That humblest of desserts, meant to make stale bread palatable and nicknamed “poor man’s pudding,” becomes a gourmet treat when done right.
by Bakery Boy
My earliest experience with bread pudding was homegrown.
My father, being a baker with a steady supply of day-old bread — the main ingredient in bread pudding — introduced me to the basic concept. Break an old loaf into chunks in a bowl; sprinkle on sugar and cinnamon and raisins; pour on warm milk; dig in. It was a classic example of a “poor man’s pudding” as it has been enjoyed for hundreds of years, especially on cold winter days. Thanks again, Pop, for those special times we shared!
My second encounter with bread pudding was literary.
I was reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with its über-poor Cratchit family making the best of Christmas Eve while living on abundant love but scant few resources. As the Ghost of Christmas Present guides rich but stingy Ebenezer Scrooge through his enlightening nightmare, they haunt the Cratchit house and spy a simple bread pudding that smells “like a washing day” and looks “like a speckled cannon ball” and is a noticeably “small pudding for [such] a large family.” Unfazed by his own poverty, humble accountant Bob Cratchit regards the pudding as “the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchet since their marriage.” She, being a good sport, takes the, um, compliment well enough.
My third brush with bread pudding was, in a word, divine.
I ate the famous version served at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans — one of the nation’s most highly regarded restaurants — and if the delicacy hasn’t already been declared a national treasure, it ought to be. The Commander’s Palace Creole Bread Pudding Souffle with Warm Whiskey Sauce lives up to its grand title. The fluffy blend of sugar, eggs, heavy whipping cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and cubed French bread gets baked into a deep cup, then topped with a meringue and baked again until golden brown. At table side, a server dramatically pokes a hole in the top of the meringue and pours in a velvety sauce of bourbon and whipping cream. Perfection! Commander’s is so exacting about how its signature dessert is prepared and served, always fresh from start to finish, that it asks dinner guests to order the bread pudding in advance at the beginning of the meal, allowing the kitchen staff to time each step just right for the final presentation.
Now a fourth chapter has been added to my personal bread pudding saga.
Chef Sonya Jones, owner of Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta, shares her recipe for Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding in her recently published Sweet Auburn Desserts cookbook from Pelican Publishing Company. (Click here for the Bakery Boy Blog’s book review.) It’s a suitably rich casserole of a pudding baked into a deep pan and using regular milk instead of heavy whipping cream and any available white bread instead of specifically French loaves. I rate it high on my personal scale of bread puddings, certainly closer to the perfection served at Commander’s Palace than to the “washing day cannon ball” at Mrs. Cratchit’s fictional home.
For sheer fond memories’ sake, though, I’ll have to say I still hold in the highest regard my late father’s unpretentious and unsophisticated technique for re-purposing going-stale bread by just tossing stuff together in a bowl. His approach wasn’t cookbook-worthy, perhaps, but I treasure those times when we stood across the workbench from each other at our family’s bakery or sat across the dinner table from each other at home while we ate it. I miss those moments with my Pop.
Try serving Sonya’s bread pudding recipe to your family and see if it makes as strong an impression and as long-lasting a memory as my dad’s did for me.
Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding
1 pound white bread, sliced
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1 ½ cups raisins
4 cups milk
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Pour half the melted butter in the bottom of a casserole dish. Line the dish with the slices of white bread. Drizzle the remaining butter over the bread and sprinkle the raisins on top.
In a large mixing bowl, stir the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon until well blended. Pour 1/3 of the milk mixture over the bread and let it soak for 10 minutes. Pour another 1/3 of the milk mixture over the bread and let it soak another 10 minutes. Repeat with the remainder of the milk mixture.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until the pudding springs back when lightly touched. Cook and serve with Nutmeg Sauce (see below). Serves 12-15
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
In a large saucepan bring the water to a boil.
In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and nutmeg. Mix well.
Gradually stir ½ cup boiling water into the sugar mixture. Add the sugar mixture to the remaining boiling water in the saucepan. Continue cooking for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter.
Store the sauce in a covered container until ready to use. Serve with Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding (above) or with fresh peach cobbler or pound cake.
[From Sweet Auburn Desserts by Chef Sonya Jones, (c) Sonya Jones, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.]
To order a copy of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones, contact Pelican Publishing Company at www.pelicanpub.com or 1-800-843-1724. The list price is $24.95, but ask about a 20 percent discount (which you learned about here on the Bakery Boy Blog) that drops the price to $19.96.
Click here for the Sweet Potato Custard Pie recipe
Click here for the Strawberry Jam Stack Cake recipe
Click here for a book review of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones
Click here for a profile of Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta