Bread is a not a dessert. Chocolate cake. Apple pie. Brownie hot fudge sundae. These are desserts. But “bread” in any context never sounded like a deliciously decadent dessert treat to me. “Bread” is a sandwich. “Bread” is something you slather with butter and eat before dinner, not sprinkled with sugar for after dinner.
For a very long time, I thought bread pudding was nasty. I had no basis for this opinion, since I don’t recall ever actually eating bread pudding. I suppose it just comes from perceptions, then drawing unfounded conclusions. I’m not a fan of any type of pudding or custard as desserts, whether it’s creme brulee or flan or panna cotta – that is a fact. Then, adding “bread” makes it even worse. All I could ever think of when I heard “bread pudding” was Jell-o instant pudding slapped between two slices of Wonder White – “dessert” for the Bible belt trailer park.
But then someone ordered bread pudding at some ooh-la-la restaurant somewhere, I can’t remember where, and I thought to myself, “Oh, fine, order your back asswards country bumpkin trailer treat, since I’m not paying for it anyway.” But I can’t have dinner without dessert so I took a reluctant bite and holy shiitake, this is bread pudding?!?! I’ve been shunning this deliciously soft, sometimes lightly crispy and chewy on top, studded with chocolate chips or white chocolate chunks or dried fruit (but never raisins because those are gross)?!? Have I been missing out all ths time?!?!
Yes, my child, you have. Come to Jesus.
I found bread pudding!!
Now I’m not one of those bread-thumping pudding freaks that goes out on a mission to convert the masses by proclaiming that there is no other dessert and if you believe, it’ll taste like Heaven. No, I’m just a quiet believer in how delicious certain foods are, and rather than just talking the talk, I wok the wok. Or bake the bake. Or something like that.
I made bread pudding for the first time on Christmas eve (after the kimchee jji-gae) to have for dessert the next day after Christmas dinner. I wanted to show my family. Hey guys, can I share something with you that has changed my Delicious Life? This is bread pudding. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Bread pudding is for those people who have nothing else. Bread pudding is for people who don’t have a culinary education, who don’t know anything else, who are down to their last crumb of stale bread and the only thing they can turn to is page 333 of their cooking Bible and make...bread pudding. Sure, that’s true some times, but not all the time. Try this bread pudding.
What the? Mom surprised me. She told me she loves bread pudding. She said that she’s loved bread pudding since...Cincinnati. Cincinnati? Since I was in elementary school? She even remembers the exact moment – dinner with my Dad’s boss’s wife at the Montgomery Inn. I asked her why she never told me about it and she shrugged. She didn’t want to force anything on me; bread pudding is something you have to find on your own.
Mom tried the cranberry bread pudding I made and she loved it. She ate some on Christmas Eve when it came out of the oven. She ate a sliver of it as breakfast on Christmas morning, because according to Mom, it may not have coffee in it like a Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheesecake, but it’s just like French toast; never mind that she put a tiny little scoop of vanilla ice cream on top because really, vanilla ice cream on bread pudding isn’t any worse than maple syrup on French toast anyway.
We reheated it in the oven at a smooth 250 degrees whilst we ate our Christmas dinner. When we finished our ham and green beans and macaroni and cheese (details on those dinner details later), the bread pudding, minus a couple of pieces a la Mom, was ready to eat. A la mode, of course. It wasn’t too sweet, and it was a little drier than I would have liked, but it was still good.
There are some recipes that have a lot more sugar or use at least twice as many eggs, but I can only imagine that it would make the bread pudding way too sweet or way too hard. The only thing that I might change for next time is perhaps adding white chocolate chunks. But that’s sort of the beauty of bread pudding, isnt it? It doesn’t require all that much work, all you have to do is believe. And once you’re comfortable with the basics, it becomes very personal.
Sarah's Simple Bread Pudding
Remove crust from one big loaf of French bread and cut into a large chunks. Some people say use stale bread because it's dry, but then your bread pudding will taste like, well, like it was made from stale bread. Use fresh bread and dry it out yourself. Spread out onto a cookie sheet or a large pan and dry out in the oven at 200 degrees for about an hour or until they are pretty much just naked croutons.
Whisk together 3 large eggs, ¾ c. sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 4 c. whole milk (or cream or half and half – it’s your new year's resolution, you decide). Pour over dried bread and allow bread to soak for about an hour. Stir it gently every once in a while with a wooden spoon (so you don't squash the bread), or if you're feeling sort of sexy, toss it with your bare hands. One guess as to which method I used. Yes, you're right.
Pour half the custard-soaked bread into a very well-buttered baking dish. Sprinkle about a half cup of dried cranberries or raisins or both or whatever you want. Pour the remaining half of the custard-soaked bread into dish and sprinkle top with another half cup of dried cranberries.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for one hour, until it's set, which basically means that if you stab it, the knife comes out clean.
Try to relax and let it cool, but if youhave no patience, cut with a serrated knife and serve hot with vanilla ice cream.