We aren’t sure what it is about bread pudding that makes it such a revered comfort food; maybe it’s the added warmth of the oven on a cool day or the soft scent of vanilla and cinnamon. Maybe it is the nostalgia; the yearning for a simpler time when dessert was a simple finish to a humble home-cooked meal; a dish made with modest, unpretentious ingredients.
Like bread pudding, there are several types of casseroles based on the technique of soaking leftover bread in broth, milk or custard and then baking until the inside layers are soft and creamy. While the lines between these dishes can be blurry, the main difference lies in the kind of soaking liquid that is used.
A panade is a soupy casserole made with chicken or vegetable broth resulting in a savory dish similar in consistency to spoon bread. Panade is sometimes compared to stuffing in which the quantity of liquid is reduced to equal the volume of bread and other ingredients. Whereas a strata is made by layering bread slices and adding eggs and milk (usually more eggs than milk) giving them a consistency and flavor akin to quiche.
Bread pudding is also made with eggs, milk or cream, and bread, but has a denser, softer custard with a milkier flavor (due to a more equal ratio of eggs and milk). While most recipes for bread puddings are sweet, they can also be savory.
6 cups very stale plain white bread cubes
5 large eggs
1½ cups sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
3 cups milk
½ cup raisins½ cup coarsely chopped pecans, dry roasted (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut the bread into one-inch cubes and arrange on a cookie sheet. Place the bread cubes in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, tossing and rotating midway through toasting. Remove from the oven and let cool while you prepare the custard mixture.
In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs on high speed with an electric mixer until extremely frothy, about 3 minutes (or with a metal whisk for about 6 minutes). Add the sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and butter and beat on high until well blended and the sugar is mostly dissolved. Beat in the milk, and then stir in the raisins (and pecans if using).
Place the toasted bread cubes in a greased baking dish or loaf pans. Pour the egg mixture over them and toss until the bread is soaked. Press the cubes down into the liquid and let sit for about 15 minutes to allow cubes to fully absorb the liquid. Place in the preheated 350° oven and immediately lower the temperature to 300°F and bake 40 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425°F and bake until pudding is well browned and puffy, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Dust with cinnamon sugar and let stand for 15 minutes or so before serving.
We rarely serve our bread pudding without a warm lemon glaze which adds a sweet zing to the cinnamony deliciousness of the breaded custard.
Denise and Dom Romeo are food bloggers who enjoy spending time together doing what they love best: cooking and entertaining! Follow their food adventures on their award winning blog; We Like To Cook! at www.welike2cook.com.