Winter can be a little demoralizing, depending on where you live. Personally I don’t mind the season or the cold, but I get it that other people suffer during these months. Short days, grey skies, cold and sleet…not exactly paradise. During times like this, we instinctively seek comfort, and I can’t think of many things that say “comfort” to me like bread pudding. Warm, rich, filling, it’s exactly the kind of sweet indulgence that can boost your spirits during our trip away from the sun. If your one of the unlucky few that don’t like bread pudding, this post isn’t for you. Perhaps check out my recipe for a cherry tart, or chocolate eclairs. For the rest of you, read on.
The major elements of a bread pudding are the bread itself and the custard it is soaked in and basically suspended in after baking. Choose a bread that has some sweetness and richness of it’s own and a tighter crumb that can withstand and hold liquid, like a challah or brioche (if you want to get really into it, you can make the brioche yourself with my recipe!). If you’d like to experiment with other breads or bread products, be my guest! I’ll tell you I generally stay away from breads that aren’t enriched (have added butter and/or dairy) because the crumb is usually too porous and the flavor a little to sour.
In terms of the custard, I take pains to cook it slowly in a humid environment to develop, long, smooth protein bonds (coagulation) which will make for a creamy custard. Cooking the bread pudding too quickly can cause the custard and the bread to burn or dry out, and the rapid coagulation will create a more rubbery texture to the custard. I always add a water bath to my baking pan and bake on low temp.
The secondary element(s) of the bread pudding are any add-ins you’d like to add. Flavorings like extracts or zests and dry ingredients like chocolate chips, dried nuts, and dried fruit can be added in lots of combos and in decently large quantities without any negative effect to the finished product. Any add-ins with a high water content, like fresh or frozen fruit, should be handled with a little more care as they can effect the texture of the finished baked bread pudding.
65g butter unsalted
150g whole eggs about three eggs
80g egg yolks about 4 eggs
265g whole milk
3g vanilla extract
800g brioche or as needed
Bring the whole eggs and whole milk to room temp. before getting started. This is an important step to ensure full homogenization of the butter.
Melt the butter and reserve that to use later.
Cut the brioche into 1” cubes. I remove any crust from the bread, but this is optional. Allow the bread to air dry for 30 – 40min., spread out in a thin, even, layer on a drying rack (to allow air flow all around the bread).
Heat the whole milk until hot but not steaming and add the sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and the melted butter, whisking (or hand blending) until homogenized.
Beat the eggs to break them up, and add some of the milk mixture to the eggs, whisking to thin the eggs.
Add the eggs back into the milk and whisk well to homogenize the mix and create the custard base.
Fill your baking vessel in layers of bread, soaking it with custard base with each layer. When adding the custard base, give the bread time to soak up as much mixture as possible, adding more base as needed. You’ll know the bread is fully soaked when small pools of mixture sit on the surface of the bread (as they have no bread to soak into).
Place the baking vessel on a sheet pan and into the oven.
Add water to the sheet pan until there is at least a ¼”/.6cm of water in the pan (don’t overfill the pan with water or it will be difficult to remove from the oven without a risk of being scalded/burned). *I added my water to the pan before placing it in the oven simply to photograph it. I strongly recommend adding the water after placing the pan in the oven.
Bake at 320F/160C until the custard mixture is set and a cake tester comes out clean, about 20-30min. While the bread pudding is baking, melt some butter and reserve it to use.
When the bread pudding is done baking, be careful removing it from the oven as the sheet pan will still have hot water in it!
Brush the top of the bread pudding with the melted butter and sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over it.
Increase the heat of the oven to 450F and bake for an additional 5-7min. until a sugar crust forms.
I’ll just throw out the idea of eating this warm with a little ice cream. Happy days are here again.