Even at its simplest, bread pudding is scrumptious. Using challah or another egg bread, such as brioche or panettone, gives this version extra richness and substance, and then two things take it over the top: caramelized sugar, which adds incredible depth of flavor, and a scattering of bright red raspberries to finish.
Caramel Bread Pudding
1 loaf challah bread, about 1 lb.
4 cups milk
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 Tbs. light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 cups raspberries
Whipped cream or crème fraîche for serving
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 3-quart baking dish.
Cut the challah into 1-inch cubes; you should have about 8 cups. Spread the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the bread is dry around the edges but not toasted, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, butter and salt and heat, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted. Set aside and cover to keep warm.
In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water and stir to moisten the sugar. Set over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stop stirring and cook, using a pastry brush dipped in cold water to brush down any crystals that form on the sides of the pan and occasionally swirling the saucepan by its handle, until the sugar turns a deep golden brown caramel. The caramel will have a toasty aroma, and you may see some wisps of smoke. Reduce the heat to low. Gradually and very carefully stir the warm milk mixture into the caramel; the mixture will boil furiously. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth and the caramel is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat.
In a very large heatproof bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. Gradually whisk in the caramel mixture, then the vanilla. Add the bread cubes and let stand, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Pour the bread mixture into the prepared baking dish. Place the dish in a large roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven and pour hot water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake until a knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes.
Scatter the raspberries over the warm pudding. Serve in bowls and top each portion with a dollop of whipped cream. Serves 8.
Variation: Instead of raspberries, top the bread pudding with another seasonal fruit, such as peaches, nectarines, blackberries or blueberries, or a combination.