- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Bread puddings are one of those (almost) can’t-fail desserts that everyone should know how to make. Chefs love them because they are a great way of using up leftover bread and turning it into something valuable.

While the home cook may not be as obsessed with food costs, bread puddings are a great way of taking advantage of leftovers or sales of day-old specialty breads such as challah or croissants.

And the texture of the pudding is actually better when you use slightly stale bread.

Another great thing about bread pudding is that you can use up other things, such as slightly overripe bananas that you might otherwise toss.

The key to a good bread pudding is to let the bread soak in the custard mixture for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Back in my restaurant days, we’d let it soak overnight in the refrigerator before baking in the morning. This ensured a moist, custardy pudding.

Here’s one of my favorite bread puddings that lends itself to all kinds of variations and is a great brunch dish.

Banana bread pudding

4 tablespoons unsalted butter for buttering baking dish and bread

12 slices ( inch or so) challah or other artisan bread with crusts removed or 6 large croissants, sliced

3 cups half-and-half

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

teaspoon salt

teaspoon cinnamon

4 large eggs

⅔ cup brown sugar plus 2 tablespoons for topping

2 large ripe bananas

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Caramel sauce, optional (recipe follows)

Butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish and set aside.

Lightly butter the bread on both sides. Place on a large baking sheet in a 375-degree oven and bake, turning once, until lightly toasted on both sides. (If using croissants you can omit this step.)

In a small saucepan whisk together the half-and-half, vanilla, lemon zest, salt and cinnamon. Then warm over moderate heat until just about to simmer.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with ⅓ cup brown sugar until smooth. Very slowly pour in the warm cream mixture, whisking all the time. (This will temper the egg yolks and make a more custardy pudding.)

Cut toasted bread into 1-inch squares and place in a large bowl. Pour the custard mixture over and stir gently. Allow to soak for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight in the refrigerator.

Slice the bananas and place in a separate bowl. Toss with ⅓ cup brown sugar and lemon juice. Stir this into the bread and custard mixture and pour into buttered 2-quart baking dish, making sure that ingredients are evenly distributed. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar over top of the pudding.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Place baking dish in a larger pan in 375-degree oven and pour enough boiling water around to reach halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until the custard is mostly set. (It will still be a little liquid-like in the center but will set as pudding cools.) Serve warm or at room temperature drizzled with caramel sauce, if desired. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

CARAMEL SAUCE:

1 cup whipping cream

13/4 cups sugar

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla

⅛ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons (or more) rum, brandy or bourbon

In a small saucepan, scald cream by bringing it just to a boil and immediately turning off heat. Keep warm.

To make caramel, combine sugar with 3/4 cup water in a deep saucepan. Cover and bring to a simmer. Uncover and increase heat to maintain simmer with lid off.

Do not stir but wash down any sugar crystals clinging to side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Watch pan carefully, swirling it from time to time, until syrup turns a deep golden brown and registers 300 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes.

Turn off heat and slowly stir in scalded cream, pouring in a steady stream. (Caramel and cream will bubble dramatically so stir carefully.) Stir in butter, piece by piece, until completely combined. Stir in vanilla, salt and rum, brandy or bourbon to taste. This sauce stores indefinitely, covered, in the refrigerator. Reheat before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL

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