Monday, July 4, 2011

A "Royal Dining" Dessert Honouring Princess Diana on the Fourth of July!

For Independence Day, I was invited to Laura and Greg's home for a pig picking and a sparkling time of not-so high explosive pyrotechnics. Ten minutes away from their house, the clouds thundered and it poured...and poured....and poured an inch and a half of rain in 30 minutes!  This is common SW Florida afternoon weather-we know just what to do. I arrived and parked just as others who sat patiently in their cars, all betting the storm and fury would greatly diminish in 10-15 minutes.
 Luckily, the rains did follow the script, this time. Meanwhile, half a dozen kids happily played in the drizzle-no thunder or lightning then-and all afternoon as well.
Laura and Greg had a score of hungry folks over, and they were loaded for bear, er, pig. Greg smoked a 35 lb dressed pig for 8 hours, his first, and it was done perfectly tender, with a smoke-blackened tasty crisp skin.
My favorite dish, after the pig and his pulled pork, was the watermelon salad, or Turkish breakfast, that Mark Bittman posted on the internet. It's a refreshing delight that takes 15 minutes to prepare.  His recipe site is at:

One slices and combines watermelon, tomato, cheese, scallions and salt in a bowl. Blend in watermelon juice, oil vinegar and cayenne to taste. Laura used cilantro instead of parsley. I thoroughly enjoyed this creation!   I'd make it again, and  would use feta rather than blue cheese, sweet or red onions instead of scallions, and peeled diced cucumber.
Greg's movable feast included a hot table of sausages, wonderful pulled pork, hotdogs, burgers, skewered shrimp, corn, beans and slabs of pork. He braved the rains to grill huge diver scallops, and serve them on the half shell. Not shabby, our hosts!
The cold table held the watermelon salad, chips, dips, coleslaw and the usual things. 
Laura's brother made two fantastic foccacio breads-made me feel like I was back in Italy!
Laura and the girls made a special cake!
One of many for dessert.
For Independence Day, with the Royal wedding not far behind, I decided to make  Princess Diana's favorite dessert, crafted by her personal chef, Darren McGrady, as published in my autographed copy of his book, Eating Royally.  
  I met him last year in a Naples kitchen at a benefit. He's a wonderful friendly guy, and the kind that takes all secrets with him to the pearly gates, IYKWIM. 
You can download his recipe and see the cooking video for free  at:

My Version of Delicious Bread and butter Pudding
  This is a knockout of a dessert! It combines three of my favorite comfort foods- Crème brûlée, breadpudding, and Amaretto.  Mmmm good! There's simple ingredients and no fancy techniques. Get the recipe, and I'll add my suggestions for gilding this lily in italics, going by his five headings.
  The day before, buy or borrow a propane torch, for step 5, or set the sugar-topped casserole in the broiler for a couple minutes.

Step 1.  Start the night before, soaking raisins overnight in Amaretto liquor, so they plump up.  I used golden, rather than black raisins. Make a triple  batch-one extra for the recipe, and the other for you to nibble upon while making this dish. Go ahead, you deserve it! Next time, I'll add extra Amaretto and raisins, so you can enjoy more mini-taste bursts.
Next, toast your slivered almonds in a pan over medium heat. tossing every so often. It only takes a few minutes to toast them, and just seconds more to burn them. Don't walk away, or they'll quickly burn, just for spite!

   Get a baking pan with at least 3 1/2 inch tall sides or a larger aluminum pan ready, one that your casserole dish will fit into with room to spare. Be sure there's an inch or two of space around the dish, for the water bath to fit as well as your fingers. Otherwise, you'll not only overcook the dessert, but also have trouble removing it.  Put the casserole dish in the larger pan, and add tap water until it is 1/2 way up the casserole's side. Remove the dish and keep the water in the baking pan-you'll use these  in step 4.
Step 2. For the white bread, I recommend lightly toasting the 12 slices, just enought to firm them up, or, better, let them get stale over two days. Otherwise, the soft bread "shmooshes down" while slicing off the crust, and then dicing the soft innards into 1/2 inch pieces.  Turn on the oven to 350 degrees now, so it warms up.
Bread with Soused Golden Raisins
Step 3. This could be a tricky step for some. Break the eggs separate and whisk the yolks, vanilla paste (I substituted 2 tsp of vanilla extract nicely, and could add a third tsp)   and sugar into a large, sturdy heavy bowl-one that won't tip over when you later add the hot milk-cream mixture.
Egg Yolks, Sugar and Vanilla Extract
Wear closed tip shoes, and long pants for this excercise. Bring the milk and heavy cream on medium heat to the boil, and after a few minutes heating, watch it carefully, it goes from a simmer to suddenly boiling over if you turn away briefly to do some other chore. Use a large ladle to bring the hot mik-cream mixture over to the egg mixture, so you can whisk with one hand, and pour with the other. Pour the warm egg mixture over the results of step 2, and while it sits for 20 minutes, put the water-filled baking pan in the oven to heat up. You have 20 minutes to clean up the mess. Your reward- savor delicious extra Amaretto-soaked raisins from your secret stash!
Egg topper, Topped Egg, and Yolk Separator
I used an "egg topper" to remove the top of the eggs, cleaned out the lining thin membrane, and dried the egg shells to use later. There's several topper designs available. I like another one that uses a plunger a bit better than the "guillotines" as it leaves less of a jagged edge, (it needs a bit of practice) however I couldn't find mine. Trick is to position this guillotine-style topper near the top of the small end then cutting, rather than letting the device cut lower down on the egg.
Step 4. Put on your heat resistant gloves, open the oven, and put the casserole dish in the roasting pan's hot water bath. Cook 30 to 45 minutes, until the top gets a golden brown in some spots, and the dessert is just about set, so if you push on it, it wiggles a little, like a just-firm Jello gelatin. Don't let it get to be firm throughout, or it'll be overcooked.  Remember, the dessert will still cook from its retained heat for the next 15 minutes, while out of the oven.
Step 5. Remove the casserole from the oven with your gloved hands, and let it set and cool for 1/2 hour if it is to be served warm, or place in refrigerator for several hours if to be served cool. It's tastier warm-I tried both ways. Then sift, and sprinkle granulated brown sugar (or demerara or palm sugar rather than just granulated white sugar) evenly over the top, perhaps a few granules in thickness, then torch it from ~ 4 inches away with a tall $25 Bernzomatic torch from a hardware store. That's what professional chefs often use, for good reason. Don't waste your money on those teeny  "Crème brûlée " torches sold for $20-30. They don't have the same heat capacity, malfunction more often, are good for little else, and waste your money.(I'm not opinionated.)  I torch the surface sugar in a circular motion, just till it turns golden to golden brown, and keep moving the flame around. Then I stop for a couple minutes to let the sugar melt, and give it another heat treatment, this time letting some areas get a little brown, and even burnt in tiny areas. A few lightly-burned areas are a good counterpoint to the sugar's sweetness. Let cool, and it'll form its solid crust. Add toasted almonds, then lightly sprinkle confectioner's sugar on top.
Bread and Butter Pudding, One Portion Removed!
Garnish with sliced berries-strawberries, raspberries,etc. and sprigs of mint. Your guests will swoon over your sparkling handiwork.  Put in a sparkler or two!
Then relax in the pool
And we'll see you next year!

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