Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Louisiana IV - Bourbon? Vanilla? Butter? Yes, please!

As I mentioned earlier, the four recipes I interpreted for my Louisiana posts were the same four dishes I ate at the Gumbo Shop in New Orleans on a recent trip there. There were the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, the jambalaya, the étouffée and (for dessert) bread pudding with a rich and silky hard sauce.

Official Name: State of Louisiana (French: État de Louisiane; French Creole: Léta de la Lwizyàn - though Louisiana has no official language, French is important to the state's identity, and in 1812 Louisiana was the first state to join the Union whose majority did not speak English. For more on the linguistic history of Louisiana, see here)
State Nicknames: The Bayou State; The Pelican State; The Sugar State
Admission to the US: April 30, 1812 (#18)
Baton Rouge (2nd largest city)
Other Important Cities: New Orleans (largest); Shreveport (3rd largest): Metairie (4th largest)
South; Deep South; Gulf Coast; West South Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Gumbo; Cornbread & BBQ
Bordered by: Arkansas (north); Mississippi & the Mississippi River (east); the Gulf of Mexico (southeast and south); Texas (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: crawfish (crustacean); milk (drink); alligator (reptile)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: Cajun cuisine and dishes, especially gumbo, jambalaya, courtboullion (COO-bee-yon) and étouffée; pralines; crawfish, shrimp, crab, alligator, catfish; typical Southern foods in the northernmost part of the state.

As Terri Pischoff Wuerthner mentions in the preface to her Great-Aunt Irma's version of this classic dish, bread pudding grew out of practicality.

Bread pudding was originally developed to make use of stale bread, but evolved into something so creamy, crunchy, and decadent that it is now a much loved dessert. As kids, we turned up our noses at the thought of pudding made from old bread, until we tasted Great-Aunt Irma's version. The cardamom, vanilla, pecans, and Bourbon Vanilla Sauce make this a step or two above other bread puddings we have tasted. [Pischoff Wuerthner 2006: 248]
It is fattening and filling and sweet and tangy all at once, and I couldn't help but make the whole recipe.

Recipe: Bread Pudding with Bourbon Vanilla Sauce

For this bread pudding, you need a lot of ingredients, but the author suggests that it is relatively simple to make.

For the pudding half of the recipe, you need:

* unsalted butter, both for greasing the pan and for adding to the pudding itself
* pecan halves (pecan pieces were cheaper for me to find)
* eggs (had them)
* sugar (same)
* vanilla extract (just enough for this recipe)
* ground cinnamon and cardamom (had them too)
* whole milk
* one 8 ounce baguette, cut into cubes of about 3/4 inch (one French baguette will run about $2.50 these days; some recipes call for brioche instead)

For the sauce half of the recipe, you need:

* sugar
* cream (have about a pint on hand)
* ground cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg
* butter
* bourbon (this was an excellent opportunity to use some more of that Maker's Mark that I bought for the mint julep I made for Kentucky)
* cornstarch
* vanilla extract

The procedure is relatively simple, but has a lot of small steps:

First, grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.

Cube the bread, and spread half of them over the bottom of the pan.

Toast the pecans...

...and add them.

Next, whisk the liquid ingredients (including melted butter), sugar and spices.

Pour half of this mixture into the pan.

Add the rest of the bread, and top off with the rest of the liquid.

Cover with plastic wrap, lightly push on the plastic to soak all the bread cubes, and let it all sit for half an hour. Around this time, preheat your oven to 350°F. When ready, replace the plastic wrap with aluminum foil, and slip into the oven.

Now it's time to make the sauce. Gently boil together the ingredients for the sauce, except for the bourbon, cornstarch and vanilla.

These last three ingredients you will mix together in a separate bowl.

Once the butter melts, add the bourbon, cornstarch and vanilla mixture, and constantly stir while gently boiling for five minutes.

Back to the pudding: take it out of the oven, remove the aluminum foil, press the cubes down a little with a metal spatula (again to soak them some more), recover and bake for 15 more minutes.

Take it out and pour about 1/2 cup of the sauce over the pudding, and return to the oven one last time, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Let it cool a bit, and serve with some of the warm sauce. It all tastes best warm.

What to say about this amazing bread pudding? This version was, unarguably, much better than the one I got at the restaurant in New Orleans, which ended up being quite soggy in comparison. This bread pudding was firm, toothsome, sweet and tangy all at once. As Pischoff Wuerthner notes, the cardamom, vanilla, pecans and bourbon sauce make it better than so many others, and it shows. Needless to say, I am slowly working through it, both to keep from snarfing it all down at once and because it is so rich that I just cannot eat so much of it so fast. It is a delicious recipe.

We are done with Cajun country. Next we head back in the direction of the Acadian homeland, left so long ago, stopping just short of Nova Scotia and the Canadian border. I'm trading the Deep South for the Down East. It's time to remember the Maine! Er, the state of Maine.

Sources: "How to boil crawfish". Copyright 2005

Edge, John T. A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South. An Ellen Rolfes Book. For the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1999.

Fitzsimmons, Tom. "What's the difference between Cajun and Creole Cooking?" Published 2003 on the "Taste Tent" section of the Tabasco Sauce website. Copyright 2011 McIlhenny Company, all rights reserved.

Junior League of Baton Rouge, Inc. River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine [Volume I]. The Junior League of Baton Rouge, Inc: Baton Rouge, 1959. 72nd printing, April 2000.

Pischoff Wuerthner, Terri. In a Cajun Kitchen: Authentic Cajun Recipes and Stories from a Family Farm on the Bayou. St. Martin's Press: New York, 2006.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Louisiana" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Louisiana".