When I was in nursing school, one of the sage nuggets of wisdom that an instructor passed along to us naive, innocent young things was that we should never stick anything smaller than our elbows in our ears.
I think about that piece of advice every time I unbend a paper clip and use it to scratch an itch in my ear canal. While scratching, my thoughts usually jump from my nursing instructor to Dr. House examining a man who has athlete’s foot in his nose as a result of using his toenail clippers to trim the hair in his nostrils.
We are innovative creatures, aren’t we. Even in the kitchen. Alton Brown, the king of substitution, believe the only thing in the kitchen that should have a single use is the fire extinguisher. Everything else is multi-purpose.
While I don’t ever see myself putting something that’s meant for my feet anywhere near my face, I embrace Alton’s mindset. I love coming up with off-the-wall ideas for using my kitchen gadgets and appliances.
Using a slow cooker for dessert, however, has never crossed my mind. It seems wrong. How can baking a dessert low and slow make it any better?
No matter how I look at it and how many times I read the dessert recipes in this magazine, the idea makes no sense to me. Which is why I had to try it.
Even though this dessert is made in the slow cooker, you’ll need to dirty up a bowl and saucepan during the prep.
The flour, sugar, baking powder, orange zest and cinnamon get mixed with milk, oil, pecans and raisins, which makes a very thick batter. That gets spread in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Meanwhile, boil up water, orange juice, brown sugar, butter and more zest, then carefully pour it over the batter. Odd, I know, but it works. Two hours later, you have dessert; nut and fruit-studded cake on top and orange-infused caramel underneath.
Scoop the cake onto plates while it’s still warm and drizzle cream over it before serving.
You don’t expect me to say that something with caramel in it was bad, do you? Especially since it was served warm. This is really, really good. The caramel sinks underneath the cake, so when it’s all spooned out together, it’s there, gorgeously colored, smooth, sweet and delicious. Topped with cream, it’s heaven in a cooker.
I also discovered why it’s good to have a few dessert recipes that can be made in the slow cooker. There are many times I’ve wanted to serve warm apple pie to guests and have had to juggle things around with the oven; throwing the pie in as soon as the meat comes out and trying to get everyone to eat very, very slowly so it has time to cook, then cool a bit.
The slow cooker removes that stress. While dinner monopolizes the oven and stove, dessert sits in a corner baking away, just waiting until you need it. It’s an ideal situation.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
Our family didn’t find this to be a very child-friendly dessert, so I’d take it another step in that direction. I’d cut the orange juice to a half cup when boiling the caramel mixture and add a quarter cup orange-flavored liqueur after removing the saucepan from the stove.
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- ¼ cup dried currants or raisins
- ¾ cup water
- ½ teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
- ¾ cup orange juice
- ⅔ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Half and half or light cream
- Lightly coat the inside of a 3½- or 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, stir together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, ½ teaspoon shredded orange peel, cinnamon, and salt. Add milk and melted butter; stir just until combined. Stir in ½ cup pecans and currants. Spread batter evenly in the prepared cooker.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the water, ½ teaspoon orange peel, orange juice, brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon butter. Bring to boiling, stirring to dissolve brown sugar; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Carefully pour over mixture in cooker.
- Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 4½ to 5 hours. Remove liner from cooker, if possible, or turn off cooker. Let stand, uncovered, for 45 minutes to cool slightly.
- To serve, spoon pudding cake into dessert dishes. Serve with half-and-half.