David Tanis loves good bread. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter to it in his new cookbook, One Good Dish. And while there are a few recipes calling for a fresh loaf, he finds most of his creativity in using older, staler loaves. This fact may sound strange, but I find it incredibly useful. I often have an "aged" end or two of bread that I bought with the good intentions of demolishing every slice in a single day, but eventually succumbed to the reality of an unpredictable diet. Take this ham and Gruyère bread pudding. It's a quick, easy recipe that makes use of some of the most easily staled bread (a baguette), transforming it from a doorstop to a creamy, rich, custardy meal. Cubes of smoked ham and two layers of melty Gruyère don't hurt either.
Why I picked this recipe: I often have stale bread around the house; why not turn it into a casserole of comfort?
What worked: Tanis's the ham, cheese, and butter bread pudding is like the demure French ham sandwich's loud, boisterous cousin—in a good way.
What didn't: I would have actually preferred a little less cheese (more like 4 ounces). I thought its presence slightly overwhelmed the rest of the dish.
Suggested tweaks: Tanis suggests adding a handful of steamed spinach or chard to the custard mix and/or sprinkling on a few different minced herbs with the scallions.
Reprinted with permission from One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal by David Tanis. Copyright 2013. Published by Artisan Books. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 day-old French baguette, cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/4 pound good-quality smoked ham, diced
- 6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
- 3 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
- Salt and pepper
- Grated nutmeg
- 6 scallions, finely slivered
Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a shallow 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Spread the remaining butter thinly on the slices of baguette. Line the baking dish with half the baguette slices, butter side down.
Arrange the ham and half the cheese over the bread. Top with the remaining baguette slices, butter side up, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Beat together the eggs and half-and-half, adding 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Grate in a little nutmeg, add the scallions, and whisk again. Pour the mixture into the baking dish, pushing down to submerge the bread if necessary.
Bake for about 45 minutes, until the custard is set but still a bit wiggly and the top is nicely browned.