I made it through the appetizer round through a combination of my own stubborn perseverance and the mistakes of the other chefs. I’d more than survived the entree round. No one was more surprised than me to hear Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian say about my stone crab broth “I would serve this in my restaurant, it’s that good.” But on Chopped, you are only as good as your next round. It was round three, the dessert “battle” of the Holiday episode of Food Network’s Chopped that I was in the midst of waging against my fellow competitors. I began to believe that I had a better chance of winning now, than when I’d arrived that morning at 6 am, praying I wouldn’t embarrass myself, my family and particularly my son, the chef, by getting eliminated for a stupid reason in round one. By the time round three started, it was nearly 8 pm and the only thing keeping me standing was that the adrenaline was still pumping strong.
A burly chef, hailing from the DC area, whose shoulder chip began to waver by this third and decisive round, decided that winning fair and square was too much of a risk. As we waited in the chef’s holding area to be called back on set for the final cook-off, Chef Will asked me “what are you going to do for dessert? Do you think you’ll make an ice cream?” I replied that I had practiced ice creams and if the yet unknown mystery basket ingredients lent itself to that, I might go for it. “What are you going to do?” I asked in return. “Well, whatever I do, I know it won’t be ice cream. I have a pastry chef at my restaurant. I don’t do ice cream. I haven’t made an ice cream since culinary school, so I know I’m not doing that.” It was a friendly conversation. We wished each other well and headed out to complete the game.
“Chefs, open your baskets,” Ted Allen instructed us. I saw Eggnog, Panettone Bread, Pomegranate Molasses and Hanukah Gelt.
That jug of eggnog said “ice cream” to me, but first I wanted to get some butter and sugar creaming in a stand mixer because I was determined to serve my eggnog ice cream with a big festive chocolate chip (or Hanukah Gelt) cookie as an homage to Santa’s traditional Christmas Eve repast. With that done I ran over to the fridge to get a dozen eggs—two I’d need for the cookie, and another five to make the ice cream base. When I got there—NO EGGS—where there would normally be two dozen.
I saw Will with a dozen carton open on his station and asked him if he could spare some. “No, I need ‘em all.” Really? A dozen eggs for ice cream? (Maybe for an army, but enough for 4 plates? Five or six would have been enough.) OK, I could see how this was unfolding. There are two routes chefs can take on competition shows: the Team Player: confident in his/her skills, plays well with others, is humble and generous knowing that the best chef would win regardless; the other is: The There-Are-Two-I’s-And-No-U’s-In-Winning Player who will do anything from bare-faced lying to egg-hoarding to make sure he/she wins. Seems like Will took that second road that day.
Then something mysterious happened that had nothing to do with those mystery baskets. “Check the fridge again,” Will told me, “I think there are more eggs in there.” Did Will replace a dozen of the hoarded eggs when I wasn’t looking, when a pang of conscience got the best of him, or did they appear out of nowhere, like a Chopped version of the Chanukah miracle…with eggs multiplying instead of the supply of holy oil? I’ll never know. I just grabbed them and ran back to my station to finish my cookie, get it in the oven and start my ice cream. As I was making the “anglaise” custard needed, Ted Allen came over and informed me that Chef Will already had an ice cream churning in the one an only ice cream machine on set. “Oh really?” I said. I turned to face Will to my left, his look somewhat sheepish, yet defiant. “You told me you weren’t going to make an ice cream,” I said, and added another sentence that contained an expletive I don’t need to repeat here, but that made the show, bleep included. “It’s a competition,” he threw back and shrugged.
What happened next was another miracle. Instead of being flustered by this act of slimy sabotage, I turned to my station, saw the gorgeous Panettone bread and pomegranate molasses and knew in an instant what I would do. I worked fast and confidently to cube the giant, fragrant bread, divided it up among four ramekins, and soaked them with the eggnog-laced custard that would have been my ice cream had Will not bogarted the machine. I popped those in the oven and prayed they’d rise up and be gorgeous in the remaining minutes on the clock. The pomegranate molasses, when added to red wine, bay leaves, cinnamon and vanilla I knew would reduce down to a beautiful holiday-inspired syrup that would tartly compliment the sweet heaviness of the pudding. When the puddings came out of the oven, I spontaneously decided to unwrap more of the Chanukah gelt and submerge one coin in each of the hot, steaming puddings for another sweet holiday surprise, and a nod to the blended Judeo/Christian family I am a part of.
How did my competitor’s ice cream stand up to my bread pudding? Well, call it Karma, lousy luck or poor judgment, but that ice cream, topped with the hot donut he made, left him with more of a soup than a frozen confection. Though his ice cream was warm, in the end his behavior left the majority of the judges cold.
Watch the results for yourself when the Holiday episode of Chopped repeats on 12/4 at 10 PM on Food Network. Leave your comments about the episode on Food Network’s Facebook page…and here too! I want to know what you think!
Here’s an easier (no sabotage or change of direction needed) version of this delicious holiday-worthy recipe. Enjoy!
This account was originally published on ABCNEWS.COM/BLOGS, on November, 28, 2012
Image credit for Chopped photos: David Lang
- prep time: 15 minutes hands on; 30 minutes soaking bread.
- cook time: 35 minutes as individual ramekins, 45-50 minutes in large baking dish
- yield: Serves 10-12
For the bread pudding:
5 cups Panetone bread, crusts removed, cut into 1-inch cubes (approx. half of one large Panettone bread)
½ cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups eggnog
5 eggs, beaten
¾ teaspoon freshly nutmeg, grated
Large Chocolate Coins (Chanukah Gelt) or large chocolate discs or chips
For the syrup:
½ cup pomegranate molasses
2 cups fruity red wine (pinot noir)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or half a fresh vanilla bean, split down the middle, lengthwise
1 large cinnamon stick.
Equipment: Lightly buttered 9×13 deep baking dish, or 8-12 individual ramekins or stand-alone cupcake cups.
Place the pomegranate molasses, red wine, cinnamon, bay leaf, vanilla and sugar in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat and stir to combine well and dissolve the sugar. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat so that the mixture continues to simmer briskly and reduce, but not boil hard. Keep and eye on this to make sure it doesn’t over-reduce and burn. Total cooking time approximately 12 minutes, and the overall volume will be ¾ of the original volume. When done, the bubbles should look small and tight and the consistency of the liquid is somewhat syrupy. It will be a thin syrup while hot, but will thicken as it cools.
While the syrup is reducing, place the eggnog, grated nutmeg, bread cubes, eggs, vanilla, sugar and butter in a large bowl. Gently toss so that bread is fully coated. Allow to sit for 30 minutes or until bread cubes seem sufficiently soaked with the egg mixture.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Divide the bread mixture evenly into the individual ramekins, or muffin tin or cupcake holders or pour it all into one appropriately sized baking dish.
If using individual bowls, place them on a parchment or foil lined baking pan, and bake for 20 minutes or until the pudding gets puffy and the center is firmly set. (You can also use individual cupcake forms or a muffin pan.) If using a baking dish, bake for 30-40 minutes or until it gets puffy and the center is firmly set. Begin checking for doneness early as oven temperatures vary and since the egg mixture is already “cooked” this won’t take as long as a bread pudding that starts with raw eggs.
Unwrap one chocolate coin for each ramekin (or 8-12 for large dish).When the puddings are done, remove from oven. Take the chocolate coins and push one coin per individual bowl, down into the center of the hot pudding. (Or use large chocolate discs or chocolate chips here too.) If using a baking dish, place a coin down into the pudding at even intervals so that each serving has a hidden melted coin in it.
Serve warm, drizzled with the pomegranate/red wine syrup.