Monday, November 1, 2010

Indian Bread Pudding with Cardamom Sauce

Bread pudding... just the idea of these warm desserts makes me feel cozy inside, as winter closes in.  Bread puddings are an especially great dessert to keep in mind this time of year since they're perfect for company - once assembled ahead of time, all you need to do is pop it in the oven shortly before dessert.

The other great feature of bread pudding, of course, is how versatile it can be flavor-wise.  Tonight, I decided to do a bread pudding with the flavors of Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine - notably rose-flower water, cardamom, and pistachios.  This dessert would be the perfect ending to any tagine or Indian entree.

The only reason this particular recipe posed a challenge for a vegan is that it called for evaporated milk.  Available in a can to a dairy eater, the vegan chef has to do a little prep work and make her own.  Of course, the quick method is to stir double the concentration of soy or rice milk powder into water, but I actually prefer the slow method: pour 3 cups of plain non-dairy milk into a saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until reduced to 1 and 1/2 cups, stirring constantly (it will take about 1 and 1/2 hours).  The process can be remarkably fun with some music going in the background and a book or magazine on hand to read while you stir!  Or, as I did this afternoon, it's great time to zone out and think and take a pause from a busy day.  I recommend making your evaporated non-dairy milk ahead of time (it will keep in the fridge for about 5-7 days), so you can assemble this bread pudding in a pinch the day you make it.

Now on to the Indian Bread Pudding...

For the pudding:
  • 9 (1-ounce) slices white bread
  • 2 tablespoons melted vegan butter
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup evaporated non-dairy milk
  • 3 tablespoons vegan sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon rose-flower water
For the sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons vegan sugar
  • 2 Ener-G egg yolks
  • 1 cup plain non-dairy milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped pistachios
1. Trim the crusts from the bread slices, and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Brush with the melted butter, then bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes.

2. Cool the bread on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then cut each slice into 4 squares (so you have 36 pieces of toast in total).  Arrange the toast pieces in overlapping rows in an 11x7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.  My fiance was in the kitchen as I worked on this step, and remarked, "That looks so cute!"

3. In a bowl, whisk together the evaporated milk, 3 tablespoons vegan sugar, and the rose-flower water.  Pour evenly over the bread, then cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.  As always when I make recipes that offer long variations in chilling time, I aim for about the halfway mark, so I prepared my bread pudding about 2 and 1/2 hours in advance.

4. To bake the pudding, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

5. While the pudding bakes, make the sauce: whisk 1 tablespoon Ener-G egg replacer into 2 tablespoons warm water to make the equivalent of 2 egg yolks.  Combine the Ener-G mixture with 2 tablespoons vegan sugar in a medium-sized bowl.

6. Heat 1 cup non-dairy milk in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges, but before it comes to a boil.  I've learned that even though recipes calling for dairy milk say this step will happen at 180 degrees, non-dairy milk gets there faster, closer to 150 or 160 degrees... so watch your saucepan carefully, and use a thermometer as a guide.

7. Gradually add the hot milk to the Ener-G mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk.  Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and continue to cook over low heat for 6 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk.  The sauce should be thick enough by now to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  Remove from the burner and stir in the cardamom.  Place the saucepan in a large bowl filled with ice and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally (it should only take about 5 minutes).  Be careful not to let the saucepan sit in the ice too long, or the sauce will begin to seize up.

8. Serve 6 bread squares warm from the oven on each of 6 dessert plates.  Top each serving with about 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of the sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of the chopped pistachios.

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (6 bread squares, 2 and 1/2 tablespoons sauce, 1/2 teaspoon pistachios), Calories 272

Tasting Notes:
Right off the bat: sublime.  The hints of cardamom and the sweetness of the evaporated soy milk came through instantly.  The toasted bread pieces were crisp on the outside but melt-in-your-mouth on the underside where they had soaked the most during chilling.  The one flavor that didn't come through as much as I hoped was the rose-flower water, so I would highly recommend upping the amount to 1/2 teaspoon if you want it to shine through.  Overall, eating this made me think it would easily translate into amazing French toast for breakfast - I would toast the bread the same way, dip in a milk/cardamom mixture before cooking in a skillet, and serve with pistachios sprinkled on top.


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