Vanilla Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding

May 25, 2015

Vanilla Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding

I  have an email exchange to thank for the inspiration for this particular recipe for vanilla cinnamon challah bread pudding. I’ve wanted to do something with challah for a long time as the eggy, doughy, braided bread has been one of my favorites since I was a kid. It just begs to be pulled apart and dipped in cinnamon or honey or eaten straight off the loaf. Don’t even get me started on chocolate challah.

Vanilla Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding ingredients

But, challah isn’t only good on its own. It makes a great base for dishes that need a sturdier breadlike bread pudding! Which was precisely what I wanted to make. But, first I had to learn how to make it, as I’d never gotten around to making one before. Which seems odd, but that happens. I also haven’t seen The Godfather and briefly contemplating putting it on in the background while baking. Instead, I focused on the recipe and didn’t let myself get distracted by any horse heads (or kittens for that matter, despite Loki’s mewing and multiple attempts to jump on the counter mid-recipe).

Loki and Challah Bread

For the bread pudding, I wanted to create a recipe that would allow the vanilla and cinnamon to be the stars. This meant adding fresh vanilla bean seeds to the recipe and making sure to dial back the sugar. In studying other recipes, it seemed there were two schools of thought: Those that cut the bread into cubes that those that just sliced it and layered it into the baking pan. I went with the former. Other recipes called for letting the bread soak in the custard mixture for 2 hours. As I was baking this just before going to a Memorial Day BBQ, that was not going to happen unless a time machine miraculously appeared in my living room.

The basics of making a bread pudding are simple:
1. Cut up your bread.
2. Combine eggs, milk, fat (butter or heavy cream), vanilla, and perhaps a pinch of salt.
3. Pour this mixture over the bread.
4. Bake.

Vanilla Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding mid slicing

Vanilla Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding slices

In the process of learning the basics, I found this Polish recipe. It called for the standard four eggs, but instead of using four whole eggs, it used two whole eggs and two egg yolks and suggested beating them with the sugar until they were light and fluffy. After which, you’d add the hot milk and then heat up that mixture on the stove until it resembled a creme anglaise. I was pretty nodding in dizzy-headed agreement after reading this. Essentially, the recipe called for making a rich custard. The recipe also called for pre-baking the bread with cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter, which allowed me to skip over the “wait until the challah is a little bit stale” step. And, since there still was no time machine, that seemed wise.

The final recipe is below, but I would be amiss without mentioning that while I had written the heavy cream into the recipe I’d be baking, I had forgotten to add it until the bread pudding was nearly done! So, I rushed into the kitchen, flung open the fridge, opened the oven, and poured about 3/4 of a cup of heavy cream over the bread pudding, closed the oven, and hoped for the best. The result? The late addition of the heavy cream gave the recipe a creamy richness I don’t think it would have had otherwise.

Vanilla Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding sprinkling brown sugar


Vanilla Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding in Pan

Vanilla Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding Final

Vanilla Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding

(Serves 12)

4 Tbsp. brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 loaf challah bread
3 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups whole milk, warmed
½ vanilla bean
1 pinch salt
¾ cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Mix together brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon in small bowl.
3. Cut challah into slices, brush with butter, sprinkle brown sugar mixture on top.
4. Bake for 10-15 minutes on baking sheet until just slightly firm.
5. Butter 9×13” baking pan and place challah in pan.
6. Beat eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in stand mixer until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes). Add vanilla.
7. Place milk in medium saucepan and scrape in the seeds of the vanilla bean. Bring to near boil, then add milk slowly to egg mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon so as not to cook the eggs.
8. Pour mixture back into medium saucepan and place over low heat. Stir with wooden spoon until slightly thickened.
9. Pour cream on top of bread and sprinkle with brown sugar.
10. Bake for 16-21 minutes at 350. Pull it out of the oven, slide out the rack, pour the heavy cream on top, and return it to the oven. Let cook for another 9 minutes or until golden brown.
11. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Serve.


Vanilla Plum Shortbread

October 20, 2013

Vanilla Plum Shortbread Bar

For the last few weeks, I’ve been taking a food photography course with Anne Fishbein of the LA Weekly. It’s been a great opportunity and yesterday, I set out to make this drool-worthy recipe for fig vanilla shortbread with a honey glaze. But, there was one issue: fig season had ended! Eeek!

So, onto plan, B. Plums! Their soft texture would be to bite into once baked, and their tartness would pair nicely against the vanilla-infused shortbread base. For the final recipe, I combined Vegetarian Ventures’ Fig Vanilla Shortbread with the recipe that had inspired her, Smitten Kitchen’s Peach Shortbread, incorporating the fresh vanilla bean and applesauce of the Vanilla and Fig Shortbread with the browned butter and unglazed bars of the Peach one. And, just for good measure, I threw in a smidge of ancho chile powder. Who doesn’t like a little spice?


Vanilla Plum Shortbread
(Serves 12)

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
180g flour
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch ancho chile powder
1 vanilla bean
1/8 tsp salt
1 stick butter, browned
3.5 Tbsp applesauce or 1/2 egg
2.5 plums, cut into 1/4″ slices

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Brown butter in medium saucepan, transfer to bowl, place in freezer for 30 minutes.
2. Mix together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt, vanilla bean, cinnamon with a whisk.
3. Use pastry blender to blend butter and applesauce (or egg) into flour.
4. Pat 2/3 of crumbs into bottom of pan
5. Tile plum slices over base in single layer and spread remaining crumbs on top.
6. Bake for 32 minutes until top is slightly brown and color is coming in around the edge.
7. Let cool completely in pan.


Hamantaschen with Prune Jam

February 22, 2013

Tomorrow is Purim, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from Haman’s murderous plot.  To celebrate the foiling of Haman’s plans by Mordecai, customs include drinking wine, wearing masks, reciting the Scroll of Esther, giving to the poor, and exchanging foods and drink. According to, “It is a mitzvah to drink, and drink to excess, on Purim…the concept of becoming intoxicated on Purim to the point that one’s reason is totally incapacitated is a legitimate Halachic position.”

The boyfriend and I were already heading to Solvang and Santa Barbara to go wine tasting, so talk about perfect timing!

And, while I’m not Jewish, he is, and so, in honor of Purim this year, I picked up some fun masks for us and made the traditional dessert that he loves: Hamantaschen (“Haman’s pockets”). It’s a triangular-shaped shortbread-esque (or non-dairy) cookie filled with poppy or fruit filling. I’m surprising him with them tomorrow on the drive up to wine country.

For the filling, I relied on this recipe from the New York Times. After all, the article claims it makes “perfect Hamantaschen!” The recipe makes an insane amount of filling! I think I now have 2 pounds of filling in the fridge. But, it was very easy to make. Prunes + lemon juice + sugar + water and you’re done. However, make sure to start this recipe the night before you bake them as both the dough and the filling need to sit for at least 8 hours.

Building the individual cookies was also simple and fun and I’ve included step-by-step directions in the recipe. But, to be honest, I think they look a little more like hats then pockets.

hamantaschen before baking

formed hamantaschen

baked hamantaschen

Hamantaschen with Prune Jam:
(Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies)

Prune Jam (from The NYT):
3 pounds pitted prunes, preferably tart
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar

1. Put prunes in large pot. Add lemon juice and sugar.
2. In a separate pot, boil water. Pour boiling water over the prunes.
3. Cook the prunes on medium heat for 20 minutes. Turn heat off, cover, and let them sit overnight in the pot on the stove.
4. The next morning, beat the prunes in a mixer on low until they form a smooth mixture, with no pieces of skin visible. The consistency should be a smooth enough purée that it can drop off a spoon.

Dough (from Tory Avey)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1″ cubes
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grated orange zest
2 1/4 cups flour, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
1-5 tsp water (if needed)

1. Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Cream until light and fluffy. Approximately 3 minutes.
2. Add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest. Beat until well combined.
3. Add the flour and salt. Mix on low speed until the dough is crumbly.
4. Knead dough until a smooth ball forms. If it starts to crumble, add 1 teaspoon of water at a time, mixing between additions, until is smooth. If the dough is too wet, add a little flour.
5. Form the dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and let chill in the refrigerator for 3-8 hours.

How to Assemble the Hamantaschen
1. Remove your filling from the fridge and preheat the oven to 350.
2. Unwrap the dough and place it on a flat, floured surface. Roll the dough until out until it is 1/4″ thick. Repair any cracks in the dough with your fingers.
3. Using a pastry scraper, gently lift up the dough, reflour the surface, and flip it over. Continue to roll the dough out until it is about 1/8″ thick (I prefer doughier cookies – if you prefer crispier ones, roll it to thinner than 1/8″)
4. Use a 3″ cookie cutter and cut out circle from the dough. Pick up the scraps, and roll them out until you run out of dough.
5. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center. Do not use more filling unless you want them to overflow (boo) in your oven. No one wants that. So, no overfill-y!
6. Select one cookie to begin with and cover the others with a damp towel to keep them from drying out.
7. Pick up the left side, fold it toward the center about 1/3 of the way. Pick up the right side and fold it toward the center. Lie it on top of the upper part of the left flap to create a point. Filling should still be visible.
8. Pick up the bottom and fold it towards the center. Tuck the left side under the left flap and let the right side lie on top of the right flap.
9. Pinch each corner gently to make sure the cookie won’t lose form as it bakes. Smooth over any cracks you see.
10. Repeat until you’ve finished all of the cookies.
11. Bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes on a parchment-lined baking sheet until just golden. Let cool on a wire rack and store in a airtight container.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie Cake

October 17, 2012

chocolate-peanut-butter-brownie-cake final cake

Tuesdays rule. That’s because every Tuesday, some editor friends and I meet up at a local bar to play trivia, drink beers, and stuff our faces with fish ‘n’ chips, chili, and patty melts. But, really, we’re there for the trivia. After a foiled attempt last season, we were determined to make it into the top 30 teams that would compete in this season’s tournament.

To encourage my teammates, I try and make a point of bringing treats to trivia nearly every week. During the course of the four-month season, I’ve brought cinnamon oatmeal cookies, Tell-Tale Heart Brownies, caramels, and much more.

But, one week, I was particularly inspired by Sprinkle Bakes’ peanut butter cup brownie cake, so I decided to make four mini versions for my teammates. They were quickly devoured.

chocolate-peanut-butter-brownie-cake batter

chocolate-peanut-butter-brownie-cake peanut butter filling

chocolate-peanut-butter-brownie-cake peanut butter cups

chocolate-peanut-butter-brownie-cake peanut butter layer

First, I made the brownie cake batter. Then, I made the peanut butter filling. (Doesn’t it look like snow?) And then I filled the layers with lots of peanut butter cups. I combined the filling with the peanut butter cups, which resulted in two layers of put-that-in-my-face-now-dough.

I built mini cakes for each of my teammates and the guys devoured them. Which led to the creation of a larger version…

chocolate-peanut-butter-brownie-cake larger cake



Secret Marmalade Was On Cupcake Wars!

June 20, 2012

Cupcake Wars Party Secret Marmalade Sweet Marmalade

Wow. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true! This past Sunday night, the “LA Marathon” episode aired starring 4 teams of bakers – including Secret Marmalade (even though the show accidentally named us Sweet Marmalade).

Doing the show was such an experience and I love the cupcakes that we made: Sweet Pea Cupcakes brushed with stout beer and topped with a whipped Goat Cheese frosting, Banana Cupcakes topped with a Peanut Butter Mousse frosting, Watermelon Cupcakes topped with a Lime Buttercream, and Chocolate Cupcakes topped with Coconut Buttercream.

In fact, Secret Marmalade’s Sweet Pea Cupcake is now one of my favorite cupcakes!

Did you watch the show Sunday night? Let us know what you thought of Secret Marmalade – or is it Sweet Marmalade?



Candied Lemon Peels

March 29, 2012

There’s nothing like a little inspiration. The past few weeks have been filled with it. On Sunday, I was gifted with four lemons so that I could “do something” with them. What that “something” was, was entirely up to me, so long as I gave at least some of that “something” to the one who shared their lemon crop with me.

I racked my brain. I Googled. I Tastespotted. I Martha Stewart-ed. The last time I made something from gifted lemons was when I baked (and whisked my heart out) a lemon sabayon with a pine nut crust for my next door neighbors. I didn’t want to bake another tart. I didn’t want to make cupcakes. For a few days, I seriously considered making vanilla bean-infused lemon marmalade, but canning is a process, and I’d rather take the time to make marmalade with fourteen lemons than four. And then I saw it. Of course. Candied lemon peels.

The gifter was going on a trip and they’d make a great on the road snack. Plus, creating them would give me the opportunity to try a new technique. I love candied ginger and such things, but I’d never made my own before. And, this would only use the lemon peels…allowing me to make sorbet or something else soft and creamy with the flesh of the lemons.

I followed the recipe from The Luna Café. It’s just one of their many mouth-watering recipes….

The four lemons

The first step: Separating the flesh from the skin. A very sharp, small knife is recommended. My knives need sharpening, but they did the job.

Next, remove as much pith as possible. Then, to reduce the bitterness, blanch the peels three times in simmering water.

And, finally, submerge them in sugar syrup.

After about an hour or so of boiling, they’re semi-translucent and ready to be removed from the sugar syrup and dried so they can be coated with sugar.


The result was the peels are still a little bitter (they are lemon peels after all), but the combination of sweet and bitter is such that it coaxes you to keep eating them. Mmm.