IMBB #25: DC Duby's Pan-fried bread pudding with orange-braised endive and chicory ice cream
Ever prepare a dish that was good but left you wondering if it was good enough? The issue I'm raising speaks to the relationship between the quality of a dish versus the amount of effort needed to create it. Consider, for example, the classic Italian spaghetti aglio e oglio: noodles dressed with good olive oil, some finely chopped garlic, dried chilli flakes to taste, and then topped with a generous grating of parmigiano or pecorino. This is by no means my favourite pasta, but it is easy and delicious, and can be prepared in minutes. For the minimal effort involved, the payback is huge.
Now take our contribution to the stale bread edition of Is My Blog Burning? hosted by An Obsession with Food, DC Duby's pan-fried bread pudding with orange-braised chicon (endive) and chicory ice cream. Quite a mouthful to say, isn't it? It should be, because making this dish requires no fewer than six distinct preparations, including fruit stock, bread pudding, braised endive, chicory ice cream, and two different caramels. That's a lot of work for a home cook -- work measured in days and hours rather than minutes.
I don't want to be misunderstood. This dish is excellent. The bread pudding, made from stale bread, good dark chocolate, and apple is good, if a little unremarkable. As odd as it seems, the orange-braised endive works spectacularly in this dish, contrasting pleasantly with the burnt sweetness of the caramel. The chicory ice cream's roasted coffee flavour is superb and we will most certainly revisit it. Fruit stock is a punchy mixture of sugar, citrus, apples, pears, carrots and aromatics. Though I only needed two tablespoons out of the two litres produced by the recipe, I can think of wonderful uses for what's left (do I hear dessert risotto?).
Still, I'm left with the nagging question: Was it worth it? We've discussed this question extensively. The answer we've arrived at is, sadly, no. And it's not because we didn't enjoy the dish, it's because the payoff didn't warrant the effort we put into it. The Dubys have been hailed as Canada's leading practitioners of molecular gastronomy and their cookbook Wild Sweets, which contains this recipe, is remarkable not only for the creativity of its preparations but also for the pairing of its dishes with appropriate wines.
There are some frustrating elements to the recipes. For example, this dessert requires eight sugar cubes, a unit of measurement we've never seen anywhere else. Even more vaguely, they call for "an apple, diced" in the bread pudding. No indication is given as to how much apple or what kind of an apple should be used -- and as we've had the misfortune to experience, there's a world of difference between a Spy and a McIntosh when it comes to baking.
Plus, some of the techniques given seem not only vague, but backwards. This dish calls for two different kinds of caramel: one to make the sugar lattices used for garnish, and one for the sauce. The recipe directs the cook to heat sugar, corn syrup, and water until "caramel in colour." Precision is all-important when it comes to cooking sugar, so we were surprised not to see a specific temperature. Then the cook is to pour the hot sugar into a mixture of cream, butter, and maple syrup. Guess what happens when the hot ingredients hit the cooler ones? The sugar hardens almost immediately, without incorporating into the cream. We had to put the whole thing back on the stove, heating and beating the components into uniting. The resulting sauce was absolutely delicious, but all the anxiety could have been avoided by beating the cream mixture directly into the hot sugar syrup.
The Dubys definitely inspire with their unorthodox flavour combinations. We know that other cooks, such as Clement from A la Cuisine and Keiko of Nordljus, have had good experiences working from Wild Sweets' recipes. We still have questions about the science behind some of the preparations: for example, if anyone knows why pectin is used in the chicory-infused ice cream, we welcome your insights! But in general, the complexity of the dishes means that we'll likely only use these recipes when we have a lot of time and are cooking for a special occasion. And IMBB #25 certainly counts!