Sweet or savory, bread pudding is a perfect dish for cold weather.
By Florence Fabricant
Perhaps you have been baking bread for the past many months and you have extra waiting in the freezer. Now it’s time to add bread pudding to your repertoire. A good bread pudding is essentially bread and custard baked together, and welcomes a host of enhancements. It can be savory, with the addition of vegetables like sautéed onions or mushrooms, shredded greens, peppers or fennel. Earthy sourdough and whole grain breads enhance savory versions.
At breakfast, consider a bread pudding with sausage or blueberries instead of its cousin, French toast. For dessert, brioche, challah, panettone, white or whole grain breads, and leftover babka, especially chocolate babka, make delicious bread-pudding material.
Regardless of your ingredients, a reliable basic formula for an 8-inch square or 8-cup baking dish to serve six is three eggs and two cups of milk, cream or a combination. Before baking, you’ll need at least two hours to let the ingredients sop up the custard; overnight soaking is not a mistake. Toward the end of the baking time the bread pudding will puff up; that’s a good indicator that it’s almost done. Wait another five minutes, then pull it out of the oven. Serve it warm; it can be reheated.
Mushroom Bread Pudding
(Adapted from Susan Spungen)
Time: 40 minutes plus up to 12 hours soaking, then baking
Yield: 6 servings
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
6 ounces mixed fresh mushrooms sliced ¼-inch thick
8 fresh sage leaves, slivered, plus more for garnish
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Kosher salt, plus more to taste
Ground black pepper
2 medium-size leeks, white and pale green only, washed, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ cup shredded Gruyère cheese
8 ounces cubed bread (brioche, challah etc.), about 5 cups
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the sage and shallots and cook, stirring, until the shallot is translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add the remaining butter to the same pan over medium heat. Add the leeks, season with salt and cook, stirring, until the leeks are wilted but not brown. Return the mushroom mixture to the pan, stir and remove pan from heat. In a large bowl whisk the eggs, milk and cream together until well-blended Add the cayenne and season well with salt and pepper. Whisk again, then stir in the Gruyère.
3. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish. Spread a thin layer of the mushroom and leek mixture on the bottom. Add the bread, then spread the remaining mushroom mixture on top. Pour the egg mixture into the dish, taking care that the cheese is evenly distributed. Press down lightly on the bread to be sure it is well-moistened. Cover and set aside 2 hours or refrigerate for a longer time, up to overnight.
4. Allow the pudding to come to room temperature a good 30 minutes before baking. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the pudding, press down on the bread again, then dust with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until set and lightly browned. Let sit a few minutes, then scatter with sage leaves before serving.
Babka Bread Pudding
Time: 20 minutes plus up to 12 hours soaking and baking
Yield: 6 servings
3 large eggs
⅓ cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup whole milk
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup raisins (optional)
5 cups cubed babka; brioche, challah, panettone or other bread can be used
Unsalted butter for baking dish
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Whipped cream or ice cream for serving
1. In a large bowl whisk eggs until well blended. Whisk in the ⅓ cup sugar and the honey until dissolved. Whisk in the milk, half-and-half, vanilla and salt. Stir in the raisins if using. Add the bread, pressing down on it so it sops up the liquid.
2. Butter an 8-cup baking dish. Add the bread mixture, lightly pressing it again. Cover and set aside 2 hours; refrigerate for a longer time, up to overnight.
3. Allow the pudding to come to room temperature a good 30 minutes before baking. Mix the remaining sugar with the cinnamon. Uncover the pudding, press down on the bread again, then dust the top with the cinnamon-sugar. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until set and lightly browned. Let cool about 30 minutes before serving with ice cream or whipped cream.
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