Thursday, December 24, 2009

A sort of sneaky, wild card

Sometimes all anyone needs is a good contest.

That is, providing he or she is a sure-fire winner, or at least has some sort of sneaky, wild card to play at the last second. I’ve never been the type to value the experience of a loss, or learn from it, or whatever it is that they say. When it comes down to it, if there’s something to be won, it’s balls to the wall for me. Consequently, my competitive streak seems to debase my vocabulary into short phrases of mild cursing, too. Which is fine by me, because mild cursing has the tendency to intimidate an opponent into submission – and that means I win.

It just so happens that I’m as competitive as they come. I’m the girl that forces the Monopoly game to be put away early because she has gotten so angry she’s started yelling at children, trying to launder paper money, and has stormed out of the room not once, but twice, since her fourth trip past go. I also happen to be the girl who, even though I know better, is a complete and utter sucker for reverse psychology, because it sounds a little too much like a challenge, and, well, I must win. I must. Always.

Growing up, I was a total jock, if you can believe it. I was a sweat-pants wearing, soccer-playing athlete through and through; I’d walk the hallways and tuck up my sleeves in that quintessentially jock way, folding the shoulder seam in just so. (I also probably owe a hearty apology to all soccer officials that ever came within yelling distance of me during the fateful Jock Years. My deepest apologies; I’ve learned some manners since then.)

Now that I’ve taken a liking to a much more feminine discipline, my competitive streak still bares its mildly-cursing, sleeve-tucked teeth every once in a while. Luckily for me, I’ve found a wild card that makes winning that much easier. In the contest of thanksgiving desserts, pumpkin bread pudding will win, every time.

Crusty bread soaked in custard isn’t usually a hard sell, but this one, with its subtle pumpkin and warm spices, ends up tasting like a jazzed up version of cinnamon French toast. In that way, it’s almost nostalgic. It’s simple, and comforting, and it tastes familiar; this dessert feels like a passed-down heirloom from the first time you put it on the table. At this rate, though, it will be one, as long as there are contests to win, and thanksgivings to bake for.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Adapted from Gourmet

1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
5 cups cubed (1-inch) day-old baguette or crusty bread
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together cream, pumpkin, milk, sugar, eggs, yolk, salt, and spices in a bowl.

Toss bread cubes with butter in another bowl, then add pumpkin mixture and toss to coat. Put all of that into an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish and bake until custard is set, about 25 minutes. Easy, peasy. Go impress some guests.

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