Now that fall is here, it's time to bring out one of my all-time favorites: bread pudding. Perhaps such a ho-hum dessert seems a little out of character from someone who puts pink peppercorns in her cookies and yogurt on her face, but hear me out. This is why bread pudding is great:
1. It's like making French toast, only easier; and
2. It all but requires stale, crumbly bread. Do you hear that, gluten-free friends? Stale, crumbly bread. You probably have some of that laying around, no?
I certainly always do. Whether it's the result of a recipe that didn't work out, a loaf I accidentally crushed en route from the supermarket, or a bag full of unloved bread heels slowly building up in the freezer, there's no shortage of bread odds & ends in this house.
Bread pudding is also apparently a global phenomenon. I've always thought of it as a British thing, but it turns out that just about everyone eats it. Variations of the humble pudding exist in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Cuba, France, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the United Kingdom, as well as the American South and Louisiana. If you love bread pudding, you're in good company.
Finally, bread pudding is the perfect vehicle for vanilla custard, another item on my favorites list and one of my family's few hand-me-down recipes. My mother used to eat custard for breakfast as a kid, spooned over a bowl of stewed guavas, and she in turn made it for us as a dessert. (It was only later in life that I discovered eating straight custard is apparently strange. I once asked a waiter in the UK for a bowl of custard and got a reaction like I'd requested a bowl of chocolate icing.) I still make custard often as a dessert sauce, a base for pastry cream, or just when it's time for something sweet. You really can't go wrong in adding custard to your culinary repertoire.
So, grab your favorite whisk and flip on the oven--you're about an hour away from what might be the world's favorite comfort food.
80g (1/3 c.) sugar
200g (about 1 c.) milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
280g crumbled white gluten-free bread (about half a loaf)
Mix-in: 1/2 c. raisins, 2 sliced bananas, a diced apple, chocolate chips...whatever makes you happy.
1. Butter an 8" x 8" pan or a pie dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Whisk eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon together in a bowl. Mix in bread with a wooden spoon, squishing against the sides of the bowl a bit to break down any dry chunks. The consistency should be wet, but the bread will absorb almost all of the soupy egg-milk mixture.You might need to add a splash more milk; when it looks right, stir in raisins or bananas.
3. Pour pudding mixture into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. It is done when puffed and golden and no gooey batter sticks to a knife if you poke it in the center. Remove from oven and allow to cool about 10 minutes before cutting in.
Yield: 6-8 servings.
While the pudding cools, make your custard...
Vanilla CustardNow, I realize "custard" made with cornstarch is heresy to anyone with a culinary background. You can either use two whole eggs plus cornstarch for a thicker custard, or make a richer traditional custard with four yolks. I usually opt for the former because it saves me from having to find a use for the leftover egg whites.
20g (2 Tbsp.) cornstarch, optional
2 c. milk (at least 2%, preferably whole)
80g (1/3 c.) sugar
2 eggs, beaten (or 4 yolks)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1. Whisk together cornstarch (if using), milk, and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk eggs and salt together in a small bowl and keep close by. Whisk milk occasionally to keep cornstarch lumps from forming, and heat until scalded (not boiling, but when a few bubbles form around the edge of the pan), 5-10 minutes.
2. Introduce a small splash of hot milk to beaten eggs and whisk vigorously. Pour in another splash and whisk again. Then, put the hot milk back on the stove and whisk in the egg mixture in a thin stream. Heat while whisking for another minute until custard thickens.
3. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla. Consume immediately. If you must store it for later, cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate.
Yield: About 2.5 cups of custard.