I love bread pudding and I hate raisins. This recipe is perfect for me.
In addition to meeting my personal qualifications for an acceptable bread pudding recipe, I think it would be a great alternative dessert for Thanksgiving or Christmas. The ingredients are perfect for autumn and it’s not sickeningly sweet (which is another major qualifying factor for me). I love how it incorporates many of the traditional holiday flavors in a new yet familiar realm.
This recipe is courtesy of the James Beard Foundation website and was adapted from a recipe by Donna Leahy Morning Glories (1996).
2 medium baking Apples, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
4 large Eggs
1/4 cup Sugar
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon freshly grated Nutmeg
1 teaspoon Cinnammon
1/4 cup Unsalted Butter, melted, plus more to grease molds or pan
2 cups Half and Half
1/4 cup Brandy
1 cup fresh Cranberries
1/2 cup Pecans
5 cups stale Bread, cubed
Vanilla Bean Custard:
2 cups Half and Half
1 Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise
6 Egg Yolks
1/2 cup Sugar
For the pudding, toss sliced apples with lemon juice and set aside. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs until frothy and pale yellow in color. Add the sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon to the eggs and beat until smooth. Mix in butter, half and half, and brandy (I used Sherry as I did not have Brandy on hand and I thought it was a good substitute). In another large bowl, toss the apples, cranberries, and pecans with the bread cubes. *Place the bread mixture in a greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (or individual custard cups). Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread. Cover it with foil and weigh down the top with a 1- or 2-pound bag of rice or dried beans to encourage the bread to absorb the liquid. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the weight and foil and place the pudding in a larger pan with one inch of hot water in it to form a water bath. Bake for 55 minutes or until set. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes to lightly brown the top.
While the bread pudding is baking, prepare the custard sauce. **Begin by placing the half-and-half and the vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat until it is just about to boil. Keep a careful watch over the half-and-half as it has a tendency to boil over when you least expect it. Remove it from the heat. In a metal mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is light-colored. Remove the vanilla bean from the half-and-half and with the back of a paring knife, scrape the tiny seeds inside the pod into the half-and-half. Mix the seeds with the half-and-half and discard the pod. Slowly pour 1 cup of the half-and-half into the egg mixture, constantly whisking. When the two mixtures are well incorporated, add the rest of the hot half-and-half. This process of tempering ensures that the hot half-and-half will not curdle the eggs.
Prepare a large bowl with ice and water and have a second smaller bowl ready. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it just begins to thicken and coat the back of a spoon. Immediately remove the mixture from the heat and pour into the empty bowl. Submerge the bottom of the bowl into the ice water to stop the custard from cooking and to prevent curdling; stir until cooled slightly. Cool the mixture for about 10 minutes longer. Serve the room-temperature custard sauce with the warm pudding.
*In previous bread pudding recipes that I have prepared, I have tossed the bread with the egg mixture in a bowl and then moved it to the pan in which it will be cooked. I would go that route the next time I make this recipe rather than pouring the egg mixture over the bread in the pan.
** I find it easier to split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds from the inside before putting the half and half on the stove top. That way you are not having to wrestle with a hot, slippery vanilla bean later and you can simply fish out the two halves and discard them (since the seeds are already in your liquid) when the half and half has come up to temperature.
Tricks and Tips:
They recommend (and I agree) to use the best bread you can for the bread pudding. They specifically recommend croissants and brioche. I used Challah as it was more readily available (plus you can make French Toast out of the remaining half loaf).
Grating a fresh piece of nutmeg rather than buying the ground version makes a huge difference in flavor. In addition to getting the more potent flavor, your going to get longevity as well (the nutmeg in it’s whole form will not lose essential oils at the same rate as the processed product). If you have a Microplane you have all the tools you need.
I used a baking dish rather than a loaf pan. Either will work. You will get a more dense bread pudding from a loaf pan and a more freeform style from a baking dish. Just don’t choose too large of a pan or you won’t get the desired effect.
A water bath serves the purpose of slowing the cooking process. This is beneficial for any custard as it will prevent the eggs from curdling.
You will find yourself with 6 egg whites left over. Save them and make an angel food cake or use them to make a souffle.
This recipe will serve approximately 6 people.