As I've lived in England for some time now, I felt that I had a pretty good understanding of the "dessert" culture over there across the pond. The fruit cakes, the mince pies, the gooseberry fools, the bread and butter pudding, the bannoffee pie...
All these desserts seemed to revolve around the basic (fundamental) concepts of butter, bread, and cream. I mean, they put custard on everything there. But, imagine my surprise when I learned (from an American newspaper of all places) about a concept so absolutely wonderful that I began to suspect that the Brits were keeping it from me on purpose. Why wouldn't you share something as wonderful as sweet whipped cream with alcohol in it?!
Even the concept is genius, showing just enough English organization and forethought with a healthy appreciation of alcohol (and a desire to include it in every meal). Imagine whipped cream, solidified. not frozen, mind you. Just solid. Like cold butter solid (well, because it's basically just cold butter).
The recipe from the New York Times pared it with a cherry and pear brown betty, which was delicious (especially as the cherries were also soaked in brandy), but really, any dessert will work with this. Particularly warm ones so you can watch the hard sauce melt into it, infusing your chosen dessert with buttery alcoholic goodness. Oh yes.
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup Cognac or brandy
Pinch of grated nutmeg
To make the hard sauce, in a medium bowl set an electric mixer on high and beat the butter until fluffy.
Reduce speed to low and add confectioners’ sugar. When the sugar is incorporated, set the speed back to high.
Add the brandy 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until combined. Beat in the nutmeg.
Transfer the sauce to a ramekin or bowl, cover and refrigerate.
Hard sauce can be made at least a week ahead, but allow it to come to room temperature before serving (about 20 minutes).
3 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
2/3 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 1/2 cups white bread or challah, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 pounds ripe pears(about 5 pears), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons hard cider or apple cider.
To make the brown betty, heat the Cognac or brandy in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the liquid has come to a simmer, turn off the heat and add the cherries. Allow them to absorb most of the liquid, about 20 minutes.
While cherries are standing, heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture for sprinkling. Add bread, butter and lemon zest. Toss until sugar has dissolved and bread is completely coated.
In a shallow 1 1/2-quart gratin dish (or a 9-by-9-inch pan), scatter a little under half the bread cubes. Layer half the pear slices and half the cherries (along with any liquid) on top. Cover with a cup of bread crumbs and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons cider. Layer remaining pears, cherries and bread. Sprinkle top with remaining cider and reserved sugar-and-spice mixture.
Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Take off foil and continue baking, until crumbs are golden brown and pears are very soft, about 15 minutes more. Serve warm with dollops of hard sauce.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.