a match made in heaven

When I dreamed up the perfect Valentine's day dessert for Matt and I a few years back, it of course had to have something creamy in it. I took one of my favorites, pumpkin and combined it with one of Matt's favorites, bourbon. Then I took one of his favorite desserts, bread pudding and made it brioche (lord knows I love me some buttery, rich egg bread). Throw on some bourbon salted caramel sauce and bourbon vanilla creme anglaise and you've got one crazy good dessert. It might sound like a bit of overkill to have two different bourbon sauces but I'm telling you, it works. One is subtle and the other is a bit more punchy - the two combined makes layers of bourbon goodness without feeling like you just took a shot. If making two sauces AND bread pudding scares you, don't worry. There's improv suggestions below on how to simplify the recipe. Seriously, just trust me, you need some of this in your life and it's a lot easier to make than it sounds. 

80% of the time I will pick chocolate over non-chocolate but this dish makes that 20% decision even harder. This dessert is comforting, creamy and filled with warm spices. Pumpkin and bourbon are the perfect valentines for each other. If you're not into super literal lovey-dovey heart shaped, red food for valentines day, I highly recommend you try this recipe for your boo. If chocolate pulls your heart strings, you can't go wrong with quick molten chocolate cakes or flourless chocolate cake. If you're without a valentine this year, that's cool too… who says you can't celebrate your love for yourself with a tasty dessert?! It just means more for you! Sharing is totally overrated. 
pumpkin brioche bread pudding
w/bourbon salted caramel sauce + bourbon vanilla bean creme anglaise 
yields 6 generous servings

for the bread pudding:
1 - 11oz brioche loaf (about 8 c. cubed)
2 c. half and half
2 c. whole milk
3 eggs
1 - 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1 tsp nutmeg
1 TBSP cinnamon
¾ c. packed brown sugar
pinch of salt
3 TBSP butter (to grease the pan)

recipes for the sauces:

Preheat your oven to 350º F. Cut your brioche into about 1 inch cubes and set aside. You can do this a day in advance so that your bread stales up. If you don't have that kind of time, just place them in the oven for about 5 minutes until they dry out but don't start to brown.

Combine the spices, eggs, cream, milk, salt, vanilla, and pumpkin puree in a large bowl.  Whisk to combine. Add the brioche cubes and stir to combine. Lightly grease a 7x11 or 3 quart pan and pour your mixture into the dish. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, 60 minutes if you have the time - until the mixture is absorbed by the bread. Bake at 350º F for about 60 minutes. The bread pudding will have puffed slightly and have a light, golden brown top. 

To serve, cut a large square and top with caramel and creme anglaise. 

improv style:
what goes better with pumpkin and bourbon than pecans?! don't know why i didn't think to add some nuts in before i started writing this out. definitely trying that next time! if you don't have whole milk, you can use whatever milk you have on hand. no half and half? use heavy cream instead. big into warm spices? add more cinnamon, all spice, star anise or even ground cloves. don't have brown sugar? you can use white sugar instead. you can also use your favorite type of bread… challah would be an equivalent substitute but you can use french, italian or even country loaf. i've never tried it with regular sandwich bread but i would be interested to know if you try that how it turns out! 

do you HAVE to make the two sauces? no, but i HIGHLY recommend. if two is asking too much, make the one that sounds the best to you. not down with either? maybe consider a little drizzle of maple syrup or a dollop of maple whipped cream? ice cream is always good in a pinch.


bourbon vanilla bean creme anglaise

It's a saucy week here on IMPROV kitchen. The other day I shared my absolute favorite bourbon vanilla bean salted caramel. It's a mouthful to say but man is it a killer sauce! This sauce is it's milder counterpart. It's a bourbon vanilla bean creme anglaise (vanilla sauce). On the creamy vs. non creamy team, I'm a die hard fan of creamy. 100% of the time I will pick a cream sauce, creamy dessert, creamy ANYTHING over another option. Since Matt loves bourbon, I try to incorporate it in places where it's not overpowering. I'm not the biggest fan of any type of whiskey but this sauce is a perfect balance of creamy, rich vanilla with a subtle kick of sharp bourbon. 

It's great used on lots of desserts which is why I decided to give it it's own post. I've put it on pecan pie, bread pudding, chocolate soufflés and in moments of weakness I've eaten it by the spoonful. This is a judge free zone!

bourbon vanilla bean crème anglaise
adapted from godiva

1 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
½ c. sugar
5 egg yolks
4 TBSP bourbon 
pinch of sea salt

In a medium saucepan, bring cream, milk and vanilla bean to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently. Cook for 5 - 6 minutes and then pull off the heat and set aside. 

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until they turn slightly pale yellow and the sugar starts to dissolve. Discard the vanilla pod and slowly add in a splash of the cream mixture into the yolks, stirring constantly. Slowly add more and more of the cream mixture into the egg mixture. You want to gradually increase the temperature of the eggs so that they cook without scrambling. 

Return the cream/egg mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. You'll know it's done when you slide your finger down the back of the spoon and the line holds. Pour in the bourbon and remove the mixture from the heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve. This will make sure if you didn't properly temper the eggs that you keep any scrambled bits out. Pour into a container and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. The sauce can be made 2 - 3 days in advance. 

When you're ready to serve it, you can heat it up on the stove or in a microwave. It's good cold too. Depending on the type of dessert you're making. 

improv style:
you can use whatever type of milk you have on hand. if the sauce is too thick for your taste, you can thin it out with a bit more cream. not a fan of bourbon? substitute for your favorite liquor. You can leave the booze out too. If you don't have vanilla beans, you can substitute for vanilla extract. you can easily switch up the flavor profile by adding in almond, raspberry, or even lemon extract.


bourbon caramel sauce

I LOVE this sauce. Over the years I've tried a few different versions and I keep coming back to this recipe, Martha really nailed it. The only thing I've done is add some salt - come on, who doesn't love salted caramel sauce?! Since I frequently make desserts & sometimes even brunch with caramel sauce, I thought doing a post of just the sauce would be much easier than typing the recipe over and over again. 

It's the perfect balance of sweet, creamy, boozy and deliciously caramelized sugar. When the caramel is warm, it flows like thick lava. Refrigerated, it's thick and chewy. Speckled with black vanilla beans it really catches your eye and feels like something special. This is heart warming food here. It's filled with tons of love. 

bourbon caramel sauce
slightly adapted from martha stewart

2 c. sugar
½ c. water
1 c. heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon bourbon
2 TSP sea salt (more to taste)

You can make this a day in advance or a week in advance. I wish I could somehow tweak this recipe to make it better but martha NAILED it. This sauce is good by itself and great on everything, mmmmmmm...

Start by combining the sugar and ½ cup water in a saucepan on medium heat. Without stirring (don't even think about giving it a little help, let it do it's thing). Let the sugar and water bubble until it turns a dark amber color. This will take about 20 minutes, no joke - just have patience.

When the mixture is a deep amber color, reduce the heat to low. Slowly add cream, stirring with a wooden spoon. Don't get scared if it turns into a hard ball. Give it a minute and keep stirring. It will slowly melt into a rich caramel. Next, scrape the vanilla seeds into the pan and add the bean too. Add lemon juice, salt, butter, and bourbon. Stir to combine. Your heavenly sauce is now ready to be devoured. You can let it cool and put it in a jar or tupperware container and into the fridge. To reheat, place in the microwave for about 2 minutes stirring every 30 seconds.

improv style:
this caramel is legit, but if you don't have vanilla beans on hand, you can substitute for vanilla extract (1 TBSP). vanilla beans are incredible and i highly recommend getting some to stock your kitchen with. you can buy them in bulk for way cheaper than the grocery store. i get mine here or here depending on how many i need.

not down with the hootch? that's ok… you can leave it out. booze fan but not a bourbon fan? rum would be a fantastic alt. you could even play around with some liquors like kaluah or frangelicos - but really, bourbon or rum will be your best bet. don't even mess with tequila or vodka - bleb!

only have salted butter? no problem, just use that - i do. no sea salt?! you gotta get on that! but it's cool… you can use whatever kind of salt you have on hand. also, if you're not down with salt, you can just leave it out. no big deal. 

the lemon is key to balancing out the flavor. your caramel won't be ruined if you leave it out, but it will be 100x's better if you put it in. the only MUSTS are cream, sugar, and butter. 

want a little thinner sauce? add a bit more heavy cream… same goes for thicker, less cream is needed. if your sugar starts to turn into a weird crystal powder, turn the heat up a little bit. it should melt down in a few minutes if you crank the heat up. i don't know why it does this sometimes. it's always a little scary but the good news is if you totally mess it up, you can start over and you've only wasted a little bit of sugar. 


salty + sweet

I work in advertising and as much as I'd like to say I'm the coolest girl ever who totally knows what's going on during the big game, I have to confess that I'm really just not that into it. Don't get me wrong, if my hometown is throwin it down in the Super Bowl, I get pretty into it. More out of a sense of pride for Seattle than a love of the game. So for me, this year, Super Bowl is all about the commercials and food. 

Looking for a quick, last minute snack for your Super Bowl Sunday spread? I've got the perfect idea for you. Full disclosure, this stuff is like CRACK! The combo of salty + sweet sings to all people. Dark chocolate coated potato chips - yes it may sound strange but it is 100% awesome. The salty, crunchy potato chip with the creamy, sweet dark chocolate make for an incredible bite. But it doesn't stop there. I've added in chocolate covered pretzels AND caramel corn. Yep, salty meets sweet meets salty meets crunchy sweet. It's totally craveable and has a little something for everyone. And hey, if you're not having a party, there no judging if you make a whole bowl for yourself. 

salty + sweet snack mix
yields 14 c. a.k.a 1 big ass bowl

2 c. chocolate chips
2 c. pretzels (sticks, rods, braids, twists, classic - whatever you feel like)
4 c. ridged potato chips
6 c. caramel corn

In a double boiler, place your chocolate chips and stir until it's almost all the way melted. Take off the heat and continue stirring until the lumps are fully melted. Line a few baking sheets with wax or parchment paper. Dip your chips half way into the chocolate and give them a good shimmy to drip off any excess chocolate. You want a thin coating. Continue until all of your chips are dipped. Continue with your pretzels. Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to fully set the chocolate.

In a large bowl, gently combine the pretzels, chips and caramel corn. Done - easy peasy!

improv style:
you don't have to make your own chocolate dipped pretzels, you can buy them from the store. if your'e feeling even lazier, you can leave the potato chips plain and just do chocolate pretzels, ruffled chips and caramel corn. 

i totally recommend making your own caramel corn. i experimented with a few recipes and haven't found my favorite yet. use your own or take the easy way out and buy some of your favorite. 

adding in some other fixins would be delish. some cashews or really any of your favorite nuts would be tasty. granola clusters would be an interesting thought if you're into that sort of thing. 

if your chocolate starts to get chalky, it probably means you singed your chocolate. you'll want to start over. if it's just a little on the thick side, you can try thinning it down with a touch of butter.