For me, one of the pleasures of being a young adult was discovering that many of the foods I had rejected as a child were actually edible and, in fact, rather tasty. My mother says I wasn’t a picky eater, but there were certain textures and flavors that did not work for me—mushrooms, fish, olives, guacamole (!), cherries, and, perhaps most deeply, bread pudding.
My grandfather took me to a buffet dinner when I was very small, younger than six, and after surveying my dizzying options I chose bread pudding for dessert because it had such a lovely cinnamon aroma. When the first bite landed on my tongue, I crumpled—mushy bread was not on my list of acceptable textures. The disconnect between inviting smell and (to me) repulsive mouthfeel was so jarring that I did not eat bread pudding again until I was 28, hungry for dessert on a whim, and in possession of a stale loaf of bread.
Now I have more than once bought bread specifically for bread pudding, though it’s obviously much more of a thrifty thrill to make it from a neglected half-loaf that’s already lurking in the kitchen. This week I tried the Joy of Cooking’s basic recipe, and it was so good—especially with whipped cream on top, which I tried at the book's wise suggestion. There are variations with chocolate and bourbon and brioche and whatnot, but the plain old white sandwich bread version tasted mighty fine to me, bringing my happy month with Joy of Cooking to a sweet conclusion.
(My only complaint is related to my own technique, I think. I ended up with a fair but not ruinous amount of not-so-appetizing clear liquid underneath the bread pudding. I assume the eggs released it because the custard wasn’t setting altogether properly, but does anyone know for sure? I once made Suzanne Goin’s bread pudding and produced an even greater amount of liquid, plus a scrambled eggy taste. Since it’s the only recipe in Sunday Suppers at Lucques that has not worked brilliantly for me, I must assume that I am somewhat bread-pudding-challenged. I did use a bain-marie, so I’m not sure how else I could coddle the custard.)
- Butter for greasing the baking dish
- 12 to 16 ounces white bread, stale but not hard, crusts removed, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 3/4 cup raisins (optional)
- 4 large eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups whole or low-fat milk
- Turbinado sugar (optional)
- Whipped cream, milk, or heavy or light cream
Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Spread the bread cubes in the prepared baking dish. (My bread was fresh, so I first put the cubes in a 200°F oven for 15 minutes to make them a little less soft. I can’t say whether this was strictly necessary.) If you are using the raisins (I did not), scatter them over the top.
Thoroughly whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. (I used 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup brown because I love brown sugar. Also, I didn’t have any nutmeg and didn’t miss it.) Whisk in the milk. Pour this mixture over the bread and let stand for 30 minutes, periodically pressing the bread down to help it absorb the liquid. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put a rack, a folded dishtowel or a couple of paper towels in the bottom of a baking dish or roasting pan large enough to hold the dish of bread pudding. Set the bread pudding atop the rack or towel and prepare a kettle full of hot but not boiling water. (I scattered turbinado sugar over the surface of my pudding at this point.) Open the oven, set the nested pans on a rack, and quickly pour the scalding water into the outer pan so that it reaches 1/2-2/3 up the outside of the bread pudding pan. Bake until puffed and firm in the center, about 1 1/4 hours. Serve warm or cold with the whipped cream, milk, or cream.
The pudding can be made several days ahead. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate. To reheat, bake for 15 minutes in a 325°F oven.