We've read a lot of cookbook Introductions over the years, but Christine Moore's Intro to Little Flower: Recipes From the Café, her first cookbook, gave us pause. Most begin with the joyous side of the author's kitchen endeavors, with promises of the flavorful journey that you, too, will herein begin. To be expected, as Introductions are sales pitches of sorts: Personal reflections to tempt you to buy the book. That today so many cookbook authors seem more concerned about their always-sunny social media reputations rather than perfecting that pear and quince crumble (p. 129) has only made many all the more sugar-coated.
Not Moore, who by the second paragraph is delving into frank discussions of her deep-rooted personal struggles, from family to finances, happening at the very moment she was handed the keys to her new café and retail shop on Colorado Boulevard, Little Flower Candy Company Café. It's a compelling reminder of the kind of drive, and sheer good luck, it takes to turn a great sea salt caramel idea into a successful food business. The book?
If anyone can convince us to make pumpkin bread pudding with salted caramel sauce (p. 133) in 90-degree-plus weather, it is the woman behind Pasadena's infamous sea salt caramels. Get more, and the recipe, after the jump.
Let's get this out of the way first and foremost: The recipe for Moore's stellar caramels is not here. Yes, we were hoping for it, too. No matter, as there are plenty of dessert recipes, several calling for her caramels or similar ones, in this compact but recipe-filled little guidebook to the cafe's recipes.
Inside, you'll find Moore's savory café favorites, starting with dough essentials (a speedier version of puff pastry dough, her páte brisée for pies and quiches) and ending with “Larder Basics” — how to make aioli, dried apricot and onion chutney, “melted” leeks (leeks slowly braised in olive oil), and roasted vegetable basics. The latter are all tightly edited in paragraph form rather than in standard recipe format. The paragraphs make quick visual work of that tomato confit, a reminder that sometimes less is more in recipes that will be referenced throughout the book. Too many detailed step-by-steps can make the simplest baked tofu seem like a mountainous Wednesday night endeavor.
For breakfast, there are oatcakes and lemon-ginger scones, savory biscuits (mushroom, bacon-cheddar-chive), egg terrines and zucchini-goat cheese tarts. For lunch, think broccolini-burrata sandwiches, fresh pea and pancetta salad, and soups like roasted cauliflower-leek, vegan white-bean kale and a “green” soup (spinach, arugula, peas). One recipe note: The lemon-thyme salad dressing and the sherry and red wine vinaigrettes all yield 4 cups, a 32+ serving typo (we checked with the publisher, Prospect Park Books in Pasadena). But salad dressings are the ideal place for a restaurant quantity conversion mistake, as you can easily reduce the amount. Or actually, make the entire batch and invite two dozen friends over for Moore's curried chicken salad. We hardly think anyone will mind.
If you're like us, you really came for the pastry chef's desserts. There are a well-edited dozen or so here, including a blood orange tart, chocolate-sesame seed bouchons and several cookies: ginger-molasses, Moore's version of chocolate chip, brown butter shortbread. And we'll go ahead and put in a birthday request for Moore's layer cake filled with apricot preserves and brown butter (!) buttercream.
The most intriguing desserts are the handful that call for Moore's sea salt caramels, as aren't they the not-so-secret reason we all go to the café for lunch? To be perfectly honest, we were also slightly horrified at the idea of using them in recipes. They are so good on their own, why mess with them? Nor is a 1-pound bag exactly inexpensive ($28). The solution: Moore suggests substituting “other good-quality caramels” if you don't have the budget or the Pasadena drive time to coat those crab apples in a pound of her melted caramels (“mini caramel apples”). But dear God, please invite us over if you ever do make them.
We were also curious whether the recipes would be any good with lesser-quality caramels, as “good-quality” is a relative term. It was the perfect excuse to go right ahead and use Trader Joe's fleur de sel caramels, all of $2.99 for 10 ounces (the recipe calls for 4 ounces) to make the pumpkin bread pudding recipe below. Moore's pudding is built from leftover crusty bread with canned pumpkin and spices whisked into the custard. She then melts the caramels with a touch of cream to make a sauce to spoon over the bread pudding after it bakes.
The result? Let's just say we will definitely be making it again on a certain Thursday in November.
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Salty Caramel Sauce
From: Christine Moore, Little Flower cookbook.
Makes: 10-12 servings
Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus 15 minutes soaking time
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Per Moore: “My great friend Deb lives for this bread pudding. I can't think of a better use for all that leftover bread — and it's a lovely alternative to traditional holiday pies.”
8 cups day-old crusty bread, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
⅛ teaspoon cloves
¼ pound (about 1 cup) Little Flower or other high-quality sea salt caramels
1. Preheat oven to 350. Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until bread starts to color, about 15 minutes. Generously grease a 9- x13-inch casserole with butter or cooking spray. Arrange toasted bread cubes in a single layer in the prepared casserole. Whisk together the pumpkin, 2 cups cream, milk, sugar, eggs, egg yolks, salt, and spices in a large mixing bowl. Strain the custard through a sieve before pouring into prepared casserole. Let soak for 15 minutes. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the cover and return to the oven to bake until custard is set, about 25 more minutes.
2. When the pudding is almost finished baking, melt the caramel with the remaining 1/2 cup of cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat when caramel has completely melted. Pour caramel sauce over the pudding immediately after it comes out of the oven.
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