Is everyone aware of Rusty the red panda? He’s the adorably cheeky redheaded escape artist at the National Zoo – and I’m in love. It all started with the tremendously amusing media coverage he got during his escape, “He left no note, no tracks and no clues. But Smithsonian National Zoo officials believe Rusty the red panda, who decided Monday was a good day to get out and take in the sights, may have used overlapping, rain-heavy tree limbs and tall bamboo as a bridge to the outside world.” (Don’t worry; said limbs have since been cut back.)
Though this online quiz tells me that my spirit animal is a hummingbird (which actually makes sense – apparently the hummingbird generally symbolizes enjoyment of life and playfulness, as well as adaptability), I’ve decided that the red panda is my spirit animal.
Aside from the fact that I take no stock in this sort of thing, it’s fun to have one. Shockingly, the spirit animal website doesn’t have a red panda as an option for a spirit animal, so I did my own assessment. Here we go. Redheads and red pandas are both rare/vulnerable; I’m no escape artist, but we’re obviously both cheeky. We’re both mostly active from dusk to dawn (although that’s getting harder with age…whyyyy?!); we can be serious but much prefer to be silly. Lastly, just look at that punim!
I also hear that red pandas often struggle deciding what dessert to bring to a dinner party. Fact. I read it in a book once. Similarly, I had such a struggle recently. Luckily, I have a pastry chef to consult on such matters, so I went with the suggested bread pudding. I took the basic recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking and went crazy, making it a dessert with an almost cripplingly long name – almost. Bourbon Ginger Brioche Bread Pudding with Caramelized Pears and Dried Sour Cherries. Wait, that actually might be too long. Oh well. The custard was wonderfully creamy with the warm flavors of ginger, cinnamon, and bourbon and then you get a sweet burst from the pear and a tart bite from the sour cherries. It’s the perfect dessert for a cold day or to accompany a light meal. Get in the kitchen and bake this bad boy!
Here’s what I did:
Bourbon Ginger Brioche Bread Pudding with Caramelized Pears and Dried Sour Cherries
*adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking
Slice into 1 inch slices and then tear into 1 inch cubes:
-1 large loaf of brioche (you could also use good country bread)
If the bread is stale, put it in a parchment-lined 9x13in. baking dish. If it isn’t stale, spread the bread out on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven to “stale” it for 10 minutes, then put it in the dish and set aside.
Slice into small cubes:
In a sauté pan, over medium heat, stir together until a nice caramel brown color is reached, then set aside (5-10 minutes depending on your pears):
-2 Tbs. brown sugar
-2 Tbs. butter
-1 tsp. ground ginger
In a small pot, bring just to a boil:
-3 c. 2% milk (obviously Dorie suggests half cream and half whole milk, but I just couldn’t do it. There’s no doubt that her way is better, so I encourage that route, but I leave it as a “choose your own adventure.”)
In a medium bowl, whisk together:
-4 large eggs
-2 large egg yolks
-½ c. sugar
-1 Tbs. brown sugar
-½ tsp. cinnamon
-1 tsp. ground ginger
Constantly whisking, slowly drizzle in the hot milk – if you dump it in all at once, the eggs will curdle. Then stir in:
-1 tablespoon bourbon
-2 tsp. vanilla extract
-the caramelized pears
-2/3 c. dried tart cherries
Pour the custard over the bread and gently stir in the pears and cherries so that they’re all throughout. Press the bread gently with the back of a spoon to help cover it with liquid. Let the bread and custard sit to absorb the liquid for 30min- 1 hour, giving the bread the back-of-the-spoon treatment occasionally.
Cover the dish with foil, poking about 5 holes in the top, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes until the pudding is golden and the custard is set – a knife inserted in the center will come out clean. Serve warm, and enjoy!
French phrase for fun:
Je suis tombée en amour avec le panda rouge quand il s’est échappé du zoo l’année dernière.
I fell in love with the red panda when he escaped from the zoo last year.