This past Saturday, for the first time in about three years, I got a massage. It was luxurious. I asked the massage therapist to focus on my neck and back, and as she worked, the tension melted from my body, and I felt myself letting down in a way I hadn't in what seemed like months. "It's so nice to be taken care of," I said to her.
By dinnertime that evening, I felt the telltale tickle in my nose and throat, a slight burning behind my eyes. By Sunday morning, I had a full-blown head cold and was lumbering around like Shrek, all swollen nose and plugged-up ears. Why? Why did that lovely portal of relaxation also have to be a gateway for teh sick germs?
On Friday night, when I was still all tensed up and healthy, I joined some friends for a class on Thai street food: quick curries, fried spring rolls, chili-flecked beef. Thinking the chilis might help clear my sinuses, I made a few of the dishes again over the weekend, and they were really good. But I found myself still craving simple comfort, which in my world almost always translates to dessert, and as I flipped through some cooking magazines, I came across a recipe for bread pudding. Bingo.
Bread pudding is a perfect dessert for high altitude, because although it is somewhat cake-like, it doesn't have to rise and therefore is not subject to the challenges imposed by our freakish atmospheric pressure. I'd never thought I was much of a fan - bread pudding, blah, boring - but I was served some recently at a dinner party, and it was absolutely swoon-worthy. That version incorporated raspberries and white chocolate; on this cold day, I decided to go with warm buttery apples and cinnamon, and spiked the accompanying caramel sauce with some good old fashioned likker. I love the idea of preparing individual portions in muffin tins rather than a large baking dish - it just feels fancier to have such a cute, neat little portion all to oneself. And you know I'm all about the fancy.
Apple-Cinnamon Bread Pudding with Whiskey Caramel Sauce
makes 12 servings
Grease a standard muffin tin with butter (use real butter, please. It makes a difference.) Preheat oven to 350F.
For the pudding
Small loaf of crusty french bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 5 cups)
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 T unsalted butter
2 sweet-tart apples, such as Gala or Honeycrisp, peeled and diced
For the sauce
3/4 c brown sugar, packed
2 T whiskey (I used McClelland's scotch, which has an interesting smoky kick)
1 T water
1/2 cup half & half (or, if you're feeling decadent, heavy cream)
1 tsp vanilla
For the pudding, combine the milks, sugar, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and eggs in a medium bowl. Add bread cubes, mix, and set aside for about half an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure the bread is soaking up the liquid evenly.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add diced apples, reduce heat to medium-low, and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, then stir into bread mixture. Scoop mixture into prepared pan, dividing evenly between the 12 tins. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
While the puddings are baking, prepare the sauce. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, whiskey, and water on medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 5 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly-thick and deep brown. Reduce heat, slowly add half & half and vanilla, and continue to simmer for a few more minutes, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. If it becomes too thick, add a splash more half and half.
Serve the puddings warm with a generous drizzle of caramel sauce. Feel fancy.