Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bread Pudding is a Fine Comfort Food

I have yet to meet a bread pudding I didn't like. Bread puddings come in all sorts of styles, shapes, sizes and flavors. I don't believe bread pudding was ever a part of my life growing up, but once I married and moved to Guatemala, I started exploring the few cookbooks I had and found bread pudding as a dessert option. Leftover bread is always around. Milk and eggs and sugar were always on hand. Presto!

Most of my sisters like bread pudding, though some may eschew the whole concept on the basis of calorie or carb count. Granted, it is hard to make bread pudding without carbs. Calories can be corralled a bit if needed. I personally just don't care. Once in a while, I make bread pudding and sit in glorious rapture as I take a spoonful and savor the smoothness, sweetness and creaminess. It doesn't get much better for comfort food in my book. If you are not a bread pudding fan, then this blog is simply not for you.
White Chocolate Bread Pudding
White Chocolate Bread Pudding

It wasn't until my current husband and I moved to Mandeville, Louisiana that I really found out what bread pudding could be. The bread puddings I had made from my Joy of Cooking or Better Homes and Gardens books back in Guatemala did not have a sauce poured over them. In Louisiana, there is definitely a sauce poured on top of bread pudding just about everywhere you might go. And in Louisiana it is hard to find any restaurant that does not have bread pudding on the menu. I was in bread-pudding-heaven down there! Some bread puddings had the sauce poured over them straight from the oven, to soak in at its leisure. Some places served a sauce on the side, and some poured it over the pudding when it was served. Sometimes the bread pudding was made in a flat pan, sometimes in tall souffle type pans. Sometimes the puddings were more dry and sometimes very wet. Many had raisins. One even had coconut. Not every bread pudding I ate in Louisiana was on the tippy-top of my list, but they were still good. The ones that were really good though, were out of this world.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding
White Chocolate Bread Pudding: just baked;                                      with Bourbon Sauce poured over top

One place we went quite often when living in Mandeville was the Times Bar & Grill. I would rate their bread pudding right at the top of my list of desserts, nearly provoking a "When Harry Met Sally" moment. Even if I was too full to eat a dessert, I would order it to take home. The Times Bar & Grill did survive Katrina, though I have no idea what their menu contains at this point in time as it has been a lot of years since we moved away. Another great restaurant right around the corner from where we lived was Semolina. They had some amazing pasta dishes, of course, and their bread pudding was the really tall one I described as like it was baked in a souffle dish. Excellent, though a drier variety.

Okay, so after all the amazing bread puddings I ate everywhere we went, I also continued to make them at home. I have played with the amounts and this recipe is the one I like best, both for the bread pudding and for the sauce. I like to add white chocolate to the bread pudding as I feel it makes the pudding even more unctuous, but it can be left out with no problems to the recipe. I use whatever kind of bread I want, from sandwich bread to a very artisanal, chewy style - or a combination. I often buy a loaf of French bread and use that. I rarely use dry stale bread. I think of a thing and want to make it NOW! The bread pudding I made a few days ago was partly made with leftover hamburger buns and part artisanal bread. 

Once I had some of my Double Chocolate Bread and decided to use it to make a bread pudding and it was great. The addition of chocolate chips might have made it better, though I had none at the time. No photos of my Double Chocolate Bread exist - it seems to disappear before a photo is even taken. This bread is a bread - nothing like a sweet cake or brownie. But it is absolute HEAVEN when toasted and topped with honey. 

Double Chocolate Bread

Makes two 8 x 5-inch loaves

1 package yeast, instant preferred (or "Gold" for sweet breads)
3 cups bread flour
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 cup milk, warmed
¼ cup water
1 cup chocolate chips

In the bowl of a heavy duty mixer, combine together the flour, yeast, brown sugar, salt, cocoa, cinnamon. Add the warm milk, water and the egg, along with the chocolate chips and set the mixer to stir, then allow to knead for up to 8 minutes. Lower bowl, remove the dough hook, and allow to rise until doubled in bulk - about 2 hours.

Remove dough to a floured surface and divide into two sections. Gently roll into loaves and place in greased loaf pans, and allow to rise once more until doubled in bulk.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. These are smaller loaves, but they are dense, so may require the whole 30 minutes baking time.

NOTES: Rich yeast dough sometimes takes a very long time to rise. The King Arthur Flour Bakers catalogue has "SAF Gold Instant" yeast (sometimes referred to as "brown yeast"), made especially for these rich yeast doughs. It only comes in a 1 pound brick, so if you do not make rich yeast dough often, this might not be for you.

If desired, ½ to 1 cup of raisins may be added to the dough at the beginning of the kneading time, along with the chocolate chips. The raisins make a more moist bread.

Back to the Bread Pudding:

The heavy cream called for can be substituted with half & half, milk or 2% milk as desired, though the outcome will be far less creamy, particularly with the latter. Many bread pudding recipes call for raisins. I do not care for cooked raisins in a dessert, so I do not use them. If you love raisins, add in about 1/2 cup of them. Other dried fruits could also be added, such as craisins, cherries or apricots, or a combination.

I have experimented with many of the sauce recipes available. The sauce can be made with bourbon, brandy, cognac or rum, or none-of-the-above. It needs to cook until it "coats the back of a spoon" or until a candy thermometer reaches 235. The first time I made the sauce, it was in a taller saucepan and it took over an hour to reach that point. After that I started making it in my widest soup pot, giving the sauce a lot of surface area to evaporate more quickly. This way it takes about 15 or 20 minutes.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

Makes one 13 x 9-inch pan

16 ounces of bread of choice, cut in 1-inch cubes
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
6 eggs
1 cup sugar
4 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons bourbon (or brandy, rum, cognac)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped finely

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). Grease a 13 x 9-inch pan. Have a larger casserole or roaster pan that will accommodate the 13 x 9 pan easily.

In a large bowl, toss together the bread cubes with the cinnamon and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until combined. Add in the sugar, heavy cream, cognac and vanilla and whisk together well. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and stir to combine. At this point the mixture can be held for 15 minutes to 24 hours. When ready to bake, add in the white chocolate and stir. Have boiling water ready to pour into the larger pan. Pour the bread mixture into the prepared 13 x 9 pan. Set the bread pudding pan into the larger pan and very carefully, pour the boiling water into the larger pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the 13 x 9 pan, creating a water bath to help the pudding cook without making scrambled eggs. Carefully set the whole thing in the oven and bake until a knife inserted between the center and the edge comes out clean, about 40 - 45 minutes.

Making Bourbon Sauce for Bread Pudding
Just beginning to cook the sauce            sauce bubbling to half the pan height               coating the back of a spoon 

Bourbon Sauce

1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon (or brandy, rum or cognac)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Stir all the ingredients together in a large, wide pot. If you prefer the bourbon to make more of a statement, add it later, once the sauce has cooked. Set the pan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Lower to about medium heat and allow to cook without stirring, to 235 degrees or until it coats the back of a spoon. A candy thermometer is helpful, but not necessary. Just about when the sauce is ready, it will bubble up quite high in the pan (middle photo above), so check often. It should coat a spoon so when a finger is passed across the spoon it will leave a definite, visible trail (photo at right above).

Pour the sauce over the baked bread pudding. Cool to lukewarm to serve.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

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