Wild winds and roaring rain send my family to the kitchen to make soothing snacks. We all gather round table or fireplace for hot tea or cocoa, cheese toast, and bread puddings of various kinds. Flickering lights send us searching for candles and a wonderful read-aloud book like A Wrinkle In Time or The Hobbit (nobody is too young or too old for these). Purring cats fill laps, voices raise in song or laughter, and soulful conversations find room to unfurl.
Ever since Bud died, we’ve been eating a lot of comfort food. Fortunately, there are any number of ways to make a sumptuous and satisfying bread pudding. Bread creates the texture base, if not always the flavor base, for the pudding. Traditional bread pudding used grated bread crumbs, whether of white bread or a whole grained brown loaf, generally with the crusts removed. Contemporary puddings are usually based on cubes of rustic, artisan bread with a serious crust. Either way works fine with any of the following recipes and variations.
Perfect Bread Pudding
In restaurants, bread pudding ranks among the favorite desserts, especially during the cooler months. That’s probably because that creamy, custardy confection is the quintessential comfort food for many of us. Sweet or savory, lively with added ingredients or purest simplicity, bread pudding smells like heaven and tastes like home.
The Secret Is The Soaking
What makes a pudding perfect? Getting just the right balance of complementary flavors, textures, and fragrance is part of it. The magic, however, happens when you let the bread soak in the custard for at least a few hours. The texture changes miraculously and as the flavors meld, the whole gains a memorable depth and finish.
Make More Or Less
Here’s a basic recipe for sweet bread pudding that comes out perfect every time. Use a bit more sugar if you have a sweet tooth, less if you prefer the creamy milky flavor of the custard to predominate. This recipe makes enough to fill a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. Half the recipe will fill a 6-8 cup baking dish; the pudding will puff up quite a bit as it cooks, then collapse again as it cools. An oversized pan will keep the pudding from spilling over the sides.
Basic Creamy Bread Pudding
8 cups (about 1 pound) crusty wholegrain bread, cut in bite-sized pieces
8 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4-1 cup sugar
2 cups organic whole milk or half-and-half
2 cups organic heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
Put cut bread on a baking sheet to dry out a bit. Gently beat the eggs until light, then add the sugar, milk, cream, nutmeg, and vanilla. Place bread in baking dish and pour egg mixture over the bread. Chill for a few hours (at least 4 and up to 24; overnight is good). Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Fill a 13 x 9 2-inch baking pan or two smaller baking dishes and bake at 325 degrees until puffed and golden on top (50-60 minutes). Cool slightly on a rack, then serve warm. Serves at least one.
Sweet variations: Use cranberry orange bread, banana bread, or any rustic bread (rye, sourdough, etc.). Add nuts, fresh or dried fruit, coconut flakes, or chocolate chips.
Savory Bread Pudding With Figs And Olives
4-5 cups crusty rye, pumpernickle, or sourdough bread, cubed
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole organic milk
1 cup organic heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup chopped white or yellow onion
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped
Put cut bread on a baking sheet to dry out a bit. Gently beat the eggs until light, then add the milk, cream, salt, and paprika. Place bread in baking dish, toss with onion, olives, and figs, then pour egg mixture over the bread. Chill for a few hours (at least 4 and up to 24; overnight is good). Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Fill a 13 x 9 2-inch baking pan or two smaller baking dishes and bake at 325 degrees until puffed and golden on top (50-60 minutes). Cool slightly on a rack, then serve warm. Serves at least one.
Sourdough with fresh cranberries, garlic and walnuts
Rye bread with fennel seed, sausage and onion
Rosemary bread with lemon rind, leeks and almonds
Corn bread cubes with salsa, sharp cheese, cumin and raw sweet corn
For a dairy-free version, replace milk and cream with broth, stock, or plain hazelnut milk, almond milk, or oat milk.