Bread Pudding is one of those recipes that people think is a relatively recent, in the last 80 years or so, but in fact goes back nearly as far as bread itself. It is the best way to utilize stale bread, and is actually better if the bread is a day or two old. Cookbooks printed in the 1700’s show recipes of simple milk soaked bread with a little sweetener. By the mid-1800’s cooks were showing more creativity with dried fruits and vanilla being added. In the 1900’s bread pudding became somewhat more sophisticated with the addition of alcohol. Today you find both savory and sweet puddings, some quite complicated. But the ones that seem to resonate most with Americans are the ones that bring back memories of simpler times.
It is popular around the globe. From England and France to Argentina, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Each geographical area uses their native spices to season it, but the basic premise is the same. Bread is soaked in milk, some eggs are added and them it is baked until the custard is firm. This makes it sound like a simple recipe to make, but it is surprising how many are poorly made. The most common mistake is to under-bake them which makes them soggy, and then adding a sauce makes it downright soupy. I prefer a firmer dessert that has structural integrity and doesn’t collapse when you serve it.
Today’s version adds melted chocolate to the custard mixture. You could also use a chocolate bread or pound cake instead of brioche for even more chocolate flavor. And if you want to make this totally decadent, try adding some chocolate chips to the mixture.
Have you ever tried Brioche bread or rolls? It is the most amazing bread you will ever have. Rich, buttery, and tender with just a touch of sweetness. When formed into a roll there is a little topknot of dough on top so they are easy to distinguish at the bakery. When made as a loaf, they are often braided and can look similar to Challah. Whole Foods sells hamburger and hot dog rolls made of brioche. They are fantastic not only for dinner, but I use them the following morning for incredible French toast! Trim off the outer crusts, dip in an egg/milk mixture and fry in a little oil. You’ve never had French toast as delectable as this! Try it the next time you have leftover rolls and your family will be begging you to make it every weekend!
This recipe did not orginally include a sauce, but you can use one of the sauces that are on my blog if you care to add them. Either the Chocolate Glaze or the Deep Dark Chocolate Sauce would be delicious. You know how much I like the combination of chocolate and caramel, so if you’re like me, you may want to make the Caramel Sauce to serve with dessert. Have fun deciding how you want to serve this!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
A safe and easy way to separate eggs yolks from the whites is to use your hands as a sieve. Crack your eggs on the edge of the counter and working over a bowl, open the egg into one of your hands. Discard the shell. Gently pass the yolk back and forth between your hands until all the white has dripped into the bowl. Place yolk in a different bowl.
Kitchen Skill: Working with Vanilla Beans
Using real vanilla beans makes a huge difference in your baked goods and can take a ho-hum dessert and turn it into wowza! Place vanilla bean on a cutting board. With the point of a very sharp knife, gently split the bean in half lengthwise. Separate the halves, and using the back of the knife, scrape out the seeds. These have a lot of the flavor and are attractive in desserts. Use the beans and seeds as directed. When done, rinse pods, dry with paper towels, and store in your container of sugar for a delightfully scented vanilla sugar!
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 to 2 cups milk (this will depend on the size of your loaf of bread & how soft you like your bread pudding)
- 1 whole vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, seeds scraped
- 3 cinnamon sticks (optional)
- 1 loaf brioche (about 1 lb, or you may substitute white bread)
- 12 oz roughly chopped Valrhona or other bittersweet chocolate
- 8 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 8 oz creme fraiche or heavy cream
- Chocolate shavings for garnish
- Heat the oven to 325°F.
- Place the cream, milk, vanilla seeds and pod, and cinnamon sticks, if using, in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 30 minutes to infuse flavors.
- Cut the brioche into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut slices into quarters, setting aside the rounded top pieces. Fill a 9-by-12-inch gratin dish, deep oval roasting dish, or 9x13-inch pan with the square quartered pieces.
- Return the milk mixture to a boil, remove from heat, and discard vanilla pod and cinnamon sticks. Add chocolate, and whisk until smooth. Combine egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl, and whisk to combine. Pour chocolate mixture very slowly into egg-yolk mixture, whisking constantly, until fully combined.
- Slowly pour half the chocolate custard over bread making sure all the bread is soaked. Arrange the reserved bread on top in a decorative pattern, and press firmly so bottom layer of bread absorbs chocolate mixture. Spoon remaining custard over bread until completely covered and all cracks are filled. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the dish; press down to soak bread thoroughly. Remove plastic, wipe edges of the dish with a damp towel, and allow to sit for 30 minutes.
- Place gratin dish in a larger pan; fill outer pan with hot water halfway up the sides of the gratin dish. Bake until set, about 35 minutes. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes.
- Whisk the creme fraiche or heavy cream until soft peaks form. Lightly sweeten with some sugar if desired. Serve pudding warm, garnished with creme fraiche or whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Alternately, if you like you can make a chocolate or caramel sauce to accompany the dessert. See the links below.
- Yield: 8 to 10 servings