Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

Dovetailing off the Chicken Enchiladas I made for the Sho-Yu holiday party we had (yes, still a few months behind here), I wanted to share the dessert I made for the potluck!  I took advantage of hosting the party this year and picked a dessert that could be served hot out of the oven – bread pudding!  And not just any bread pudding – croissant bread pudding.  Sometimes I find bread pudding using bread (challah, brioche, etc.) can get a little too dense.  And let’s be honest – if you’re going to have bread pudding, you might as well commit to the buttery, flaky goodness that croissants can bring to the table!

I’ve been a fan of Michael Chiarello for a few years now, after Kevin and I ate at his Italian restaurant in Yountville, Bottega Napa Valley, which is still arguably our favorite Italian meal (including the ones we had IN Italy!).  I’ve also had the pleasure of dining at his tapas restaurant in San Francisco, Coqueta, where my favorite grilled octopus can be found.  He spoke at an event I worked on at Coqueta, and my boss at the time knew I was a fan and insisted on getting me a photo with him.

Best Buds – I Wish!

After some research online for just the right recipe, I came across Michael Chiarello’s Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding recipe, and couldn’t wait to make it.  I do admit that I made a few adjustments to it, skipping the raisins and bourbon as well as adding an extra 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 12 croissants
  • 3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped small (I use Guittard chocolate baking bars for best results)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a blender or stand mixer*, combine butter and sugar process until well blended. Add cinnamon, and vanilla, and pulse to combine.  *The original recipe says to use a food processor, but it’s too much liquid for the food processor to handle.

    Sugar, Cinnamon, Butter, Vanilla
  2. While the mixer is running, pour the beaten eggs into the mixture. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides. Add the heavy cream and pulse to combine.

    Use a Blender Instead
  3. Lightly butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Break up the croissants into 1-inch pieces and layer in the pan. Scatter the bittersweet chocolate over the top, and gently mix to incorporate. Pour the egg mixture over the croissants; soak for 8 to 10 minutes. You will need to push croissants pieces down during this time to ensure even coverage by egg mixture.

    Ready for the Custard
  4. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 10 minutes to brown the top. The croissant bread pudding is done when the custard is set, but still soft. Allow to cool. Serve with the ice cream of your choice!  I used Alden’s Organic Salted Caramel Ice Cream.
    Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

    I can’t wait for an excuse to make this again!

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Momofuku Milk Bar’s Compost Cookies

I’ve been lucky enough to dine at a few of David Chang’s eateries over the years – Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Milk Bar, and Momofuku Ssam Bar.  All were very memorable experiences in their own way, and I’m excited for Majordomo to open up in LA soon!  I loved the Milk Bar concept and still dream about that cereal milk soft serve.  My sister-in-law loves salty snacks and cookies, so I wanted to make a crowd-pleasing sweet and salty treat that wasn’t the usual Brown Butter Sea-Salted Rice Crispy Treats for the family get-together.  I remembered the Compost Cookie from my first visit to Milk Bar in New York and wanted to recreate it.

I followed the recipe exactly as written the first go around, and I thought the cookies were a bit too sweet for my taste and way too big.  The next time, I used a 1/4 measuring cup to portion out the dough and reduced the time in the oven.  I also used less butterscotch (which I thought overpowered the rest of the cookie a bit) and added pecans.  The original recipe came from an article in the Los Angeles Times if you want to use the original version. I’m sharing the recipe here with my tweaks:

MAKE THE GRAHAM CRACKER MIXTURE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup milk powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter, more if needed
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

DIRECTIONS:

  1.  In a medium bowl, toss together the graham cracker crumbs, milk powder, sugar and salt with your hands to evenly distribute.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter and heavy cream. Add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. The butter will act as glue, adhering to the dry ingredients and turning the mixture into a bunch of small clusters. The mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand. If it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and mix it in with the crust base.
  3. This makes about 2 cups crust base, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe. Eat the base, or use as desired in other recipes. Store in an airtight container for up to one week at room temperature, or for one month in the refrigerator or freezer.

MAKE THE COMPOST COOKIES

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons glucose or light corn syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup mini butterscotch chips
  • 1/2 cup (1/4 recipe) graham crust
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground coffee
  • 2 cups potato chips
  • 1 cup mini pretzels
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugars and glucose on medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla, and beat for an additional 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute, being careful not to overmix the dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  3. Still on low speed, add the chocolate and butterscotch chips, the graham crust, oats and coffee and mix just until incorporated, about 15 seconds.

    Add the Sturdy Add-Ins
  4. Add the potato chips, pretzels, and pecans and beat, still on low speed, just until incorporated, being careful not to overmix or break too many of the pretzels or potato chips. I found that giving the stand mixer a “pulse” or two to incorporate the chips and pretzels was enough to incorporate them but not break them up too much. (LA Times says you deserve a pat on the back if one of your cookies bakes with a whole pretzel standing up in the center.)

    Add the Salty Add-Ins
  5. Using a  1/4-cup measure, portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing each portion roughly 4 inches apart.  I fit four per baking sheet after learning from this little disaster:

    When You Try to Cram Too Many on a Baking Sheet
  6. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, up to one week. Do not bake the cookies while at room temperature because they will not bake up properly.

    I used a 1/4 Measuring Cup
  7. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  8. Bake the cookies, one tray at a time on the center rack, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the cookies halfway through baking for even cooking. The cookies will puff, crackle and spread while baking, and should be very faintly browned on the edges yet still bright in the center. Give them an extra minute or so if needed.
  9. Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or an airtight container for storage. At room temperature, the cookies will keep fresh for 5 days; frozen, they will keep for up to 1 month.

NOTE:  If you plan on freezing the extra dough, portion out the dough before freezing it or it will be very difficult to scoop into the measuring cups later.  Once the dough is cold, it really is hard to deal with!

Momofuku Compost Cookies

Chocolate Whipped Cream

For Kevin’s birthday this year, I made the last cake I’ll probably have time to bake for a long time.  His side of the family came over for a celebration, and I wanted to make a cake with a lighter feel.  I went with my favorite go-to chocolate cake recipe for the cake and added fresh strawberries and bananas in between the cake layers.

Fresh Strawberries and Bananas

 

And instead of frosting, I went with a chocolate whipped cream after coming across the perfect recipe on The First Year.  I also love the look of a naked cake, and tried to do something similar.  However, I made the whipped cream a bit stiff so that it would hold up longer out of the fridge and it wasn’t as easy to spread.

Makeshift Naked Cake

When you want a whipped cream that will last longer, you should also freeze the mixing bowl and whisk you’re going to use in advance.  With frosting, whipped cream, or any other recipes where texture is important and you’re adding lumpy dry goods to it, I also recommend sifting the ingredients to prevent lumps!  Here’s the delicious chocolate whipped cream recipe as adapted from The First Year:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place a metal mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove the bowl from the freezer. Add the heavy cream, and sift the cocoa powder and powdered sugar into the bowl. Beat with an electric mixer for 4-5 minutes, or until stiff peaks form and the whipped cream holds its shape.  Don’t over beat!

    Sift Into Frozen Bowl
  3. Use on cakes, cupcakes, pies, hot cocoa, etc. Place leftovers in a container and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Chocolate Whipped Cream

Happy Birthday, Kevin!

Happy Birthday Kevin

 

Chocolate Earl Grey Bundt Cake

As with every IMAX Thanksgiving potluck, I test out my annual holiday dessert that I make a number of times across the various social gatherings.  This year, I picked a not-so-seasonal dessert and went with the chocolate and earl grey combination.  I had seen a number of different recipes pairing those two flavors together, but the Real Simple one caught my eye.

The texture of the bundt cake is great.  You get a nice crust that’s reminiscent of a brownie, though no where near as thick, and the inside is moist.  I’ve made this with full-fat sour cream subbed for the yogurt, used nonfat greek yogurt, and whole fat regular. There wasn’t a big difference in flavor with any of those versions.

Chopped Baking Chocolate and Earl Grey Tea
Chopped Baking Chocolate and Earl Grey Tea

Here’s the recipe!

INGREDIENTS:

  • Earl Grey tea bags or 2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea leaves
  • cup water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • eggs
  • cups granulated sugar
  • ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • teaspoon baking soda
  • teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • Powdered sugar (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 350° F. Coat an 8-cup fluted tube pan with cooking spray.
  2. Brew the tea in the water 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags or strain the leaves and set the brewed tea aside.
  3. Using a mixer, beat the butter, eggs, and granulated sugar until fluffy. Blend in the chocolate.

    Butter, Eggs, Sugar, Chocolate
    Butter, Eggs, Sugar, Chocolate
  4. Beat in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, yogurt, and brewed tea. [NOTE: If you use a stand mixer to blend the ingredients in this step, it will make a huge mess even if you start it on low.  I’ve made this four times to date, and it’s happened every single time. I would recommend whisking everything in until everything is just combined.]
  5. Pour into pan. The batter will be a little runny.

    Batter is lighter than it finishes
    Batter is lighter than it finishes
  6. Bake 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out with only a few crumbs attached. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes. Turn out of pan and cool.
  7. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

    Chocolate Earl Grey Bundt Cake
    Chocolate Earl Grey Bundt Cake

I ended up making 5 of these between Thanksgiving and Christmas between all of the family dinners and potlucks.  I would say the only pain is cleaning the crevices of the bundt pan that ALWAYS have crumbs stuck to them!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream

It happened.  I think I found a chocolate cake recipe I like as much as my go-to Guinness chocolate cupcake recipe.  They are both wonderful but this cake recipe that I am about to share with you from Add A Pinch is SO moist and rich but not dense – perfect for cakes.  It’s sweeter than the version with Guinness in it, but still not overly sweet.  I don’t think this cake recipe would hold up well in a cupcake since it is so fluffy and moist, but perhaps I’ll try one day!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream
Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream

I had a family potluck with my mom’s side of the family and volunteered to make the dessert my contribution.  We had 17 people to feed and most of them had sweet tooths.  For big parties, I always try to make two small/medium desserts if time allows – usually one with chocolate and one with fruit – to satiate everyone’s preferences.  In addition to a batch of “Pink Lemonade” (Raspberry Lemon Bars), I made this chocolate layer cake with espresso buttercream.

Family Potluck Game is STRONG
Family Potluck Game is STRONG

The cake was a hit – there were no leftovers to bring home!

Here’s the recipe as adapted from Add A Pinch, along with some tips on assembling your layer cake.

INGREDIENTS

Cake:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t espresso powder
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/2 C  vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 C boiling water
  • Double the ingredients for this Espresso Buttercream recipe (I used about 1.5x the recipe and it was just enough)

Prep Tip: If you decide to dry-prep (combining all of the dry ingredients the night before to make production easier day-of) the cake, do so without the espresso powder. The first time I made this cake, the espresso powder clumped to itself and then didn’t disintegrate well in the cake batter.

INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring. NOTE: I highly recommend using parchment circles, or making cake circles out of parchment paper.  Put a cake circle at the bottom of the pan after you put baking spray. It’ll help the cake release from the pan after baking.
  2. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
  3. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter. NOTE: If you don’t have a splash guard for your stand mixer, put a wet towel (or damp paper towel cut almost completely in half) over the top of the bowl before you turn the mixer back to prevent batter being splashed all over your counter. The batter will seem a bit watery, and that’s totally okay.  I am not used that, but trust me – you’re not doing anything wrong!

    It'll Look More Watery Than You're Used To
    It’ll Look More Watery Than You’re Used To
  4. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.  Peel your parchment cake circle off both layers.  I usually replace the parchment with a cardboard cake circle just for the bottom layer.
  6. Frost cake with double recipe of Espresso Buttercream.

Layer cake tips:

  • Level your cake layers: If you don’t have a cake leveler, use a bread/cake knife to carefully level out the dome out of your cake layer. It’ll make frosting so much easier and ensure your cake has a flat top.

    Leveling the Cake Layers
    Leveling the Cake Layers
  • Layering:  The tops of your cake layers should face each other inward. In other words, the bottom of one layer should have the cut side facing up, and your top layer should have its bottom facing up.  The flattest sides of both areas should be facing outward.  See below:

    Cake Tops Facing Each Other
    Cake Tops Facing Each Other
  • Crumb coat: This is the first thin layer of frosting you’ll spread around the cake.  This process will catch a lot of the loose crumbs from your cake and it’ll show. Once you get the first layer on, freeze the cake for 20-30 minutes.  The buttercream will harden and hold the crumbs tight. Then you can add a final and smoother layer of frosting without worrying about any unsightly crumbs showing.

    Crumb Coat - Freezer-Ready!
    Crumb Coat – Freezer-Ready!

Kevin is a choco-holic and really liked this cake, so I also made this cake for his family’s birthday celebration potluck with Vanilla Buttercream (to be shared in a later post) this past weekend!