Usually, when people find out I’m a pastry chef, they always ask about my favorite cake or dessert. And while I love sweets – after all, sugar is an entire food group in my life – baking extends to more than dessert, and way beyond the scope of pizza, though that’s clearly a favorite.
Nearly any category of baking you can imagine will have its savory side. Yeast breads are the most obvious, of course, and their fragrance alone connects us to ancient civilizations and the yearning for the warm comfort of bread. Whether it’s a flatbread like pita, tortillas or focaccia; or a sourdough loaf leavened by wild yeast; or a classic crusty baguette, fresh bread speaks of home and hearth.
Don’t toss the leftovers, because while fresh bread is a joy, day-old bread is often an ingredient for another savory delight. For instance, it can be cubed and toasted for croutons in salad, or crisped and topped with olive paste, last-of-the-season ripe tomatoes, or smoked salmon for hors d’oeuvres. During chilly weather I crave a classic, deeply flavored French onion soup, topped with slices of toasted baguette covered with bubbling, melted Gruyere cheese.
Dried bread can also be the basis of a soft and satisfying bread pudding. After all, who says bread pudding has to be sweet? Think of your favorite stuffing with a little extra oomph, and you'll realize a savory bread pudding can be a wonderful addition to the dinner table. Need more proof? Try the Butternut Squash, Mushroom and Onion Bread Pudding recipe featured below. Once you have the proportions of bread to custard, you can substitute your favorite vegetables and herbs to customize the bread pudding to your tastes and the offerings at the market.
Quick breads (those made with baking powder or soda instead of yeast), are another savory option. Cheese and herb muffins, cornbread, and flakey biscuits are favorites, to name just a few. These easy-to-make baked goods are welcome accompaniments to the heartier foods of fall. They can even be made in mini versions for bite-sized appetizers or snacks by baking the batter in mini muffin tins, shell-shaped Madeleine molds, even corn stick molds, which look like small ears of corn.
Other nibbling favorites include filo triangles stuffed with feta and spinach (or nearly anything), as well as gougéres, round puffs of pâte à choux dough (the same used for éclairs or cream puffs) made ever-so-delicious by adding cheese, mustard and cracked black pepper to the mixture. Even cheesecake can be turned savory by eliminating the sugar and adding cheese (I love blue cheese here) and chopped, cooked vegetables and herbs. Keep in mind that you’ll need to cook the vegetables before adding them to the dough, batter or filling for any savory baked good. Otherwise, most won’t have time to soften sufficiently during baking.
More Savory Baking Ideas and recipes follow after the jump.
Need more ideas? Puff pastry filled with sautéed, garlic-scented mushrooms, quiche of all kinds (or shall I call them savory tarts?), ham and cheese croissants – most savory baked goods come with a buttery crust of some sort, which provides a crisp contrast to the soft filling within. Others can stand on their own, even as the main course, such as soufflés. These dramatic, airy puffs are one of the easiest of baked goods, and are quite versatile. Once you’ve made a simple white sauce (also called béchamel), you can add the flavors and textures of your choice, then fold in whipped egg whites. As long as you don’t beat the whites too long – they should look smooth and satiny, rather than clumpy – your soufflé will rise beautifully to a tall, golden brown finish. While fresh corn is still available, try the Corn Soufflé with Roasted Bell Pepper Sauce below. It’s an especially tasty way to highlight the farm fresh flavor of sweet corn.
CORN SOUFFLE WITH RED PEPPER SAUCE
Serves 6 to 7
Gorgeous, golden, and bursting with two kinds of corn-both fresh kernels and cornmeal – this soufflé makes a great main course for a light summer dinner. The smoked paprika adds an intriguing undercurrent of flavor, but if you don’t have it on hand, simple leave it out or substitute a pinch of cayenne. You can make this soufflé during the winter and spring with frozen corn kernels, but don’t use dried basil; it tastes dusty and tired compared to the vibrant flavor of fresh basil. If fresh is unavailable, omit it.Equipment: Medium-Mesh Strainer, Blender, Large Bowl, Whisk, Medium Saucepan, Stand Mixer Fitted with a Whisk Attachment or a Hand Mixer and a Medium Bowl, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, 7 ½ - cup Soufflé Dish, Baking Sheet, Small Saucepan
Red Pepper Sauce
- Make The Sauce: In the strainer, rinse the roasted pepper well under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Transfer to the bowl of the blender and add the water, olive oil, and salt. Blend until smooth, 20 to 30 seconds. Set aside.
- Make the Béchamel: In the large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, and paprika. Melt the butter in the medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add the flour mixture, and whisk well to remove any lumps. Return to the heat and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat again and add the milk slowly, whisking constantly to remove any lumps. Return to the heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the corn kernels and continue to cook for 3 to 4 minutes, whisking until the sauce has thickened and the corn is cooked through. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan, basil, and salt. Whisk in the egg yolks and transfer to the large bowl. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400F and position an oven rack in the bottom third. Generously butter the soufflé dish (including the rim), coat it with finely grated Parmesan, and top out the excess.
- Whip The Egg Whites: In the very clean bowl of the stand mixer, whip the 6 egg whites and the cream of tartar on medium speed until they form firm peaks. You may also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl. Be careful not to overheat. With the spatula, gently stir one-fourth of the egg whites into the béchamel to lighten the mixture. Fold in the remaining whites just until there are no more streaks of whites.
- Fill The Dish And Bake: Transfer the batter to the prepared baking dish and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375F and bake for 18 to 22 minutes longer, until set and firm to the touch. While the soufflé is baking, transfer the red pepper sauce to the small saucepan and heat though. Serve the soufflé immediately, accompanied by the sauce.
Individual Corn Soufflés: Prepare 7 (8-ounce) individual soufflé dishes with butter and Parmesan as described above. Place the dishes on a baking sheet and evenly divide the soufflé batter among them. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375F and bake for 7 to 10 minutes longer, until firm to the touch.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH, MUSHROOM, AND ONION BREAD PUDDING
Serves 6 to 8
This version is right at home with fall and winter menus, though you could certainly substitute other vegetables for the butternut squash and serve this all year long. Just be sure to cook the vegetables, as they won't have time to soften during the baking time.
Equipment: One 9 by 9 by 2-inch ceramic baking dish or cake pan, lightly buttered or sprayed, Serrated knife, Baking sheet with ½-inch sides, Chef's knife, Grater, Large sauté pan or skillet, Heatproof spatula, One each small, medium and large bowl.
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven.
- Use a serrated knife to cut the baguette into thirds crosswise (this smaller size will make it easier to cut into cubes). Slice each third into ½-inch thick slices lengthwise. Then cut into ½-inch thick slices crosswise. Spread the cubes on the baking sheet and toast in the oven for 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
- Measure out 6 cups of bread cubes and place them in a large bowl. Transfer the remaining bread cubes to a ziptop bag and set aside (or freeze) for another use.
- Preparing the vegetables: Place a large, heavy sauté pan or skillet over high heat. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the sliced mushrooms, pepper and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms are a deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the bread cubes.
- Add another 1-1/2 teaspoons of the olive oil to the sauté pan, place over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly colored and soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the bread cubes.
- Add another 1-1/2 teaspoons of the olive oil to the sauté pan, place over medium-low heat and add the cubed butternut squash. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cubes are lightly colored and softened but still hold their shape, about 10 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the bread cubes.
- Grate the cheese, and transfer 1 cup of the cheese to the bowl with the bread cubes. Set aside the remaining1/2 cup of cheese in a separate bowl.
- Preparing the custard: In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs. Add the milk and cream and blend well. Add the salt, pepper and chives and whisk again. Pour the custard over the bread cube mixture and use your hands or a large spoon to gently stir the mixture, blending all the ingredients evenly. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of cheese over the top. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes to allow the bread to soak up the custard, then transfer the pan to the oven.
- Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the center is set. To check for doneness, use a spoon to press down firmly in the center of the pan. The pudding is done when the center feels firm and no loose custard bubbles up around the spoon. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
- To serve, cut into squares and remove from the pan with a pancake spatula or pie server. Alternately, simply spoon the pudding from the pan onto the plates.
Getting Ahead: The bread pudding may be baked 1 to 2 days in advance. Cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. To warm before serving, remove the plastic and place in a 325 F. oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until headed through.
Tools of the Trade:
- Le Creuset Red Stoneware Square Baker Set
- All-Clad Gourmet Jelly Roll Pan
- Microplane 2-Piece Grater Set
- Breville Hemisphere Die Cast Blender
- All-Clad Stainless Steel Saucepan
- Cuisinart Brushed Chrome Stand Mixer
- Revole Soufflé Dish
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.