“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.” Dorothy Parker
Growing up, I was always baffled at bread pudding.
I originally visualized it as some kind of actual bread loaf, made with pudding. Or maybe bread, ribboned with a pudding filling. At any rate, I imagined the pudding part coming into play before the loaf of bread was baked. And that didn’t sound so bad; actually it sounded pretty good.
When I actually found out that bread pudding was a dish of already baked bread cut up into cubes and soaked until soggy, and then baked (frequently with loathsome raisins), I was simultaneously disgusted and disturbed. Soon after I saw a picture of bread pudding, and consequently, bread pudding became something I avoided at all costs.
You see, bread pudding is not pretty. Despite the best efforts of many a talented pastry chef, most bread puddings turn out looking repulsive. At its best, it looks like soggy pieces of bread cemented with snail ooze. At its worst, it looks like something my cat yakked up on the carpet. Either way, it was hardly something that I ever chose to eat.
That is, until my parents’ next door neighbor baked some bread pudding for my family, while I was home for a holiday break from college. My parents’ neighbor is a sweet, sweet elderly lady, who always greets me with a pleasant smile of recognition whenever she sees me, though I’m often convinced that every person who currently lives on my childhood block actually mistakes me for my sister, my aunt, my cousin, and/or my mother. But for some reason, I always imagined her to intuitively know who I was, despite my infrequent visits home. Little did this kind-hearted woman know that I had actively avoided bread pudding for my entire adult life, up until this point.
Just avoid raisins. Right. Not only did this offering have all of the visual appeal of semi-digested used tissues, it was also riddled with raisins. I made a face. I stalled. I explained that I had just been to the dentist, and it would be counterproductive to eat any dessert, ever. All to no avail:
“Oh come on, Sara…its not the end of the world, and it would make her so happy if you went over and let her know how much you enjoyed it.”
I considered the option of lying to her face, and sighed in resignation. I can’t lie very well, especially not to the faces of sweet elderly neighbor-women who bake things for my family. So I girded my loins, and dove in (metaphorically, of course. I actually tentatively used a teaspoon to isolate a raisin-less segment, and hesitantly nibbled.)
As soon as the bread pudding was in my mouth, my tongue and brain did a mental high five. It was delicious. Amazing. Texturally miraculous. I couldn’t believe it. At that point, I made the decision to go ahead, and spend the amount of time it would take to pick out every single raisin, so that I could enjoy my bread pudding in huge, velociraptor-style chomps.
The bread pudding recipe that I’ve posted today, does not live up to the life-revelatory flavor and texture of the first bread pudding I’ve ever loved, but it is very, very good.
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking, from my home to yours. (Sara’s lazy and “what she happened to have in the pantry” modified version, in parenthesis.)
BOURBON BREAD PUDDING
- 8 oz baguette, or egg-rich bread, preferably stale (I used a Sweet Potato-Pecan Bread)
- 1.5 cups whole milk (1 cup lowfat milk)
- 1.5 cups heavy cream (2 cups half and half)
- 4 large eggs (3 large eggs)
- 2 large egg yolks
- .5 cup sugar (brown sugar)
- .5 teaspoon ground cinnamon (1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice)
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (omitted)
- 1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon bourbon (okkkk, maybe 2ish?)
- .125 teaspoon pure almond extract (omitted)
Have a nonreactive 9×5 loaf pan on hand (used a 8×8 square baking dish), as well as a roasting pan big enough to hold the loaf pan. Line the roasting pan with a double thickness of paper towels. Fill a teakettle with water and put it on a boil; when the water boils, turn off the heat.
Cut the bread into one inch cubes. If the bread is stale, put it in the loaf pan. If it is not stale spread it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a 350 degree oven to “stale” it for 10 minutes, then put it in the pan.
Bring the milk and cream just to a boil.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a bowl. Still whisking, slowly drizzle in about a quarter of the hot milk mix — this will temper, or warm the eggs so they don’t scramble. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remaining milk. Add the bourbon and extracts, and whisk gently to blend. Rap the bowl against the counter to pop any bubbles that might have formed, then pour the custard over the bread and press the bread gently with the back of a spoon to help cover it with liquid. Cover the pan lightly with wax paper and leave it on the counter, giving the bread the back-of-the-spoon treatment now and again, for an hour.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350.
Discard the wax paper and cover the pan snugly with a piece of aluminum foil; poke about 5 holes. Slide the pan into the oven and very carefully, pour enough hot water in the pan to come halfway up the sides of the pudding pan. Bake the pudding for a half hour, then remove the foil and baking for about fifteen minutes more, or until the pudding is puffed and golden and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer the baking pan to a rack and cool the pudding until just warm.
Next up: Sara’s most insatiable craving…