Sri Lankan Caramel Pudding

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A nation’s cuisine is in many ways a reflection of its history. Take Sri Lanka, for example. Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim, Indian, Indonesian, Dutch, and Portuguese influence factor into everything from street food to curries to desserts, a reminder of trade routes, colonization, and migration.

One of the sweeter examples is caramel pudding, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Portuguese flan. I include a tiny bit of ground cardamom in my version, but you can omit it. Either way, it’s a perfect cooling treat at the end of a Sri Lankan meal.

Sri Lankan Caramel Pudding

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons sugar
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cans water
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1. Heat sugar with 1 tablespoon water in a 2 quart stainless steel mold or saucepan until the color of amber. Swirl the melted sugar to coat base and sides, being careful to not let the caramel burn.

2. In a bowl, mix condensed milk, water, eggs, vanilla, and cardamom.

3. Pour mixture into the prepared mold or saucepan, cover with aluminum foil, and steam in a double boiler for 30 minutes until set. (The water should not boil under it but simmer.)

4. Remove from heat, remove foil, and allow to cool.

5. Cover and refrigerate for at least 5 hours before serving. Serve chilled.

Crepes with Dark Chocolate Sauce

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I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but crepes are one of my weak spots. (And doughnuts, especially the ones that rhyme with Drispy Dreme.)

But back to crepes. They’re easier to make that it appears, as long as your batter is sufficiently thin. If you find yourself producing pancake-like creations on your first couple of tries, add a bit of water to thin the batter and proceed.

These make an indulgent breakfast and are endlessly adaptable. (Nutella! Bananas! Whipped cream!)

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Ingredients:

4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons butter, room temperature, plus 3 tablespoons butter, melted
4 eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups flour

1. Make the dark chocolate sauce: Heat cream in a small saucepan until steaming (do not bring to a boil) and turn off heat. Immediately add chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let sit until chocolate is melted, about 5 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons butter and whisk until butter incorporated and mixture is smooth. Set aside and keep warm.

2. Blend eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla in a blender until frothy. Add flour and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and blend just to combine. Cover batter and chill 1 hour.

3. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high, then brush with butter. Ladle 1/4 cup batter into skillet and swirl to evenly coat bottom. Cook crepe until bubbles form on surface and edges are golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Slide a spatula underneath crepe to loosen and carefully flip. Cook on the other side until a few brown spots appear, about 1 minute, then transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining butter and batter.

4. Serve crepes with dark chocolate sauce.

Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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Brace yourselves, Internet. I’ve found a cookie recipe so simple that even I, perennial great-chef-bad-baker, have managed to produce a chewy, perfect cookie. Ever since the Great Cornbread Disaster of 2007 where I tried my hand at “fluffy” cornbread only to produce cardboard-like tack, I’d doubted myself when it came to anything flour-based. These cookies gave me my groove back.

Oatmeal raisin cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Beat butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Mix in egg and vanilla, then flour mixture. Mix in oats, then raisins.

2. Using a tablespoon, scoop 1 tablespoon of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing each scoop about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges are golden, about 15 minutes. Let cookies cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate-Dipped Frozen Bananas

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It turns out I may be developing a sweet tooth after all. Cake and tarts and most pastries still do nothing for me, but these chocolatey frozen bananas are just right. Crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, they keep well for when a craving strikes. Plus, bananas are full of potassium, so these are kind of healthy, right?

Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas

Ingredients:

2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons canola oil
Assorted toppings for coating bananas (toffee bits, chopped Butterfinger candy bars, or chopped salted peanuts)
3 bananas, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1. Stir chocolate and oil in heavy small saucepan over low heat just until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes to cool.

2. Place each topping in separate shallow dish. Line baking sheet with foil. Arrange banana slices on foil. Using fingers, dip 1 banana slice in chocolate, coating completely. Shake off excess chocolate. Drop dipped banana in 1 topping. Using clean hand, sprinkle more topping over banana to coat; transfer to foil-lined sheet. Repeat with remaining bananas, chocolate, and toppings. Freeze until firm, about 3 hours, then serve.

Sholeh Zard (Iranian Saffron Rice Pudding)

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Happy Norooz! Last week ushered in the two week-long Iranian new year, a time for celebration, time spent around loved ones, and sweets. Lots of sweets. Most Iranian sweets are too strong for my taste, but I can never say no to sholeh zard. Traditionally prepared as alms during religious festivals in Iran, this dish takes me back to my (Californian) childhood. Whenever a holiday rolled around, my mom and family friends would spend an afternoon making huge pots of the fragrant, rosewater-flecked rice pudding. They would garnish the finished dish with beautiful Persian calligraphy using cinnamon.

I’ve since learned to make sholeh zard on my own, though my calligraphy skills are sorely lacking. This rich dessert is otherwise easy to make, but requires some attention. Just remember to check the pot frequently. You want your finished dish to have a thin pudding-like consistency, as it’ll thicken when it cools down.

Sholeh zard

Ingredients:

1 cup basmati rice
7 cups or more water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsalted slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup rosewater

Garnish:

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons slivered almonds
2 teaspoons slivered pistachios

1. Clean and wash the rice, changing the water several times. Drain.

2. Combine the rice with 4 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil, skimming the foam as it rises. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes over medium heat until the rice is soft.

3. Add 3 more cups of warm water and sugar, cook for 25 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the butter, almonds, saffron water, cardamom, and rosewater. Mix well. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and cook over low heat, uncovered, for another 20 minutes or until the mixture is cooked and has thickened to a pudding.

4. Spoon the pudding into individual serving dishes or a large bowl. Decorate with cinnamon, almonds, and pistachios. Serve the pudding cold or room temperature.