Bread Pudding

My cousin Penney thinks there should be another name for Bread Pudding.  I can see her point.  Many people think they don’t like Bread Pudding because the name is evocative of . . . well, bread and pudding.  It doesn’t really sound like much of a combination, when you think about it.  But when done well, bread pudding transcends the name and becomes . . . well, bread heaven.  Or something like it.  Perhaps my friend Frank said it best, when asked for an alternate term for bread pudding.  “When it’s done right,” he exclaimed, “the word ‘aphrodisiac’ comes to mind.”

That’s high praise for a dessert that has its roots in 13th Century England and was known as “poor man’s pudding”.  Stale, leftover bread was moistened with a little water and had a little sugar and spice mixed in.  Fast forward to the present century, where a rich, decadent custard-based bread pudding can be found on the dessert menus of high-end restaurants across the country.

The ultimate comfort food, bread pudding is beautiful in its simplicity to make.  Unlike most baking, you don’t need to be precise in your measurements, and virtually any technique will work.  You can use a variety of breads, from sourdough to croissants.  I’ve even seen a bread pudding recipe made with Krispy Kreme Donuts!

Here’s a recipe that’s foolproof and always a crowd pleaser.

Start with a loaf of cinnamon bread.  I used the store-bought Cinnabon brand bread for this.  Cut it up in cubes and let it sit in a bowl exposed to air for around 3 to 8 hours.

You want the bread cubes to just be dry enough not to feel doughy to the touch . . . but not hard.

Arrange a layer of bread cubes to cover the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.  It doesn’t have to be jigsaw puzzle precise, but try to cover most of the bottom without crowding the cubes too tightly. You can go ahead and preheat your oven to 325.

Next, place a row of cubes around the edges of the dish, crust side up.  Don’t worry that the edges are uneven, that’s part of the rustic charm of the dish.  When that is finished, layer the remaining bread cubes in a random pattern in the center, turning some of the crust side up.

Now you’re ready to make the custard.  Aren’t these pretty eggs?  I get them from a neighbor who raises chickens.  They are probably equivalent to a medium egg  in the grocery store, and I used 4 of them.  Whisk lightly.

Add 3 1/2 cups of milk and 4 Tablespoons of melted butter to the eggs and mix together.  (You can also subsitute cream for some of the milk, if you’re feeling wicked).  Add 1  1/2 to 2 cups of sugar, depending on your taste, and mix until it is dissolved.  (Remember there is some sugar in the cinnamon bread.  If you’re using an unsweetened bread, you can add more sugar).

Mix in 2 Tablespoons of vanilla.  (That’s right . . . TABLESPOONS).

Now gently pour the mixture over the bread cubes in the baking dish.  You will have some cubes exposed on top, just make sure you have moistened them with the custard mixture. At this point, you can also optionally add 3/4 cup chopped pecans sprinkled over the top.  Place it on the center rack of the oven and bake at 325 for 55-70 minutes, until the entire top is a rich golden brown.  (My oven took 68 minutes).

While that’s baking, it’s time to make the Whiskey Cream Sauce . . . without which this bread pudding is not complete.  In fact, if you can make only one thing, make the Whiskey Cream Sauce and forget the bread pudding.  It’s that good.  And so easy.  Simply melt 2 sticks of butter, 1 cup of cream, 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of Whiskey in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a slow boil, then remove from heat. (My original recipe called for Jack Daniels Whiskey.  Having none in the house, I turned to a high-quality Scotch.  I must say, after tasting . . . and tasting . . . and tasting it, the Scotch sauce is exceptionally good.  There I go, hitting the sauce again!) Lots of butter, heavy cream, sugar and whiskey . . .what else could be better?  (For your soul, if not your heart!)

The bread pudding will look a little poufy when you take it out of the oven.  Let it sit for 15 minutes or so to deflate.  Serve it warm or cooled with the warm Whiskey (or Scotch!) sauce.  Be still my heart!

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