Miso's having its moment and I couldn't be more delighted. The flavor that we love in Asian cooking - the ingredient that's salty and sweet and savory and packed with umami - has found its way into our everyday cooking and baking. When it turns up on The Great British Baking Show, you know that every supermarket in the land will soon be stocking it. And hooray for that.
In case you missed it, last week was Caramel Week in the tent and Crystelle made a miso caramel - twice! Miso - fermented soybean paste - seems like a perfect ingredient for caramel, which is oddly bitter, even though it's made from sugar. The miso adds depth and a touch of mystery to what can be a somewhat one-note flavor. (Here's a recipe for miso caramel from Food 52.)
In my loaf, the miso is not easily distinguishable, which is surprising, given its generally assertive flavor. It's there to bolster the other flavors. Much as it is in Nik Sharma's terrific Miso Chocolate Pudding (scroll down for the recipe).
Because of Nik's training as a molecular biologist, he's got a take on food that most of us don't. And because he has a talent for observing and explaining, he makes delicious sense of science, gastronomic and other - even for people like me: I get hives just writing the word "science". And, have I mentioned his gift as a cook, his grace as a writer and his gorgeous eye as a photographer?
Nik talked about miso in one of his earliest newsletters. He added it to tomato sauce - a genius move! And it turns up again in a most unusual way in a recipe from his latest book THE FLAVOR EQUATION. The book was named to many Best Cookbook lists, and last month it won two awards from the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professions) - Nik took home one for General Cookery (the hardest category to win, by the way) and nabbed another for photography and styling. Nik shoots all the images for his books, website and Bulletin. I know, I know - he's remarkable!
The pudding is a winner! It's luscious - meaning that the custard is lush (which is just what you hope pudding will be). It's beautiful - I love the way the points of the bread cubes crisp in the oven; I love the way the edges are haphazard; and I love that you catch a shard of chocolate here and a plump bit of cherry there. And the combination is inspired - the surprising backbone ingredients are bittersweet chocolate, instant coffee, white miso and dried tart cherries.
Here's Nik on why he chose these ingredients and how they work together:
I read everything that Nik wrote about the recipe and I made it, thinking I knew exactly what I would get - still, I was surprised! With the exception of the cherries, which hold their personality through it all, every other ingredient is transformed by association with the others. It's some kind of gastronomic alchemy and it's some kind of good.
I'll be back on Tuesday, when I shift into full(ish) Thanksgiving mode. Have a great weekend and I'll see you on the other side of it!
p.s. if you're enjoying this, I hope you'll subscribe to my free newsletter. And tell your friends, too!
SERVES 8 TO 10
HERE'S NIK AGAIN
1 lb [455 g] challah or brioche
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, plus extra for greasing the pan
9 oz [255 g] bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), chopped
1 tsp instant coffee or espresso
3 oz [85 g] dried tart cherries
1 1⁄2 cups [360 ml] heavy cream
1⁄4 cup [40 g] shiro or sweet white miso
1 1⁄2 cups [360 ml] whole milk
3⁄4 cup [150 g] sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 yolk, lightly whisked together
1⁄4 tsp fine sea salt (optional)
If your bread is not stale, preheat the oven to 200°F [93°C]. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet. Cut the bread into 1 in [2.5 cm] cubes and arrange them on the rack. Dry the bread cubes in the oven until completely dry, 45 minutes to 1 hour. You can also dry the bread cubes overnight, on your kitchen counter at room temperature.
Butter a 9 by 12 by 2 in [23 by 30.5 by 5 cm] rectangular baking pan. Add the bread cubes.
Transfer half of the chocolate to a large mixing bowl with the instant coffee. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate and the cherries over the bread in the baking pan and mix in. Avoid leaving the bits of chocolate and cherries on top; they might burn during baking.
Warm the cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the cream just starts to bubble, pour it over the chocolate and coffee in the large mixing bowl. Whisk until the chocolate mixture is completely melted and smooth. Transfer 1⁄2 cup [120 ml] of the chocolate mixture to a small mixing bowl. Add the miso and stir until completely smooth, with no lumps. Pour the miso mixture into the large bowl with the chocolate mixture.
Whisk in the milk, sugar, eggs, yolk, and salt (if using) until smooth. Pour the liquid over the bread cubes in the baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 1 hour, or preferably overnight, in the refrigerator.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325°F [163°C]. Unwrap the baking pan and discard the plastic wrap. Dot the surface of the pudding with the butter, then bake until the top is crisp and the pudding is firm, about 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.