This post comes to us courtesy of food writer Lee Havlicek.
Bread pudding is something of magic trick. With a little help, stale bread turns into a wonderfully rich, inviting dessert, perfect for adding some cheer to a casual family dinner or a big holiday party. Comfort food, always popular, has become a favorite among chefs in recent years, and bread pudding seems to be popping up in even the most upscale restaurants. Easier than pie and inexpensive to make, bread pudding can be dressed up or down and fits in at any occasion. Active prep time is also usually pretty minimal.
Basic recipes are always satisfying and well-loved, but don’t be afraid to play around with this old-fashioned favorite and add some new ingredients. Use your favorite type of bread, change spices or fruits, add some nuts or chocolate chips, serve with ice cream or a dessert sauce. There’s no limit.
It also makes a really easy last-minute dessert. Have guests coming over that you didn’t expect? Take just about anything you’ve got in your pantry or fridge — from fruit to chocolate to just a little vanilla and liquor — and let the bread soak it all up while you make the rest of the meal. Pop the pudding in the oven when you sit down to dinner and when you’re done, you’ve got a knockout of a dessert waiting for you that took very little effort and that everyone will love.
Here are five different ways to warm your guests, heart to toes.
This recipe is a good base to start with, allowing for room to improvise. Try swapping out the spices or dried fruits for your favorites. The Williams-Sonoma Baker’s Spice Kit and the Williams-Sonoma Breakfast Spice Kit are both fantastic tools to take the guesswork out of trying a variety of incredible flavors in your baking.
|Brioche Bread Pudding
Try making each guest their own bread pudding using individual baking dishes, such as Emile Henry Artisan Mini Ruffled Pie Dishes. This is a great way to dress up your bread pudding for a more formal dinner. Using brioche gives this recipe an extra velvety texture and creamy flavor, but feel free to change up the bread and add your favorite fruit, too.
|Chocolate Bread Pudding
This recipe is a great way to get out of your chocolate dessert slump. Instead of making the typical brownies or chocolate cake, the next time you find yourself craving chocolate give this recipe a try. If you don’t like bittersweet chocolate, you can substitute your favorite kind.
|Michael Voltaggio’s Banana Bread Pudding
Creamy but not too sweet, Chef Michael Voltaggio’s bread pudding combines simple, inexpensive ingredients for an amazing result. Using roasted ripe bananas, this recipe surprises with more flavor than you might expect. Try swapping out the white pullman loaf for challah for an extra special touch.
Bourbon-Caramel Apple Sourdough Bread Pudding
When it comes to winning over those who think of bread pudding as unappealing or dated, this dessert has a perfect record. After making this recipe for family and friends, my friend Allie managed to convert her father, a man with a life-long dislike of bread pudding, in one fell bite. Deep fall flavors of bourbon-caramel (one of the best marriages in history, if you’re asking me) are perfectly balanced by bright apple and tangy sourdough. The recipe doesn’t have much active work time, and the finished product ranks extremely high on both the impressive and decadent dessert scales.
8 eggs at room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 cups whole milk at room temperature
2 cups cream at room temperature
¼ cup bourbon
½ vanilla bean
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
Heaping ¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 pound day-old sourdough bread, cubed into roughly 1-inch pieces
2 Granny Smith apples
Juice of 1 lemon
Butter for greasing pan
Kettle of boiling water
In a bowl large enough to fit all of your bread with plenty of extra room, whisk 8 eggs until completely homogenized and slightly foamy. Add ½ cup sugar and whisk quickly until light yellow.
Whisk in milk, cream, bourbon, the scraped out seeds of the ½ vanilla bean, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and heaping ¼ tsp of salt.
Add bread cubes and gently mix with a spatula or your hands. Let sit for about an hour, mixing again every now and then to ensure all of the bread gets equally soaked. You want most of the liquid to be absorbed.
While the bread is soaking, make Bourbon-Carmel Sauce (see recipe below). Then, peel, core and grate your apples into a bowl, using the largest holes on a box grater. Toss with lemon and set aside.
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and put a kettle filled with water on the stove to boil.
Generously grease an 8×8 square baking dish, concentrating on the sides. You can use a bit less on the bottom, as this part will be coated with caramel sauce, but don’t be skimpy on the sides.
When your bread has soaked up most of the liquid, get your caramel sauce and create a thin layer over the bottom of your baking dish, followed by a layer of half of the apples, followed by a layer of half of the bread mixture. Repeat one more time. Press down firmly and evenly on top once you have finished to pack mixture down into dish.
Set filled baking dish in a roasting pan and place on oven rack. Fill roasting pan with enough water to reach halfway up the side of your baking dish. Bake for 70 minutes or until pudding is set, checking after 40 minutes and periodically thereafter to see if top is browning. If it becomes browned before the filling is set, cover loosely with foil until pudding is done.
Allow to cool for just a few minutes and, after running a knife around the edge of the pudding, invert onto a large plate. (Make sure it has sides that will prevent the caramel from running right off the edge). You can even scoop and serve directly from the pan, if you prefer. Be sure have extra warmed caramel sauce handy for drizzling. You can keep any sauce that you do not use, covered in the fridge for about a week. (It’s amazing over ice cream.) Serves 9.
Bourbon Caramel Sauce
2 cups sugar
½ cup water
1 cup heavy cream at room temperature
¼ tsp. kosher or sea salt
½ vanilla bean
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup bourbon
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
Note: Make sure to have all of your ingredients measure and ready to go before you begin. You will need to move quickly from step to step and watch the boiling sugar extremely closely to prevent the caramel from getting too dark darken. If it goes too far beyond amber, the flavor will get bitter. Trust me, this happens faster than you would think.
Add 2 cups sugar followed by ½ cup water to a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Do not stir. Bring to a boil over medium heat (still not stirring with a spoon), watching carefully. Gently swirl the pan as the mixture cooks until it is a medium amber color.
Immediately reduce the heat to low and slowly drizzle in the cream (it will bubble up and splash if you do this too quickly), stirring with a wooden spoon.
Add the ¼ tsp salt and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mixture. Drop in the pod, too.
Add 1 teaspoon lemon juice, ½ cup bourbon, and 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring as you go.
Remove from heat (don’t just turn the burner off) and let cool a bit before using. Makes 2 1/2 cups.
About the author: Lee Havlicek is an active supporter of pasta, ferris wheels, outdoor: meals, movies, music, and theater, avocados, snow, whiskey, Shakespeare, sandwiches, planetariums, tomatoes, food trucks, long meals, long e-mails, short ribs, autumn days, summertimes, cake and pie (equally), Low Library Steps, full tanks of gas, full moons, full bellies, all holidays, blackberries, and New York City. She learned to cook from her mother, eat from her father, and figured out from an early age that there’s nothing better than sharing a good meal with good people. She was previously catering manager at Georgetown Cupcake, an editorial intern at Bloomsbury, and is currently a member of Empty Chair Theatre Company and a freelance contributor to Gilt Taste.