Tag Archives: Christmas

Music + Food + Holiday Shopping = Must Go!

See that handsome man holding the soprano saxophone? That’s my husband, Rami, along with his friends Sunil, Spencer, and Michael in the Bel Cuore Quartet.  You can see their stunning visages in person this Wednesday when they perform at the Local Foods Holiday Gift Fair at City Hall.  Sponsored by Better Bites of Austin, the gift fair is a chance to sample local foods and stock up on holiday gifts from Central Texas food artisans. You can also bid on pre-made gift baskets in a silent auction benefitting Urban Roots.  Best part? Holiday music by the Bel Cuore Quartet! Oh, and the whole thing’s free, including parking.  See you there on Wednesday night!

Challah Pear Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce

I first read about Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter in one of my favorite Austin food blogs, Local Savour.  I knew right away that I wanted to use it to make Christmas cookies, and last Wednesday I bought a jar of pear butter from Stephanie herself just for that purpose.  Well.  Sort of.  I never actually made it to the cookies because as soon as I sampled a little of the pear butter, I ended up eating half the jar.

I still needed to make something for dessert that night, so I came up with this challah pear pudding with salty caramel sauce.  For the recipe I used cinnamon challah from  UT’s Challah for Hunger, incorporating into the dessert flavors from Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter.

Wowza, what a great idea!  This bread pudding is easy to prepare, indulgent, and fancy enough for serving at a holiday dinner where you want to impress. And while I made my own salty caramel sauce, topping the dessert with Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter is just as tasty. (I know, since that’s what happened to the other half of my cookie-making jar.)  A recipe of this bread pudding along with a few 8 oz. jars of pear butter would make a creative and delectable holiday hostess gift.

Challah Pear Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce (Serves 8 )
Bread Pudding:
1, one-pound loaf cinnamon or plain challah bread*
3 ripe pears
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (omit if using cinnamon challah)

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup white sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon salt
OR top pudding with 8 oz. Confituras Salted Caramel Pear Butter

Prepare bread pudding: Preheat oven to 325 degrees and butter a 2-quart baking dish.  Cut challah bread into 1-inch slices, the cut those slices into 1 inch cubes.  Set aside.  Core and dice pears (no need to peel them) and set aside.  Heat butter, brown sugar and white sugar in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave for 90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds with a wooden spoon to keep mixture from scorching.  Carefully pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and whisk in milk.  Add eggs, nutmeg and cinnamon, whisking until mixture is well combined.  Add challah and fold together with a rubber spatula until bread cubes are coated.

Pour 1/3 of the pears into the prepared baking dish and cover with 1/2 the bread mixture.  Repeat, and top the casserole with the remaining 1/3 of the pears.  Use the rubber spatula to smoosh down the pudding so that it sits in an even layer in the dish.  Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for an hour in preheated oven, or until pudding springs back. Remove foil in last 10 minutes of baking so that the top of the bread pudding is golden brown.

To make salted caramel sauce:  cook 1 cup white sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  It will take about 8 minutes of frequent stirring for the granulated sugar to transform into an amber-colored caramel.  At that point, remove the pan from heat.  Slowly add one cup heavy cream to the melted sugar, stirring constantly.  (Mixture will bubble and foam; this is good.) Add butter and salt, stirring until caramel is thickened and a little glossy.

Here’s how the sugar looks during the transformation from granulated white stuff to amber-colored caramel:

Top the finished bread pudding with caramel sauce and serve warm.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

*I’ve mentioned UT Challah for Hunger on my blog before, and they are one of my favorite local food sources. The group of UT students sells regular, cinnamon, and chocolate chip challahs for just $5 every Wednesday on the west mall of campus, with proceeds benefiting Darfur. Unfortunately, this past week was the students’ last time to bake for the year, and they won’t be back in action until late January. (In the meantime, you can get your challah fix on Fridays at Upper Crust Bakery in the Rosedale neighborhood.)

Rosemary Lemon Cornmeal Cookies

I’m planning a little series of Christmas cookie posts this month, loosely titled “The 12 Cookies of Christmas.” (For the most part, I have just been calling it that in my head since it’s such a cheesy title. Let’s not call it that out loud, okay?) Each of the twelve recipes will feature locally-sourced ingredients in a holiday-cookie-exchange-ready format.  Get ready for beet whoopie pies, apple spice cookies, meyer lemon bars, and other holiday treats, just waiting to fill your Santa shaped cookie jar.

Rosemary’s sweet, pungent flavor and green needles remind me of Christmas trees, so when I was planning the series, I knew I wanted to kick things off with these crispy lemon rosemary cookies.  The timing couldn’t be better since Meyer lemons are finally in season here in Austin.  This recipe also features eggs from Ringger Farm and cornmeal from Homestead Gristmill, near Waco, Texas.  The course texture of the Homestead’s cornmeal enhances these cookies’ crunch, and I find these cookies to be more flavorful than ones I’ve made with nationally distributed brands of cornmeal.

Rosemary Lemon Cornmeal Cookies (yields 32 cookies)
adapted from “Cornmeal Cookies,” by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley
Cooking Light, May 2008

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary needles
1 tablespoon grated Meyer lemon rind
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a cookie sheet with silpat or baking parchment. (Don’t skip this. The finished cookies are very delicate and will lose their shape if they stick to the pan after cooking.)

In a small bowl, sift together flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, beat softened butter, sugar, rosemary, lemon rind, and lemon juice until creamy, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.  Add egg and beat until well combined.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until just blended.  Dough will be very soft.

Spoon dough by heaping teaspoons 2.5 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Cookies will spread while cooking, so take care not to put dough too close to the edges of the baking sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for 11 1/2 minutes, until lightly browned and almost firm. Remove from oven and cool on pans for 2 minutes or until firm. Remove firm cookies from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.