Mini Blueberry Bread Puddings with Lemon Curd

IMG_3784As I type this entry, we’re preparing for our long-awaited summer getaway to Northwest Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. Actually, to be precise, I’m cooking a quick dinner so that we can be ready to prepare. Okay… so I multi-task, sometimes. I admit it. For my own sanity, I try not to make a habit of it!

I’ve mentioned, in past entries, how the entire western coast of Michigan is a practical Eden comprised of orchards, vineyards, farms, quaint towns, and even fine dining. Naturally, it’s also where we go annually to u-pick blueberries, sour cherries, blackberries, and peaches (our summers are just full of canning and other fruity fun).

As it happens, we’re planning to stop off in Fennville, MI, on our way home from vacation to pick our year’s worth of blueberries. There’s absolutely nothing like the taste of fresh blueberries straight from the bushes or the Farmer’s Market. If you buy them “fresh” in your supermarket, you’re likely to wind up with berries that were picked before they were ripened. This is done so that the berries will be rock hard and grainy enough to survive a journey of hundreds or thousands of miles. Knowing this, we definitely pick enough to eat fresh, make jam, and freeze.

In anticipation of this year’s grand blueberry season kick-off, I wanted to share with you one of our favorite miniature desserts — a recipe you can make at the beginning of the week and savor slowly for as long as your leftovers allow!

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Let’s Talk Ingredients

Honey — I’d recommend a light-colored, wildflower or clover honey. Something from your local beekeeper would be spectacular. Wildflower honey’s mild yet floral taste really brings out the natural sweetness of fruit without making a cloyingly sweet dessert. If you’re looking for a unique taste of Michigan, I suggest this honey.

Lemon Zest — I IMG_3789made a mistake with lemon zest, once, and I immediately learned my lesson! When grating lemon zest, grate only the yellow, oily part. This is where all of the bright, tart flavor is. If you start grating at the rind (the whitish, pithy inner part), instead of tartness you get an unmistakable bitterness that’s impossible to cover up. A word to the wise: since you’ll be eating the outside of the lemon as well as the juice from the inside, you owe it to yourself to buy organic lemons if you can find them.

Italian Bread — I recommend using a bread with a softer crust than ordinary French bread. In some supermarkets, this is called Italian bread, in others it may also called French bread. You’ll most likely find it near the bakery section where all of the other fresh-baked breads are sold. Definitely avoid sourdough since its IMG_3786taste won’t quite mix well with these ingredients. If all else fails, a brioche or challah loaf will do just fine (though the nutrition facts will be different).

Cardamom — Depending on how much International cuisine you cook up in your house, cardamom may already be in your spice rack. It’s a spice made from the ground seeds of a flowering plant in the ginger family. Equally at home in both savory and sweet recipes, it’s a very aromatic spice with a taste that’s somewhere between ginger and cinnamon. While this recipe calls for a very small amount, cardamom is a very strong taste. We love how the taste accentuates the flavor of blueberries in particular, bringing out the complexity of the flavors. But, you could eliminate it from the recipe or substitute 1/8 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger.

Blueberries — The best blueberries are the ones that are picked locally, at the peak of ripeness. As with strawberries, there are many different varieties of blueberries and their specific variety tends to 5574_1195480209862_1314166690_533411_5082031_ndetermine their size, unique taste, and also when they ripen during the season. In my opinion, picking blueberries is an almost meditative activity — a joy of summer that’s not to be missed (go here to find a u-pick farm near you). But, if picking them yourself isn’t possible or isn’t for you, only buy fresh blueberries when they’re in season in your area. If not in season, you’re better off buying quality frozen berries. Both frozen and fresh work equally well in this recipe.

Method to the Madness

The original recipe asks you to place eight 6-ounce ramekins in a 13×9 baking dish. I’ve made this recipe several times. Each time, I put on my thinking cap and really try to make that happen. To this day, I’m still only able to fit seven in the dish without one of them popping up and out of the water in the bottom. Maybe there’s something wrong with my baking pan?? A quick fix, I found, was to use two, 8-inch square baking pans. Another option: instead of using ramekins, you can make the bread pudding in a single baking dish (in an 8-inch pan or larger). If you choose to make a single, large bread pudding, I still recommend placing the pan in a separate pan of hot water.

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Why do you put water in the bottom of the pan? This helps the custard to cook slowly and evenly — especially important since most ovens have hot spots that might cause serious problems for such a temperature-sensitive dish. The water acts as an insulator that gradually introduces the heat to the custard. Be careful when moving the pans around — the water can splash out and cause serious burns.

Why do you have to cover each individual ramekin with foil? If you were to cover the baking dish with foil instead of each individual ramekin, the puddings would be filled with steam, become watery, and never set up properly. How sad! Trust me, it’s worth the extra effort to wrap them individually! I recommend using tongs or two forks to remove the foil from the half-baked puddings — watch out for the hot steam!

What is Lemon Curd?

I’ve always felt that such a beautiful, delicious thing deserves a much more flattering name. Even just the sound of the word leaves you wondering whether it’s a dessert or an insult. For one thing, nothing particularly nice rhymes with curd. Sadly, this immediately eliminates the possibility of ever bursting into song to sing its praises.

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In spite of its name, it’s actually quite a treat. A curd can be made from almost any fruit, but citrus fruits make up the most common ones. Recipes vary in their richness, but they’re always a custard-like spread thickened with eggs and enriched with butter. In other words, forget what it’s called! You’ll love it! It’s like spreadable lemon icebox pie.

Aside from being exceptionally tasty on just about anything with ample surface area, preparing curd is simple as long as you stir it constantly while cooking it and you don’t allow it to get too hot too fast. Once the mixture coats the back of a spoon, it’s time to remove it from the heat. It will thicken even more as it cools (and it changes color to a bright, sunny yellow). Always serve lemon curd chilled so that the fullness of the taste can be enjoyed.

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Mini Blueberry Bread Puddings

with Lemon Curd

Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 8

    Bread Puddings:
    1 1/4 cups 1% lowfat milk
    1/3 cup honey
    2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
    3 large eggs, lightly beaten
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
    4 1/2 cups 1/2-inch cubed Italian bread (about 1/2 lb)

    Lemon Curd
    1/4 cup honey
    1 large egg, lightly beaten
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter

    To prepare puddings, in a large bowl, combine the milk, 1/3 cup honey, lemon zest, eggs, vanilla, and cardamom; stirring well with a whisk. Add bread, tossing gently to coat. Cover and chill 30 minutes; stirring halfway through chilling time.

    Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Coat eight 6-ounce ramekins with cooking spray. Start a kettle of water to boiling.

    Divide half of bread mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins; sprinkle evenly with 3/4 cup blueberries, pressing lightly. Divide remaining bread mixture among ramekins; top with remaining 3/4 cup blueberries.

    Cover each ramekin with foil. Place ramekins in two 8-inch square baking pans (or one 13×9-inch pan; see note above); add boiling water to pan to a depth of 1/2-inch. Bake, covered, at 350-degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover ramekins and bake an additional 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

    Meanwhile, to prepare the lemon curd, combine 1/4 cup honey and 1 egg in a small saucepan; whisking until combined. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes until mixture is light in color, stirring constantly. Stir in lemon juice and butter; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Spoon curd into a small bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. If necessary, place nestle the small bowl in a large bowl filled with ice to chill the curd quickly.

    To serve, spoon the chilled lemon curd over warm bread puddings.

The presentation of this dessert is just as pleasing as its light, summery taste — a wee bread pudding for everyone! If you’re like me, sometimes portion control with desserts can be a battle of wills. Using ramekins is like giving yourself a little dessert halo to hang over your countenance without suffering guilt or remorse. IMG_3796You can have your dessert and eat it too!

If you happen to have a little leftover lemon curd, you’ll find that it’s a delightful breakfast pick-me-up when spread over lightly buttered toast, an English muffin, or a plain scone. In fact, you might find it’s worth whipping up another batch of lemon curd just to have it around! It will keep for about 2-3 weeks in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Since this recipe can be made with fresh or frozen blueberries, it’s a simple dessert you can enjoy almost any time of year — a refreshing treat for a summer dinner; or a warm and sunny reminder of summer in the depths of winter.

(The two beautiful blueberry pictures in this entry were taken at Earl’s Berry Farm in Fennville, MI, by my older brother, Benji, on a picking excursion in 2009.)

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~ by Jason on July 12, 2011.

4 Responses to “Mini Blueberry Bread Puddings with Lemon Curd”

  1. Jason, it looks so yummy! However, it seems way too time consuming, you sure have a culinary talent that is lost on me. I am not nearly as talented, nor do I aspire to be, cooking just isn’t my thing. While I enjoy having someone else be talented in that area, I cannot ever see myself being able to cook the way you do. You really missed your calling, I think you should have went to culinary school, you have such a flair for it. At the very least, you could be a food critic, and write reviews for the paper, you are good at that too.
    Guess I will have to wait until I’m up in Chicago again to taste today’s yummy dessert. I know I would never be able to make this. From the ingredients I’ve never used, to the spices I’ve never even heard of, it’s beyond me, but like I said, it sounds yummy, I love bread pudding, and it’s usually drowned in condensed milk, and yours seems much better than that, and healthier!

    • Well, maybe the next time James and I are in town, we’ll take over your kitchen and I’ll show you just how easy this is! 🙂

      Thanks for your compliments on my cooking. Rather than taking pride in my cooking, though, I tend to think of it more as a survival technique: I cook, therefore I eat! I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable enough to work in a restaurant or anything like that. At least when you’re a home cook, you’re often cooking for the people you love and the people who love you. While their criticism is potentially far worse than a stranger’s, their gratitude often comes from a deeper place.

  2. Can’t ever make this as we don’t get blueberries here, but a lovely post and I loved what you said about nothing nice rhyming with curd (haha!), the description of cardamom (though I don’t quite agree about it being similar to ginger OR cinnamon!) and most of all, that you think of cooking as a survival technique 😀 that’s so true with me too!!
    ‘ While their criticism is potentially far worse than a stranger’s, their gratitude often comes from a deeper place.’
    Lovely 🙂

    • Thanks. 🙂

      So, now I’m curious: how would you describe the taste of cardamom? I searched my brain and the internet alike and couldn’t really come up with anything quite descriptive enough… so I just went with my most basic and least intimidating answer.

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