A recipe for a New Orleans-influenced bread pudding with whiskey sauce appeared in the “Comforting Conclusions” chapter of the first Silver Palate Cookbook in 1982, and may have done its part to revive interest in an old-fashioned, home kitchen comfort food.
Not long after, the old school dessert began showing up on restaurant menus everywhere, in increasingly elaborate adaptations. Bread puddings floated in pools of butterscotch or caramel sauces, boozy with whiskey or bourbon; bread puddings enriched with panettone, sticky buns, brioche and croissants instead of the traditional but plain day-old white or French breads; bread puddings dolled up with white or dark (or both) chocolate chips, with pecans, with bananas, apples and even sticky-sweet dates.
After all of our months together, readers, you know I don’t shy away from sweets. But I don’t like the gratuitously sweet either, and somewhere in this timeline, bread pudding became a dessert that was all about the sugar content and over-rich interpretation, and no longer about the interplay of delicate custard and revived bread. The result? A dish that perhaps best exemplified the kind of home-and-hearth deliciousness that can come out of frugality and resourcefulness became the poster child for excess.
Here’s my own stripped down version, not much different than the one my mother would make when she had some less-than-fresh bakery bread and a handful of raisins – a bread pudding reclaimed for home cooks and the people who love us. This version is barely sweet, or just sweet enough, depending on how you look at things. It’s economical in the best tradition of home cooks, as it uses up odds and ends of kitchen staples. It’s comforting, all warm and fluffy from the oven and turning vanilla custardy as it rests. In other words, plainly delicious on its own, no sugary sauce necessary (although a little, just a little bit, of vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream as garnish wouldn’t be wrong for special occasions).
Bread pudding makes a wonderful finish to a weekend meal this time of year and into the winter when fresh fall fruits are a memory and spring’s berries only a wish.
(adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 7 slices of homemade or bakery bread
- 1 quart whole milk
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a large (approximately 13” by 9”) shallow baking dish and set aside.
Place the raisins in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover the fruit. Place on the stovetop and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Simmer the raisins gently until the water starts to evaporate. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool and plump up a bit.
Cut seven slices of bread from a loaf. You may use white; I used the end of a honey oatmeal loaf.
If you opt for a bakery loaf, try to buy one that is unsliced and slice the bread yourself to a ½- to 5/8-inch thickness.
Cut the slices into cubes.
Place the bread cubes into a large bowl and pour the whole milk over these. Gently stir to soak all the bread in the milk. Let the bread sit for 30 minutes. (If you have picked a very crusty French-style loaf from the bakery, you may let the bread sit longer, up to 1 hour.)
In another smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla.
Fold the egg mixture into the bread and milk mixture. Drain the soaking raisins if necessary and add them to the bread and milk mixture as well. Fold all together gently to combine well.
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
Bake for one hour, or until the top of the pudding is puffed up and golden brown. The pudding will sink a bit as it rests.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
©2011 Jane A. Ward