • Heat butter in pan over medium heat and spoon in dollops (about a large tablespoonful) of batter
  • Cook until golden brown on both sides
    • the first side is ready to flip when bubbles appear
    • the second side is ready when pancakes look and feel firm and slide easily on the pan
  • Serve with maple syrup, cut up banana if desired, and any remaining berries