Thursday, March 22, 2018

Vanilla Bread Pudding

Vanilla Bread Pudding - made March 4, 2018, modified from Recipe Tips

Bread pudding is one of those desserts that may not be very photogenic but tastes better than it looks. Not that it looks bad, necessarily, but it just looks humble. Unassuming even. But it’s a tasty dessert. That is, if you like French toast on steroids. Because that’s what a good bread pudding is.

For this one, I went plain vanilla. Mostly because I had milk I wanted to use up and not much else to flavor the bread pudding with. No mashed bananas, no caramelized apples, no toasted pecans. Fortunately, this vanilla bread pudding is still freaking delicious.

The only downside is bread pudding in any flavor is a heavy dessert. So maximize the caloric enjoyment and have bread pudding at its peak: when it’s still lukewarm so that the custard has had time to firm up and isn’t too mushy but the top still has some crunch from baking. Bread pudding is often serve chilled but that takes out the crunchy crust factor. I like the best of all worlds by having it still lukewarm and I’ve softened the top crusty part with a warm vanilla glaze. Worth that extra workout in the gym.
6 cups cubed challah (1 full-size loaf)
3 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk or more until of thin, pourable consistency

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13" casserole.
  2. Combine milk and butter in saucepan and heat over medium heat until butter is melted. Whisk smooth.
  3. Combine sugar, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon. Temper in milk, a ladleful at a time, whisking until mixture is combined,
  4. Place a single layer of cubed bread in casserole dish. Pour milk-custard mixture, covering bread completely. Add another layer of bread and alternately pour custard over bread, layering until all bread cubes have been added. Cover with remaining custard mixture, ensuring mixture has soaked through all bread pieces.
  5. Let sit for 10 to 20 minutes then place in preheated oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until center is set. Cool to lukewarm.
  6. Make glaze: whisk together powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth and combined. Pour over lukewarm bread pudding, cut and serve.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

Pao de Queijo - made February 25, 2018 from Olivia's Cuisine
Having developed a foodie crush now on Brazilian cheese bread, I googled recipes for it literally as soon as I left Pampas that night. It took me awhile to make it as I had to suss out some tapioca flour but I finally got to it. While tapioca flour is available on amazon, like millions of other hard-to-find things, I balked at how expensive it was on amazon and instead turned to my trusty local Ranch 99 Asian grocery store. 

The plus side is it cost a fraction of what it sells for on amazon. The minus side is it takes me forever and 3 days to find anything at Ranch 99 since I don’t know where anything is located and I can’t read anything non-English except for my smattering of Tagalog. And in the interests of brutal honesty, I couldn’t find it on my first trip so I asked my mom, a more regular Ranch 99 shopper than me, to get it for me on her next shopping trip. She eventually found it but even she had to ask someone where it was. Something I didn’t do since I couldn’t find anyone on the floor at the time to help.

But once the tapioca flour was secured, I finally made this recipe. It was surprisingly simple to make. Finding the tapioca flour was harder than mixing this together. Be warned that the dough does get super sticky and difficult to work with. I didn’t even bother trying to hand-shape it with my bare hands, envisioning my fingers getting cemented together with the sticky, pasty, rubbery mass. Instead, I spooned generous dollops of the dough directly into greased but unlined muffin tins. I was a little afraid they would be hard to pry out of the tins after but was pleasantly surprised to find they not only puff and rise during baking but also easily popped right out of the muffin cavities.

The first batch came out a little pale. I baked them for the time suggested in the recipe and they looked fine. The outside was crusty-soft but the inside looked like baked brie. I was afraid that meant they weren’t done because the cheese bread from Pampas had more structure than that so I put them back into the oven to bake another 10 minutes. I finally took them out before they got too brown. The outside was pleasingly crunchy and the inside was warm cheesy gooeyness. These still didn’t have the same texture as the ones from Pampas but they tasted pretty good. These are best eaten warm! While the outside is crusty (it softens after cooling) and the inside is warm molten cheese. These are a good bread-basket option if you want something gluten-free. But seriously, eat them warm. So good that way.

4 cups tapioca flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Combine the milk, water, oil and salt over medium high heat. Add the tapioca flour to the bowl of a stand mixer. Once the milk boils, pour over the flour. Mix flour and milk on medium-high speed until well combined.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, until combined.
  4. Add the cheeses, a half cup at a time, until incorporated.
  5. Wet your hands and shape the dough into golf-ball size balls. Space evenly on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and puffed. Serve warm.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Restaurant Review: Pampas Brazilian Churrascaria

Pampas Brazilian Churrascaria - team dinner on January 20, 2018
We had a team dinner back in January at Pampas, a Brazilian steakhouse. I’d heard of Pampas before and of Brazilian steakhouses in general so I had some idea of what to expect. But, as is the case most of the time, reality was way better than theory.

Cheese bread, fried bananas, fried polenta
If you’ve never been to a Brazilian steakhouse before, my advice to get your money’s worth is: go hungry, pace yourself, and go easy on the sides. If you’re on a high protein diet, this is very diet-friendly for you. If you can manage to pass up the Brazilian cheese bread that is, served warm with a crunchy crust and is soft, cheesy goodness on the inside.
Best cheese bread ever

At Pampas, we were a large enough group that the restaurant gave us part of a separate room on the lower floor, away from the madding crowd. It was perfect. While we waited for everyone to arrive, we went to the “salad bar”. If you’re a vegetarian, you can still get a decent meal here. The side bar is filled with all manners of veggies and other non-protein choices, including a variety of cheeses. I was there for the steak so I limited my carb choices to a few chunks of cheese, half an ear of corn and a little mashed potatoes.

Once most of our tables were filled, the servers began arriving. The hallmark of a Brazilian steakhouse is the servers come to the tables, with long metal skewers of various proteins: different cuts of steak (sirloin, roast, filet mignon), poultry (turkey breast wrapped in bacon, chicken hearts, chicken drumsticks) and lamb. They snip off a serving to anyone who salivates asks for it. And they just keep coming until you turn the sign on the table to red, indicating “stop! I’m stuffed to the gills”.

Although they tell you what each thing is as they serve it, there were so many items that I have to confess I lost track of what I was eating. All I can say is it was amazing. All of it. Seriously flavorful, tender cuts of beef. I passed on the lamb because I was getting full but my favorite protein turned out to be the turkey breast wrapped in bacon. Bear in mind, I don’t normally like turkey and I’m usually indifferent to bacon. But this thing was extremely delicious.

Ironically though, despite it being a (to me) very good Brazilian steakhouse, the two things I loved and would go back there for those alone aren’t meats at all but the cheese bread and the roasted pineapple. I’ve never had Brazilian cheese bread before but it was so good, crusty on the outside, melting-warm on the inside, just cheesy goodness all around. I need to learn how to make it (more to follow on that).
Bacon-wrapped Turkey Breast (top), sausage (bottom)

And the pineapple! I usually prefer my pineapple to be cold because that’s what I’m used to. But served warm off the skewer with perfectly sweet goodness? I’m now a fan. The roasted pineapple comes at the end so next time I would do a better job of pacing myself so I leave room for it.
Roasted Pineapple - so good

All in all, thumbs up on Pampas. It’s rather pricey at $55 a head if you get the full meats and side bar option ($29 if you just want the side bar) but the service was good and the food was amazing. 

Peanut Butter Cup


One last look at the cheese bread

Monday, February 26, 2018

Millionaire's Shortbread

Millionaire's Shortbread - made February 19, 2018, shortbread layer only from Sugar Spun Run
 I received multiple requests for this recipe and that’s always a good sign. I didn’t quite make it up “from scratch”. More like I had a vision of what I wanted this to be and cobbled a couple of different recipes to make my vision an edible reality.

I’ve made Millionaire Shortbread Bars before; they’re essentially a shortbread layer with a caramel layer in the middle topped with a ganache layer. They’re supposed to be “rich”, hence the play on the name. I’m not a big fan of ganache though since it’s often too rich for me, being chocolate and heavy cream, and frankly, ganache isn’t sweet enough. Plus I used dulce de leche last time instead of caramel and wasn't wild about it. Not to mention the rice krispies I used in the top layer back then couldn't hold a candle to feuilletine.
My vision for these bars was to have the shortbread, salted caramel and the Nutella-chocolate-feuilletine layer I’d made for the Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars be on top instead of the bottom this time. I plucked the shortbread layer from this recipe then cheated by skipping making the homemade caramel and instead used a jar of salted caramel from Trader Joes. The feuilletine topping was super easy to make and I did say I’m now obsessed with feuilletine so I had to use it. Plus I’ve written it so much that I can now spell it correctly without having to look it up each time.

Given the multiple requests I’ve had for the recipe, I’d say this was well-received by my coworkers. You can substitute your favorite shortbread recipe if you wish but I don’t advise going for super-buttery shortbread as the bars are already pretty rich with the caramel and the feuilletine topping. I love the shortbread base, the sweetness from the caramel and the crisp-crunch from the feuilletine.  My feuilletine obsession continues.

Shortbread Crust
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 10-ounce jar salted caramel sauce (I got mine from Trader Joe's)

Chocolate Topping
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
10 ounces (about 1 cup) Nutella
5 ounces (about 2 cups) paillete feuilletine

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add egg yolk and vanilla extract; beat until combined, scraping down sides of bowl to keep even textured.
  4. Add salt and flour in 3 additions, mixing until just combined. Do not overmix. Press dough evenly into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until edges are light golden brown. Cool slightly.
  5. Heat caramel until of pourable consistency. Spread evenly over shortbread crust. Let cool completely.
  6. Chocolate topping: in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water, combine chocolate and nutella. Whisk until smooth and completely melted. Stir in feuilletine. Spread topping over bars, covering caramel completely. Smooth into even layer. Let set before cutting.