Monday, May 28, 2012

Vanilla Bean Bread Pudding

The first time I ever tried bread pudding was at a buffet and it was really disappointing. It had the texture of jello and just tasted like sugar and I decided that bread pudding was gross and that I'd never eat it again. However, since then, I've tried much yummier homemade bread puddings and I'm a convert. This is my recipe for bread pudding, which I sort of made up using whatever ingredients I had on hand at home. I thought it would be really delicious to use vanilla bean, especially since the milky custard mixture that's poured over the bread is pretty much like an ice cream base. This is a great way to use up leftover stale bread.

INGREDIENTS:
4 cups of cubed stale bread - I used one sourdough boule that was sitting out on my counter for 3 days
1 vanilla bean
1 cup of cream (light or heavy, doesn't matter unless you're counting calories)
1-1/2 cups of milk **OR instead of separate cream and milk, you can use half-and-half
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs
handful of raisins - can be omitted if you despise raisins
handful of pecans or almonds or peanuts - whatever nuts you prefer - or leave it out if you hate nuts
Start by splitting and scraping the vanilla bean into a bowl. If you don't have vanilla beans at home, don't worry. Just skip this soaking step and increase the amount of vanilla extract to 1 tablespoon.

Then pour the cream and milk over the scraped beans and let it soak up the vanilla flavor. You can even toss in the bean for added flavor.
While the milk and cream soaks, cube up the bread. Since my bread was stale, it took some elbow grease to cut it up; it was a nice workout. The bread should be stale! Bread goes stale when it's lacking moisture and that means that when you pour the custard over the bread, it'll soak up the liquid better. If it's already too moist, you might end up with a soupy bread pudding. So if you're making bread pudding because you want to, not because you have leftover stale bread, then you should cube up the bread, put it on a sheet pan, and let it toast in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until the bread's a little dried out and slightly crispy.

I like to cut the bread into what I consider bite-sized pieces, which is a little less than 1" cubes. I used a sourdough boule, which is French for "bread" and it's just the name for the shape of the bread. I recommend using any hearty bread, like a baguette, Italian bread, or challah rather than something flimsy and lifeless, like packaged white bread. Bread that has some elasticity will give the dish a better texture and more integrity whereas the white bread would sort of congeal together and form that jello-y mass similar to my first bread pudding that I so disliked.
Arrange the bread in a 9" x 9" baking dish. I like to squish a bunch of cubes in the bottom in one layer and then squish the rest into a second layer. You don't want to compress the bread, you just want to avoid leaving any gaping holes.
Once that's done, you can get back to assembling the custard. Pull out the vanilla bean and then whisk everything (butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract) with the cream and milk mixture. Here's a tip - if your milk is too cold, the melted butter will likely set up and you'll have chunks of butter floating in the custard mixture so, either let all of your ingredients come to room temperature before you start whisking OR you can whisk the butter with one of the eggs separately before adding it to the rest of the custard mixture.
Next, pour your custard mixture over the bread cubes. Make sure to pour it all over so that each and every cube gets a nice bath. It might seem like you have too much custard but don't worry. The bread is going to soak it up and it's going to be super delicious.
Let the dish sit for a minute and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. The bread pudding needs to cook at a low temperature because the custard needs a gentle heat to set up and so nothing has a chance to burn while that magic happens.
While the cubes are soaking, chop up some nuts; I used pecans. You don't have to use nuts at all but I like the added crunch. Plus, I think pecans are delicious.
Sprinkle the raisins and pecans over the top and then put it all in the oven.
Bake until it looks like this: a little poofed up in the middle, the tops of the bread, nuts, and raisins, should have some nice color, and the custard should be set.
So pretty! It's funny because I used golden raisins but they got tan and ended up looking like regular purple raisins. The bread on top should be crispy while the bread on the bottom should be custard-y. It's a textural dream, at least for me.
I couldn't help myself - I grabbed a cube of bread to sneak a taste. This is what I meant when I said that heartier breads have integrity. You can actually still distinguish each cube of bread and it's not a sloppy congealed mess.
I think you can kind of see how the custard set; can you? It almost looks like scrambled eggs but when you eat it, you'll realize it's more like a creme brulee custard cream.
I like to serve the bread pudding in a bowl because then you can drizzle it with chocolate sauce or whipped cream or even ice cream.
And this photo's just so you can see the vanilla flecks.

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