Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In Search of Comfort
What’s cooking? Semolina Budino with Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup

You know how, when you were growing up, some people’s moms were always making bread pudding, while others’ moms made gumbo all the time, but never a lick of bread pudding? Well, I was in the gumbo group.

At my friend Margie’s house, they always had what I called Zebra Cake, that dessert made from Famous Chocolate Wafers and whipped cream. I yearned for that to show up in my house, but can’t remember a single instance when it appeared. And at my friend Sydney’s house, there was a huge glass cookie jar in the kitchen, forever filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I won’t say my mom never made chocolate chip cookies, but it wasn’t high on her list. In fact, desserts in general weren’t high on her list. We ate lots of gumbo. And chili. And barbecued chicken. And really excellent stews. But no bread pudding.

When winter hit here in Austin last week – freezing cold, wet, and windy – I started thinking about the kinds of foods that make your insides feel like they’ve been wrapped in a soft, fuzzy blanket. My book group, which operates on a pot-luck format, was meeting, and for reasons I can only imagine, I decided I wanted to take a warm and mushy dessert. Bread pudding kept coming to mind, mostly because it sounds like a great comfort food. But I’ve never had bread pudding, so I didn’t know what a good one would look like or taste like or how to judge one recipe for it over another. I tried rice pudding once – another dessert in that same warm/mushy category – but (can you guess?) my childhood also suffered from a lack of rice pudding, and the one I made got a less than hearty review. I was really stuck for an idea.

Then I saw this recipe for budino. That’s Italian for pudding. Now pudding is something I understand, though, frankly, the pudding in my childhood was of the Jell-O brand. This particular pudding is made with semolina flour, which is “finely ground endosperm of durum wheat.” Huh? Anyway, it’s used in pasta and Italian-style breads. And, according to Wikipedia, semolina when boiled turns into porridge, like Cream of Wheat. So when you mix it with some whole milk and honey and boil it, then add eggs, you get a sweetish dish – not Swedish – with the same texture as that Southern classic: spoon bread. I didn’t have spoon bread either, until college, but that sounded like just what I wanted.

The recipe – which was misleading in the extreme, so you will find that the Kitchen Goddess has cleaned it up and straightened it out – said to serve with roasted pears and sweetened mascarpone. You’ll have to try the mascarpone on your own. It didn’t fit the feeling I wanted. But on my second try, I worked out a really nice way to handle the pears that I think you’ll like. I served it first to the book group, who said things like “This is soooo gooood.” Ah, the response I hoped for. I refined the pears and served it again this weekend and got lots of “yums” around the table.

The only thing you may object to is the 18-20 minutes of stirring, but the results are so worth it. Get a glass of wine and turn on some television re-runs. I watched NCIS – as usual – and the time flew by.

The recipe said it serves 12. I think more like 10. Serve it in custard cups or ¾-cup ramekins or a single, large 2-quart casserole dish. But it keeps well in the fridge and is easily reheated in the microwave. It tastes best warm; the pears need to be warm, but are also easy to reheat. You’ll be really glad for the leftovers.

Semolina Budino

Mise en place -- it's a big help on this recipe.
Adapted from pastry chef Lisa Donovan in Food & Wine magazine, January 2015

4 tablespoons unsalted butter,
    melted; plus more for greasing
5 cups whole milk
¾ cup (6 ounces) honey (the KG
    prefers the delicate flavor of
    acacia honey)
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semolina flour (the same
    stuff used to make pasta;
    semolina meal is more coarsely
    ground and might work to make
    budino but the result would not
    be as smooth)
3 large egg yolks
2 large egg whites

Garnish with Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup (see below).

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter the sides and bottoms of 10-12 custard cups or ramekins, or a 2-quart gratin/casserole dish.

In a large (approx. 4-quart) saucepan over low heat, combine the milk, the honey, and the salt, stirring just until the honey dissolves. Raise the heat to medium/medium-high and add the semolina in a slow stream, whisking constantly to ensure no lumps. Continue whisking continuously for 18-20 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick porridge.

Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the 4 tablespoons of melted butter.

In a large, heat-proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth, then slowly pour in about a cup of the hot semolina mixture, whisking constantly so as not to scramble the eggs. Continue adding the semolina in 3-4 batches until it is all incorporated. Set aside.

Folding in the whipped egg whites.
In a standing mixer, beat the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the egg/semolina mixture until completely incorporated. Pour into the prepared ramekins or casserole dish.

If you are using ramekins, do not fill them more than ¾ full, as the mixture will rise during the baking. Ramekins should be baked in a bain-marie (hot water bath): Place the cups, evenly spaced, into a large roasting pan and pour very hot water around the dishes, to a level about halfway up the sides. Take care in loading the pan into the oven, so that water doesn’t slosh into the puddings.

Bake the puddings at 350º until the tops are golden and set. Let cool slightly (5 minutes) on wire racks before serving topped with roasted pears. Serve warm.

And now for the pears in syrup...

Kitchen Goddess note about the Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup: Giada’s recipe called for apple juice and no alcohol. (Yawn.) The Kitchen Goddess wanted something a bit jazzier, so she substituted pomegranate juice, and added a glug of French ginger liqueur. You can try your own mix –  use another non-citrus juice, or try my other favorite liqueur, St.-Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Or use apple juice and add dry sherry or Calvados. Go crazy!

Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis for

Serves 10-12.

3 large, firm Bosc pears (about 2 pounds)
⅓ cup pomegranate juice
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons French ginger liqueur (Domain de Canton)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
 Preheat the oven to 400º.

Before cutting up the pears, set out a large bowl about half full of water, and squeeze a teaspoon or so of fresh lemon juice into it. Then, as you peel and core the pears, keep them submerged in the lemon water to avoid having them turn brown. Dice the pears into ½-¾-inch cubes, and keep the cubes in the lemon water while you prepare the sauce.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, whisk together the pomegranate juice and the brown sugar, and stir until the brown sugar dissolves. Add the ginger liqueur and stir to combine, then allow the mixture to simmer 2-3 minutes, until the sauce thickens just slightly. Whisk in the butter.

Drain the pears well and put them into an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Pour the sauce over them and stir well. Bake 35-40 minutes, occasionally spooning the sauce over the pears.

Allow the pears to cool (5 minutes) before spooning them over the budino. You can also spoon the pears onto a plate or shallow bowl, top them with vanilla ice cream, and drizzle the syrup on top.


  1. OH MY! I bumped my head on the computer screen while leaning in to smell the aroma of this tempting looking dish! W O W !

    Eileen in Atlanta

  2. Eileen, am starting to wonder if any of my readers tune in just to read your comments! Certainly a highlight of MY day. Keep up the good work...