Chocolate Bread Pudding

(8 to 12 servings)

This updated classic is adapted from Christian Constant, arguably one of Paris's most creative chocolatiers. This is a very easy-to-make bread pudding that would be at home at any grand restaurant. It is studded with candied ginger and candied or dried fruit, rich with eggs and luxuriant with chocolate. (The dried fruit adds another level of flavor, but it by no means is necessary.) The bread pudding emerges from the oven proudly puffed, covered with a light sugar crackle and irresistibly seductive.

Adapted from "Paris Sweets: Great Desserts

From the City's Best Pastry Shops"

by Dorie Greenspan (Broadway Books, 2002)

Butter for the baking dish

8 ounces assorted candied fruit or dried fruit, such as cherries or apricots, coarsely chopped

3 knobs stem ginger packed in syrup,* drained and patted dry, or candied ginger, finely chopped (optional or may substitute 3 ounces candied or dried fruit)

9 ounces stale bread, preferably brioche, challah or other egg bread, torn into 2-inch pieces

3 cups whole milk

21/4 cups sugar, plus additional for the pan

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

5 large eggs, at room temperature

4 large egg yolks

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-by-2-inch glass or porcelain baking dish and dust with sugar, tapping out any excess sugar. Place the dish on a baking sheet; set aside.

If using dried fruit, plump it by dunking it into a pan of simmering water for 30 to 60 seconds. Drain and pat dry. (This guarantees that hard fruit, which won't soften when baked, won't spoil your great dessert.)

Place the fruit, ginger and bread in the baking dish and, using your hands, toss them together. Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the milk, sugar and the vanilla bean and seeds to a boil, stirring occasionally. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat; remove the vanilla bean and discard or reserve for another use.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the eggs and yolks just until blended, about 1 minute.

Whisking the eggs constantly, slowly add the hot milk mixture. Working quickly, switch to a rubber spatula, add the chocolate and stir gently until the chocolate is melted. Strain the chocolate custard over the bread and fruit mixture, discarding any solids.

Slide the baking sheet and pan into the oven and bake the pudding for 35 to 45 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the baking dish to a cooling rack and set aside just until warm or at room temperature. (May cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day; return to room temperature prior to serving.)

* Note: Stem ginger is whole knobs of ginger that have been candied and thoroughly saturated with sugar syrup. You can find jars of stem ginger in syrup in the specialty fruit or baking section of supermarkets. You also can find Chinese stem ginger in pottery crocks in Asian markets. If the ginger is not available, substitute candied ginger or plump dried fruit.

Per serving: 730 calories, 15 gm protein, 124 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 282 mg cholesterol, 11 gm saturated fat, 223 mg sodium, 6 gm dietary fiber

Chewy Butterscotch Cake

(12 servings)

This unusual but fabulous chewy butterscotch and pecan cake was adapted from the 1954 Pillsbury Bake-Off contest in which it won $7,500. The cooked brown sugar-butter combination gives the cake its rich butterscotch taste. This moist cake is wonderful all by itself, but it is splendid served with vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

From "Baking in America"

by Greg Patent (Houghton Mifflin, 2002)

2 cups (8 ounces) coarsely chopped or broken pecans

11/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus additional for the pan

1 teaspoon baking powder, preferably nonaluminum

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (preferably Medaglia d'Oro)

2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus additional for the pan

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch pan and dust with flour, tapping to remove any excess flour. Set aside.

Spread the pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, transfer to the oven and toast, stirring occasionally, until they are fragrant and just begin to color lightly, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate; set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bottom of a double boiler or a large saucepan, bring about 1/2 inch of water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.

Meanwhile, off the heat, in the top section of the double boiler or a heatproof bowl that can be placed over the saucepan, add the eggs, whisking them just to combine the yolks and the whites. Then add the espresso powder and whisk to combine. Whisking constantly, gradually whisk in the sugar and mix until completely smooth. Add the butter.

Place the top section of the double boiler (or the heatproof bowl) over the bottom of the double boiler (or saucepan) and, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula, return the water to a boil. Heat until the butter melts and the mixture feels hot to a fingertip, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat, immediately add the flour mixture and mix until smooth. Using the rubber spatula, stir in the vanilla and cooled nuts. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan, smoothing the top.

Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, until the cake springs back a little when gently pressed in the center. Do not overbake; if a slightly gooey center is desired, remove the pan at 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving: 366 calories, 5 gm protein, 51 gm carbohydrates, 17 gm fat, 76 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 118 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Green Beans Supreme

(8 servings)

Green beans baked in a creamy sauce are classic Americana and a perfect choice for a 9-by-13-inch pan. Many versions from the 1950s and '60s used condensed cream of mushroom soup for the sauce, but this recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (now celebrating its 72nd anniversary) dresses it up using a lemony sour cream sauce topped with layers of cheese and bread crumbs.

Adapted from "The New Better Homes and

Gardens Cookbook" (Meredith Publishing, 2002)

6 cups frozen, loose-pack cut green beans

1 tablespoon butter, plus additional for the baking dish

1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)

8 ounces sour cream

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon finely shredded or grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 cup shredded mild cheese (such as cheddar, mozzarella, Jack, etc.)

1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Place the frozen beans in a large saucepan and add about 1/2 inch of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter until the foam subsides. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, stir together the sour cream, flour, lemon zest and pepper. Add the drained, cooked beans and onions and toss to combine. Transfer the bean mixture to the prepared dish and sprinkle with the cheese.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and melted butter. Sprinkle over the cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until heated through and bubbling slightly around the edges. Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes prior to serving.

Per serving: 162 calories, 5 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 28 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 70 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Upper Crust Potatoes

(8 servings)

This elegant potato gratin, baked in a 9-by-13-inch dish, makes a perfect match for any grilled or roast meats. Pair this with a simple roast chicken and you have transformed an everyday meal into something spectacular.

From "The New Basics" by Julee Rosso

and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, 1989)

Vegetable oil for the baking dish

3 pounds Idaho potatoes (3 to 6 potatoes)

11/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 bay leaves

11/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup milk, preferably whole

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup dried bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Peel and very thinly slice the potatoes (about 1/16 inch). As you slice them, add them to a large bowl with 3/4 cup of the cream. Toss to combine. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and garlic, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes; do not brown. Add the bay leaves, rosemary, cream cheese, milk and remaining 3/4 cup cream and, whisking constantly to remove any lumps, bring to a simmer. Simmer, whisking constantly, until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Pour the mixture over the potatoes; toss gently to combine.

Transfer the potato mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle it evenly first with the cheese and then with the bread crumbs. Bake until the potatoes are tender and the top is golden brown and bubbly, 1 to 11/4 hours.

Per serving: 493 calories, 11 gm protein, 39 gm carbohydrates, 33 gm fat, 111 mg cholesterol, 21 gm saturated fat, 379 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber