Salted Caramel Pretzel Bread Pudding

Once upon a time, when I was a young ambitious woman living in the bustling city of Chicago, I ate some salted caramel pretzel bread pudding.  It was from a Charlie Trotter restaurant that was more of a deli where you could buy stuff to-go... I cannot remember the name.  Please help.  I think it was in Lincoln park.  I digress... I remember shortly after trying the bread pudding, the restaurant closed down, and citizens of Chicago wept for days.  I'm sure it wasn't because of the bread pudding, because that sh*t was amaaazing.  It still haunts me to this day how delicious it was.

I recreated the dessert in my cozy kitchen in Raleigh.  I cubed up pretzel bread and toasted it up nicely in the oven to get it a little crisp.  Then I soaked the bread in a mixture of evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and homemade salted caramel sauce.  I used Bobby Flay's salted caramel sauce recipe and it worked beautifully.  The mixture is baked, then topped with more caramel sauce, whipped cream and sea salt.  This is soo good.... so rich, so addicting.

The baking dish I used was larger than an 8x8-inch dish, but smaller than a 13x9.  Any medium sized-baking dish should work.

Also, I was wrong; it was chocolate covered pretzel bread pudding and it was from Trotter's To-Go.  It wasn't salted caramel at all!  Oh well, I put my own spin on the dessert.

Salted Caramel Pretzel Bread Pudding

8 cups cubed pretzel bread
2 cans evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bobby Flay's Salted Caramel Sauce 
Pinch of sea salt
Whipped cream, for serving

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place bread on a sheet pan and toast 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together evaporated milk, eggs, granulated sugar and vanilla until well combined.  Stir in bread cubes and most of the caramel sauce (reserve 1/4 cup) and soak for 20 minutes.

Butter a medium sized baking dish; add bread pudding mixture.  Bake 45-50 minutes or until set and golden brown.  Remove dish from oven and cool on a wire rack.  Drizzle with remaining caramel sauce.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with whipped cream.

Makes 6 servings

Tres Leches Cake

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! Do y'all have any wild and crazy plans tonight?  I'm still not sure what the plan is around these parts, but I hope it involves many tacos and a few margaritas.  Perhaps a few tequila shots as well.  I do know we'll be digging into this tres leches cake very shortly.  I baked it late last night into the wee hours of the morning.  I need to plan these things better and not start baking around 10:30 PM.

I adapted this recipe from Costa Rica Cooking, because I'm still on a bit of a Costa Rican kick.  Pura Vida!  Take me back to the land of pinto gallo and chili guaro.

The cake is a very spongy cake, made from whipped egg whites, sugar, yolks and flour.  No butter, folks, I repeat, no butter.  But don't go thinking this is a healthy cake; the fat comes from whole milk and heavy cream.  After the spongy cake is baked, you poke 2 million holes in the cake and douse it with the three heavenly milks: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream. The cake take a bath overnight in the milk to soak up all of the liquid.  I topped the cake with whipped cream and cherries because tres leches cake is kind of ugly.

Do you like maraschino cherries? Do you know how to tie a knot with a cherry stem with your tongue?  I do not mind them, and I really want that talent.  Luckily there's a WikiHow to help us learn.

Tres Leches Cake

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar + 3 tablespoons

3 large egg yolks
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided use

 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 cups cold heavy whipping cream, divided use
Maraschino cherries

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat a 10-inch springform pan with butter and sprinkle with flour, or coat well with nonstick cooking spray.  

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on high speed, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Reduce mixer speed to medium and gradually add 1 1/2 cups sugar until well combined.  Beat in egg yolks, one at a time.  Beat in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract and almond extract.  Gradually fold in flour mixture, alternating with whole milk until just combined.  Be very light handed with this step.

Place cake batter in prepared pan.  Bake 25 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake an additional 25 minutes or until cake turns golden brown and lightly springs back when touched.  Cool 15 minutes.  Run a knife around outside cake edges and remove outer portion of pan.  Poke a lotttt of holes in the cake.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and 1 cup cream.  Drizzle half of the mixture over cake.  Invert cake into some sort of serving dish that can hold a bit of liquid.  Poke cake with more holes and drizzle with remaining milk.

Beat remaining 1 cup cream and 3 tablespoons sugar in a large mixing bowl using a mixer on medium-high speed until medium peaks form.  Do not overbeat it.  Do not listen to Michael Jackson while doing this step.

Spread whipped cream on top of cake.  Decorate with cherries.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Or at least a couple of hours.  The cake needs time to soak up the liquid.

Makes 9 servings

Banana Chocolate Chip Pecan Muffins

I recently took a trip to Costa Rica, and now I'm going through withdrawals from not having my daily fresh juice and pinto gallo.  The fruit in Costa Rica is amazing and so fresh and delicious.  My host's yard was full of mango trees, papaya trees and various other tropical fruits.  Picking and eating a fresh mango in the sun gives you a feeling of complete happiness.  Especially when that said-mango is the best mango you've ever eaten in your life.

My favorite were the Alphonso mangoes - smaller with more flavor.  The papayas were good, too; we made milkshakes with them for dessert one night. Apparently papayas are great for digestion and help keep you regular. The more you know!

My host in Costa Rica was an incredible cook and everything she made was delicious, whether it was arroz con pollo or her peach tres leches cake.  One morning she made banana pancakes with a hearty dash of ground cinnamon.  I can't describe how good it smelled cooking, with the warm breeze flowing through the open kitchen, sipping on a cup of cafe con leche.  

I couldn't get the buttery banana pancake smell out of my nose, even after getting back home, ten hours later.  If only I could have brought back bananas into the United States from Costa Rica.  Luckily, there were a few ripe ones on the counter that needed to be used up.  I made one giant banana pancake for myself, then I baked a batch of banana chocolate chip pecan muffins for everyone else in the house.

These were perfect; big, bountiful, fluffy banana muffins loaded with dark chocolate chips and toasted pecans.  Next on my list of things to make: peach tres leches cake and arroz con leche.

Feel free to follow along with my other Costa Rican eats on my Instagram.

Banana Chocolate Chip Pecan Muffins

2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 large ripe banana
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 6 cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line with paper liners.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, brown sugar, banana and vanilla until creamy.  Beat in egg yolks until well combined.  Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour mixture, alternating with milk until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips and pecans until just combined. Sprinkle with a dash of raw sugar or coarse sea salt, if desired.

Divide batter into cups.  Bake 35-40 minutes or until well risen, golden brown and a toothpick inserted into muffin cups out with moist crumbs attached.  Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 6 big muffins