Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mmm . . . Bread Pudding

There are a million variations on bread pudding. Some of them call for artisan bread or "exotic" ingredients like Grand Marnier and citrus fruit zest, either orange or lemon, or perhaps cardamom and other spices such as nutmeg and/or cloves. I've seen recipes that have sauces, caramel or - in the case of bread pudding from New Orleans, bourbon. I say, if it sounds good, make it. This post isn't about the flavors anyway. It is, like many of my posts, more of a "how to".

Broken down to its lowest common denominator (you've probably noticed I'm fond of doing that), bread pudding is a custard surrounding bread cubes. Or, if you prefer, bread cubes soaked in custard. Then What's a custard? Eggs, sugar and milk, basically. Think crème brûlée, though pumpkin pie is a custard as well. In fact, bread pudding isn't so far off from French toast. It's just bread that's been cubed instead of sliced, and it's not browned in a skillet, but baked in a dish. It's still soaked in a milk/egg/sugar mixture.

So, how do we proceed? First thing is to cube some bread. How much? How much do you have? What kind? What kind do you have? You can see this isn't going to be precise. The only thing I'll say at this point is that the bread should be something with a little more chew to it than Wonder Bread, and it should be at least a day or two old. This is supermarket "French" bread. It was so stale I had to cut a tiny bit of mold off as you'd do with cheese. It was perfect.

The next step is to make a custard, which is easier than it is with crème brûlée since there's no heating of the milk and we're using whole eggs. For every cup of milk (I used half and half, actually), beat 2 eggs with 1/4 cup of sugar until it forms the ribbon (see the crème brûlée post from a month or so back for details). A standard loaf of "French" bread will take about 3 cups of milk, so let that be your guide.

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla for every two eggs, a big dash of cinnamon (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) then whisk the milk into the eggs. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes and add raisins to taste (this is about a half cup and I would have liked more). Stir it all together, pour it into a baking dish that will just hold it, and bake in a 350-degree oven until it's puffy, lightly browned and fully set. You can butter the dish or not, and you can dot the top with butter or not, depending on how your waistline's tolerance for butter is running.

There's your finished product! Serve it warm, not hot, with whipped cream if you like. Be careful, though. If you turn your back it will disappear unless you live alone.

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