World Party Day: Snack Time

This is a post for World Party Day, which is coming up April 3rd. If you don’t know much about it, you can find out more here, and catch up on the previous tutorials at Big Things, who are organizing this whole big shindig.

Let’s face it you guys. It’s not a party without some snacks.

You can forget about filling up on candy from the piñata, because that will only take you so far. A delicious breakfast is a good way to start the Day, but late in the night you might need a little something extra. Well, there’s always bags of chips and hummus…But that’s just not REAL party fare, am I right? And who wants to spend hours in the kitchen making snacks before hand (well, besides me…)?

Here is a snack that is super easy to make and IT’S TWO FOR ONE.

That’s right! You can do the work for just one awesome home made snack and still get two different ones. That’s what I call a win-win.

We’re gonna make little snacky bread puddings. They’re snazzy snacks. We’re gonna make 1 batter, then split it in half and flavor it 2 different ways. This version is vegetarian, so you won’t have to worry about all those non-meat eating party guests. BUT–this is a super versatile recipe. If you don’t like the add-ins I have here, you can swap them out for similar ingredients, just be sure to keep the same ratio.

Here’s what you need:

1 1/2 loaves of bread: any bread will work, but decent bread is better. Not too fresh now, you want the bread to be a little bit thirsty.
4 cups of whole milk, or even 1/2 & 1/2
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar plus 2 Tbsp
1 cup dried cherries
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 14oz package of a savory veggie sausage, I used Tofutti brand Italian style
3-4 good sized sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 cup or so sliced raw almonds
salt and pepper to taste, plus a pinch of salt for the custard

Here’s what you do:

Put on a fancy apron, if you’ve got one.

If the crust on the bread is particularly tough or thick, cut it off. If your bread isn’t sliced, use a serrated knife to cut it into good thick slices, maybe 3/4″-1″ thick. Now either cut the slices into cubes or get down and dirty with your bread and tear it into bite sized chunks. Divide the chunks in half, and put each half into a big bowl.

Chop up the cherries and add them to one of the bowls of bread. Add the thyme to the other bowl–if you’re using fresh, strip the leaves from their stems first.

Next, heat up the milk to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt in there. When it’s good and warm but not boiling, pour out 2 cups (important to measure here) and add that to the bowl with the thyme. Add the sugar and almond extract to the remaining 2 cups of milk, give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar and then pour it into the bowl with the cherries.

Put a plate into each bowl and weigh it down with a can or something heavy. You want the bread to be immersed in the liquid as much as possible.

Let the bread sit for an hour or so. Then, preheat your oven to 350 F and put racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.

When you’re almost ready to bake these babies, take out your sausage and heat up a skillet. Slice the sausages into 1/4″ rounds and toss em in. Let them get good and brown on at least one side, then turn off the skillet and set aside.

Grease 2 regular muffin tins with butter or pan spray. Don’t use cupcake liners to bake the puddings in, you want them to get brown and crusty from contact with the metal pan. Save the cups for later when you serve the puddings.

Now, take the “lids” off your bread and give each one a good stir. Crack 2 of the eggs into a little bowl and break them up with a fork. Add them to one of the bowls with bread. Repeat for the other bowl. Stir the eggs in really well, so that no streaks of egg are visible. Add the sausage and the crumbled feta to the pudding with the thyme, then a big dose of fresh cracked black pepper and an extra pinch of salt, and toss to coat.

Fill each tin with one type of pudding. You want each cup to be full and heaped out of it’s little well. For the cherry almond puddings, sprinkle a pinch of sliced almonds on top–they’ll get nice and toasty when they bake. If you have leftover bread mixture, that’s OK, just bake more once the first batches are done.

If you have large roasting pans, you can put each muffin tin into a roasting pan and add some boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the cups. You can skip this if you don’t have pans big enough–the puddings might not stay as moist but they’ll still be delicious, I promise.

Bake for about 15 minutes then spin them around, switching the top pan for the bottom one and vice versa. Bake for about 15 more minutes, until the tops look nice and brown. Let the puddings cool for a few minutes, then pop them out of the muffin tins so that they don’t steam themselves as they cool. If you need to bake more mix, be sure to re-grease the pans and fill the wells in the middle of the tin first so the puddings don’t burn before they’re done baking.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen, and it can be made a day in advance–just wrap the puddings in foil and reheat for 10 minutes or so in a low (250 F) oven before serving. They’re good at room temp though too.

Sweet Mourning

This weekend I got some time to myself. Just me and a friend and a few sad bee carcases.

I know, it’s a little morbid. But you have to be realistic when you keep bees. You will inevitably kill a few by accident in the process, and sometimes, you lose a whole hive.

One of the hives I keep with my friend Meghan didn’t survive the winter. Our theory is that they got chilled when the roof of their hive body sprung a leak of sorts and the walls of the wooden boxes they called home became damp and mildewy. Meghan also said she suspects the queen was never very strong to begin with, and that she thinks she died back in November. It’s taken till recently for the last of the colony to die off in the cold, lonely winter.

It made us both a little sad, but it also made us a little bit happy because there was still some honey in those combs!

The harvest took us longer than we expected due to problems with mold on some of the combs, so mid-harvest I had to head home to eat lunch with my favorite people. As a result I didn’t get to see how much honey there was in the end. I did however get to sneak away with a little jar of sweet goodness. We all sampled it with our lunch and it was very good indeed.

I said a little thank you to the bees who gave their lives to provide us with something so amazing, and I said the same little thank you yesterday morning when I poured a tiny drizzle over the pears I sauteed to go with our breakfast–a bread pudding made of leftover wacked out sourdough.

Friday night I took a loaf of sourdough out of the freezer for our Shabbat bread. A pretty miserable loaf of sourdough at that. When I originally baked it on Monday, I baked it in a hurry, which is ironic considering it took three days to actually make the bread itself. In my haste to get it in the oven on time for dinner guests after arriving home late to start our meal, I forgot to slash the tops. It was like adding insult to injury–the bread was slightly underproofed. It baked up flavorful but on the dense side, and the crust never really browned, just toughening up as it went along. It was so weird.

It did make killer bread pudding though. I mixed it up Saturday night and popped it in the oven first thing Sunday morning: I cut off most of the offending crust (the top part was OK, and I like the chewiness of a little bit left in a bread pudding) and cut it into rough cubes, poured on some custard and let it soak overnight. It’s the closest you can get to a decadent breakfast that makes itself. I will spare you the pictures. It wasn’t pretty in the least.

This isn’t a traditional bread pudding. It’s eggier to satisfy a morning hunger, and it’s less sweet than usual to make room for the sweetness of the pears I set alongside. I hope you’ll give it a try next time you have an ugly loaf of bread sitting around, offending your sensibilities.

It was the perfect thing to eat before a trip to the Sunday Farmer’s Market. A trip that was made (mostly) in the sun.

And yes, we still ate a huge muffin as a snack.

Cardamom Breakfast Bread Pudding with Sauteed Pears
makes one dish about 9″x 13″ or a comparably sized pan, serves 6-8

For the Bread Pudding:
1 loaf sourdough bread, crust removed (or mostly removed)
6 eggs
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream or half & half (you can use all milk if you like, it will be less rich)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
butter to grease the pan
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit cut into small pieces, optional

For the Pears:
6 small–or 4 large–firm pears, such as Bosc
1/2 cup honey, more or less to taste
2 Tbsp butter

Make a day in advance for the most satisfying results. Bake in an oven preheated to 375ºF.

Cut the bread into thick slices and then into cubes about 1″ in size. Set aside.

Mix the eggs, milk, cream, sugar, spices and salt in a large bowl. Add the bread and, using a large spoon or your hands, turn to coat all the bread evenly with the milk mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, turn on the oven (375ºf) and grease your pan. Pour in the bread mixture, stirring well one more time before doing so. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until completely set. It might take longer if you bake it in a deeper pan.

While the pudding bakes, core the pears (peel if you like) and cut into eights. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add the butter to the pan. Once the butter is melted, add in the pears and let brown for a few minutes before adding the honey. Stir to coat and then turn down the heat and continue to cook until the pears soften but before they turn to mush. Turn off the heat if your pudding still needs a while to bake. Cover, and reheat briefly over medium heat if need be before serving.

Once the pudding is set, take it out of the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes before serving to allow the custard to set a touch more and to bring down to an edible temperature. Serve everything warm.