The most popular question I’m asked is “where do you get your recipe ideas?” And if there was an easy answer I suppose everyone would be doing it, but the reality is there is nothing methodical or logical about recipe development; even when you do it for a living. I think everyone who is comfortable in the kitchen has done it from time to time.
I grew up in the kitchen so I knew food very well from a young age. As I grew older I simply cooked the best meals I could for my family and that meant a lot of compromising, adapting and inventing. I remember a lot of great meals, but don’t remember a perfect meal, a perfect recipe nor perfect ingredients.
The art of recipe development can start at the farmers’ market when you see the first asparagus of the season, a rainbow of carrots or a succulent rib roast. It continues to a well-stocked pantry for some maple syrup, a few cloves of garlic or a jar of horseradish – perhaps to the refrigerator for a bottle of ale, a splash of cream or some chunks of cheese.
Perhaps you’ll remember a food show with a recipe that looked so good, you vowed you’d make it, an irresistible recipe you tore out of a magazine at the dentist’s office or a seductive food photograph you ear-marked in one of your favourite cookbooks.
You can tell when it’s starting to come together when you have a pile of irresistible food finds on the counter next to a pile of ideas. This is how it all starts to come together.
I remember a time I was into baking brioche when the good folks at Kittling Ridge Winery & Distillery generously shared some of their Forty Creek Whisky with me. I thought it would go great with the flavour of taffy and nuts so I made some praline – oh yum! But then it wasn’t long before I tore up the brioche, lined small baking dishes with it, soaked it in custard, maple syrup and whisky and baked it into one of my all-time favourite bread puddings. To serve it, I garnished the whisky potted maple brioche with chunks of praline. There was no master plan other than letting an exciting ingredient take you along on a journey.
Creating recipes is more of an evolution that doesn’t necessarily begin with a thought, but more with the siting of some great food. Most of the time I don’t know what I’m going to make until I’m tempted.
Whisky Potted Maple Brioche
This recipe along with 98 others are in the cookbook, Niagara Cooks, from farm to table. Enjoy.
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup (250 mL) sugar
2 tablespoons (30 mL) water
1/2 cup (125 mL) pecans, toasted and chopped (or whole)
Maple Whisky Sauce
1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
2 tablespoons (30 mL) water
1/2 cup (125 mL) Niagara maple syrup
4 tablespoons (60 mL) Kittling Ridge Forty Creek Whisky
1/2 cup (125 mL) toasted pecans, chopped
4 large eggs
2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream
1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) maple whisky sauce
1 teaspoon (5 mL) pure vanilla extract
1 loaf brioche, torn into bite-size pieces
The praline needs to be made first and I recommend you make it a day or two in advance so you’re not overwhelmed with too many tasks at once. So begin by spraying a sheet of waxed paper with nonstick spray. Put it aside while you add sugar and water into a heavy, small saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and watch it until the sugar dissolves. Now raise the heat a bit and boil without stirring until mixture turns deep amber colour. Occasionally you can swirl the pan and brush down sides with wet pastry brush, but don’t stir. Let it bubble for about 5 minutes then stir in the nuts. Quickly spread the hot praline on the prepared waxed paper and leave it alone to cool. Then you can chop the praline into pieces, put it in an airtight container and store it at room temperature for up to a month.
I have come to double the maple whisky sauce because the flavour is more intense and I have plenty left over to pour over the finished bread pudding. To make maple whisky sauce put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add the maple syrup wait until it comes back to a boil. Stir in the whisky and toasted pecans, then remove it from heat, set it aside and allow the sauce to cool.
In the meantime, you can get started on the bread pudding. Whisk the eggs, cream, sugar and vanilla in large bowl until it’s frothy and yellowy. Add about 2/3rds of the cooled maple whisky sauce (only if you doubled the recipe, if not, add it all) and whisk until it’s all nicely incorporated. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish or 8 ramekins. Fill it with brioche and pour the eggs mixture overtop. Let this stand at room temperature for an hour or so, stirring occasionally to make sure all of the brioche has an opportunity to soak up the flavours.
When you’re ready to bake it, put it in a preheated 375°F (190C) oven. Bake it until it is golden and toothpick inserted into centre comes out clean. This should take about 40 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool slightly. To serve your magnificent maple potted whisky brioche pudding, garnish it with chunks of praline and drizzle it with the leftover maple whisky sauce. Since I love to share my favourite recipes with lots of people, this recipe will generously serves 8 of your closest friends.