Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bread Pudding or What to do with stale cinnamon buns ...

Start by opening up your Joy of Cooking to page 822. If you do not have a copy of Irma S. Rombauer's classic compendium of everyday dishes... well shame on you. But fear not - if you still choose not to add this essential encyclopedia of culinary wisdom, you're reading this, so at least you have the internet.

If you do a search of "bread pudding recipe" you'll find dozens of ideas to get you started. As Ms. Rombauer writes, "bread pudding is an efficient way to transform stale bread into a considerable variety of delicious desserts". There are very few rules when it comes to this dish. But of the few things that are certain you must not deviate.

1) Don't bother baking this with fresh bread. The whole point is to use up the ends of things like buns, sliced bread, or challah. I find challah makes the very best bread pudding because it's so rich and a little bit sweet already.

We had extra cinnamon buns lying around that were forgotten about after a lazy Sunday turned into a hectic week so they were the inspiration for this entry.

Cube the bread/buns/whathaveyou into bite-size pieces. You'll need about 5 Cups for this recipe, but a little more than that won't hurt.

*Note - the only bread that won't work for this is the kind made with baking powder or baking soda - you need actual yeast breads for bread pudding

2) Fillings are optional but always a good idea

There were raisins in the cinnamon buns so I thought I would go with the fruity theme and added a handful of dried currants (raisins being unavailable). You could use chopped up dried apricots or dates or even fresh apple. These are extra little add-ins and are not required for the pudding to be considered a pudding.

Sometimes I add roughly chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips. Once I actually chopped up brie cheese and added a splash of brandy... that was legendary.

Like all of the best things, there is butter in my recipe. Though Ms. Rombauer doesn't list it as a main ingredient, she does instruct that the casserole or baking dish be "buttered". Take a nob of butter - from your retro orange glass butter dish if you have one - and using some parchment paper or the foil from the butter itself, rub it into the bottom and sides of the dish.

If you're trying to be health conscious - well, why are you baking a custard-based dessert in the first place? ... Anyway, you can replace that last step by spraying the baking dish with low-fat cooking spray.

3) Learn to make custard

The Joy of Cooking asks for 3 Cups of whole milk. We are a 1% milk kind of house but I happened to have a quart of buttermilk leftover from pancakes so I used that up and finished the 3 Cups with regular milk.

To the milk add 4 large eggs. I learned from my mother that you should always crack each egg into a small bowl or cup separately first before adding it to the larger bowl of ingredients. You never know when you might fail and end up with shards of egg shell all over the place - not delicious.

Also - and I've noticed this with the fresh eggs from the market especially - you need to watch for blood spots in the eggs - the blood should be removed or the whole egg should be discarded. It depends on how squeamish you are, I suppose.

Either way, lesson learned, thanks Mom!

Whisk together your milk, 4 eggs, 1/2 - 3/4 Cup of sugar (depending on if you're using already sweetened bread like cinnamon buns for example).

4) Get creative

Add your flavour boosters - 1 tsp vanilla, 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, and a pinch of salt

As I mentioned above - in the past I've added all kinds of things to my custard to give it extra flavour.

Ideas? Try lemon zest, ground ginger, cloves, lavender, rosemary, almond extract, or Bailey's.

Really this the the fun part - the part where bread pudding can get really wild. Have fun with it -

And if you are particularly successful with your rendition, do let me know.

When your milk-egg mixture is all combined, all you have to do is pour it over the bread cubes sitting in wait in your prepared baking dish. Make sure you pour it evenly over all of the surface. Then all you have to do is wait. The dish needs about 30 minutes to soak up all the custard.

In the meantime there are lots of things you could do. Some might tell you to clean up after yourself. I think that is the job of whomever is lucky enough to be tucking into your dessert. And if that someone is you, well, I guess it will be all the more deserved, won't it?

Sweep the living room, fold laundry, rearrange your spice drawer, do whatever. I just wouldn't take the dog for a long walk as you need to press the bread down with a spatula periodically - every 5-10 minutes - to ensure proper soaking up-ness.

5) Get in the habit of always preheating the oven before it's time to put your food in

The other thing you should probably do in that half hour prior to baking is preheat the oven - at 350 degrees F.

Oh yes, and the other part of learning to make custard:

6) Prepare a water bath and set the baking dish inside it.
A water bath insulates the delicate custard from the violently hot oven temperature. It's easy. Find an oven safe dish that's larger than the one you're baking the bread pudding in. Line it with a few layers of paper towel. Rest the baking dish inside it. Pour water up to about halfway up the side of the bread pudding dish. Now your pudding is protected!

Bake the bread pudding for about an hour - depending on the hotness of your oven this may be a bit more or less. The time will also vary depending on the bread-custard ratio. If you have more custard and less bread, it will take a little longer.

You'll know your dessert is done when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

If you're really keen you can prepare a butterscotch sauce or some sweetened whipped cream to serve on top.

We (Irma and I) think bread pudding is best served warm, so if you want to reheat it in an oven at around 300 for 15 minutes or so, you'll really impress people at your next potluck.

Bread pudding is even more amazing because you can make it in advance of a get-together and it will only get better as it sits.

Remember to refrigerate that puppy - eggs left on the counter of several days = gross.


  1. I wish I had a retro, orange-coloured butter dish, dammit! ;-)

  2. YUMMY!!! looks great!!! But seriously...who lets cinnamon buns go stale??? hahaha