Every single old cookbook I have — and that’s a few books — has a recipe or two for bread pudding. Bread pudding with meringue on top, bread pudding with cream, bread pudding with raisins and dates.
Bread-pudding ubiquity makes sense. This dish was and is the ultimate recycling dessert, whether you’re a restaurant chef or a home cook. I’ve made bread pudding to save myself when I bought too many rolls for dinner, or didn’t get all the way through a baguette in time. And for those who have eyes bigger than their breadbox at the farmers’ market, what do we say? “Bring on the bread pudding!”
I also happen to find bread pudding incredibly comforting. When I was re-testing this recipe, my first bite wafted me back to a mythically cozy time. Bread pudding in restaurants can sometimes have that effect; the restaurant version, however, is often gussied up in a way that makes it borderline unrecognizable.
Some restaurant bread puddings fail in a different direction. I had lunch a few weeks ago with my friend Siobhan, who nailed a common issue when ordering bread pudding sight unseen: “Restaurant bread pudding is often far too dense, like they crammed all the bread they could into the dish. Big square heavy blocks.” She went on to call it earnest eating, or something like that. Exactly right. (The pastry chef has got ALL those uneaten rolls from last night, remember?)
All of which is to say, a homemade bread pudding is the one for me. I have two, this and a fancier one. This one, Grammy’s recipe, is wonderfully easy to customize. Don’t have a jam you want to use up? Leave out the jam. Love chocolate or Nutella? Put good bittersweet chips or a schmear in that center layer. Raisin fan? Stir in anywhere from a half to a full cup of ’em.
Barring today, this has been a long, chilly spring in Washington. As I write, there’s some poorly wrapped bread on my counter going stale. Hmmm. Now what on earth will I do with that?
Jammy Bread Pudding
Pick a jam that’s not too sweet, one that has a bit of zing like apricot or plum. Last time, I used failed homemade cherry jam, aka sour cherry sauce. As for crusts or no crusts, use your judgment: If you’re using old Pepperidge Farm bread, use the crusts. If your loaf is a crusty baguette, the crusts should go.
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups cubed bread (aim for 3/4 inch cubes, crusts or not as you prefer)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 cup jam of your choice
- Sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In the top of a double boiler off the heat, beat eggs and sugar. In a microwave or saucepan, bring milk just to the edge of boiling. Gradually pour milk into eggs, mixing steadily as you do. Put double boiler over its bottom on the stove over medium-high heat.
Cook egg mixture, stirring regularly, until it just begins to thicken (about 5-6 minutes). Add bread cubes, butter and salt; keep stirring until sauce thickens to coat the spoon. Remove from heat; add vanilla and mix in.
Pour half of mixture into a 2-quart baking dish. Spoon jam over top of the bread mixture; carefully pour the rest of the bread mixture over the top of the jam layer. Sprinkle a teaspoon or so of granulated sugar evenly over the top.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, until top is lightly browned and puffed. Pudding will fall as it cools. Serve warm or at room temperature with custard sauce or creme fraîche.