Saturday, April 9, 2011

Out of the Box!

 photos by Anthony Palatta

Last Thursday night was my "Out of the Box" baking class at Whole Foods. On the menu:  Pop Tarts, Banana Pudding with Nilla Wafers (see recipe below), Milano Cookies, and Oreos--all homemade.

We had a sold-out crowd, 13 students, and the butter was flying!

The class began with a demo of the banana pudding, which has a vanilla pudding base made on the stove. The recipe, which comes from the banana cream pie recipe in 500 Pies, is included below.

Next, we divided into groups to make 3 cookie doughs (Oreo, Nilla, and Milano) and fillings for the pop tarts. After cutting and shaping the cookies, we assembled pop tarts, using a modified pie dough that I demonstrated in my food processor, which I lugged from home.

The most challenging part of the class is managing all the trays of cookies going in and out of the oven!  The ideal way to bake cookies is one sheet in the oven at a time, but with all the cookies we made, that just wasn't possible.  However, thanks to the valiant support of Chef Wai Chu, who helps run the culinary center at Whole Foods, we got all the cookies baked and filled. 

At the very end of the class, we decorated the homemade pop tarts with three different icings and assembled banana pudding, layering it with sliced bananas and the nilla wafers we'd just made. Yum!  If you're interested in trying out the recipes for the Milano Cookies, the Oreos, or the Pop Tarts, they're up on this blog.  The banana pudding and wafers are pasted below.  Enjoy!

Nilla Wafers (Adapted from Alton Brown)

This cookie gets better and better the longer it cools, and freezes beautifully!

Makes about 40 cookies

1 ½ cups flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup vanilla sugar (or use regular sugar and add extra tsp of vanilla to sugar and butter in step 1)
1 large egg
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp whole milk

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together dry ingredients and set aside.  Cream butter and vanilla sugar in stand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping down sides.  Add egg and incorporate on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Scrape down sides of bowl, then add vanilla extract and milk and blend on low speed for 15 seconds.  Add flour mixture and mix on low just to incorporate.  Chill batter in refrigerator for at least 10 minutes before scooping.
2.     Scoop batter in teaspoon-sized balls and arrange them on 2 parchment-lined sheet pans.  Use the heel of your hand to slightly flatten each ball.  Bake, 2 pans at a time, rotating pans halfway through baking period, until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove pans to cooling rack to cool completely before removing cookies from the pan.

Homemade Banana Pudding (Adapted from 500 Pies and Tarts)

This fool-proof recipe produces a rich, silky pudding that’s just the right balance of creamy and sweet.

Serves about 8

3 large egg yolks
¾ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ½ cups whipping cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
4 ripe bananas
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 recipe Nilla wafers (above)

1.     In a medium-sized bowl, beat egg yolks with a fork.  In a medium saucepan on the stove, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Combine vanilla, milk, and cream. 
2.     Turn on stove to medium heat, and slowly whisk milk mixture into dry ingredients in the saucepan to combine.  Continue whisking until mixture reaches a boil.  Cook for one minute, still whisking.  Quickly transfer half the milk mixture into the egg yolks.  Whisk to combine.  Return the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan.  Whisk to combine and bring to a boil.  Cook until thickened, whisking continuously, about a minute or two. 
3.     Remove from heat and whisk in the butter until melted.  Transfer to a cool bowl or plastic container and cover the surface with plastic wrap.  Chill for 2 hours.  Remove from refrigerator and whisk again until smooth.
4.     Cut the bananas into ½ inch slices and toss gently in a small bowl with lemon juice. 
5.     In a 1 ½ quart glass mixing bowl (ideal for presentation, but you can use any container you prefer), lay down a shallow layer of pudding.  Cover with a layer of vanilla wafers, then bananas, then pudding.  Keep repeating until you’re out of pudding.  Refrigerate 2 hours.

If desired for garnish:  whip 1 cup whipping cream, chilled, with 2 tbsp sugar until stiff peaks form.  You can dust the top with crumbled wafers, cinnamon, or any combination of the above plus banana slices coated in lemon juice.

Store up to 3 days.

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