The best thing since stale bread
Bread pudding is a great way to put stale bread to use. The most basic recipe calls for bread, whole eggs, yolks, sugar, milk/cream, and a pinch of salt. A basic pudding is great on it's own, or accented with the addition of dried fruit, berries, nuts, chocolate chips, zest, and extracts. Click through the slideshow to learn the basics.
Grease the pan
Before you begin cooking, preheat the oven and thoroughly grease the sides and bottom of a baking dish with butter. This will help keep the pudding from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Cut up the bread
For best results, use an enriched bread, like a challah or brioche or something soft and chewy, like sandwich buns. Cut the loaf of bread into medium sized, even pieces. For a variety of texture, try to cut the bread so each of the pieces has crust on at least one side.
Whisk together the custard ingredients
Begin by whisking the yolks and eggs together until they are well-blended. Continue to whisk with one hand and pour the sugar into the eggs a little at a time, whisking as you go. Once all the sugar has been added, whisk the mixture until it is lightened, for about one minute. Add the milk, cream, salt, and any additional flavoring, extract, or zest. Whisk for an additional 30 seconds, until the mixture is uniform.
Soak the bread
Place the pieces of bread in a large bowl. If you are adding other ingredients (fruit, nuts, chocolate, etc.) toss them into the bread so it is evenly distributed. Pour the custard over the bread and allow it to soak for a few minutes.
Toss and soak some more
After a few minutes of soaking, toss the bread mixture, bringing the pieces from the bottom of the bowl to the top. Allow the mixture to soak for a couple of additional minutes. This will help ensure that the bread is evenly soaked through with custard.
Pack the pudding into the baking dish
Pour the bread mixture into the prepared baking dish. For an attractive top, try to place many of the crust ends on the top surface.
Pour excess liquid over the bread
Pour any excess custard liquid over the bread. Allow it to soak in completely.
Cover for steaming
Place a sheet of foil over the baking dish and seal it around the edges. This will facilitate steaming, which will help the pudding cook evenly and maintain moisture. Remove the foil 30 minutes into cooking, then bake until the pudding puffs slightly and liquid does not squish out when you apply pressure to the surface of the pudding.
Serve family style
Bread pudding is a rustic dish, which I like serving family style. Serve the pudding warm with a sauce (fruit or caramel are great choices) or topped with whipped cream.