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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!”Bread pudding all puffy out of the oven

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 in a bowl

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.

You’ve got the standards done. Now, hmmm, the dessert that no one has had before. Or the dessert that reminds you of Thanksgivings past. Or just the easy dessert that you can make with the help of willing small hands (that’s the Free-form Apple Pie). Three options:

Pumpkin Custard No. 1

Cranberry Nut Pie

Free-Form Apple Pie

Here’s to happy memories in the Thanksgiving kitchen!

Not all of the recipes I turn up are winners from the get-go. My “eureka” moment in finding Gram’s recipe for soft chocolate custard with meringue turned sour the other day.

Why? Because I forgot the primary rule of melting chocolate: Don’t get it wet.

Remember that bad experience you had with the old double-boiler — the one where the top didn’t quite fit — in your attempt to melt four squares of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate? The splash, and the subsequent seize-up? Yeah. Well. I blocked that out. When this newly found recipe read “melt chocolate in 1/4 cup water and stir,” my red flags just lay there on the tarmac.

Seized up and not mixing well!

After the seizure, I dumped the hardening chocolate into the custard base. Much stirring later, the chocolate still clumped.

My friend Zoë and I reminisced about chocolate and water disasters, and we talked about fixes for this recipe. Cocoa, maybe? (Possibly not chocolatey enough.) Melt the chocolate straight in the custard? Melt the chocolate plain, and temper the custard and chocolate together? Any of these might work. And I now dedicate myself to the pursuit of chocolate custard that doesn’t fight in the pan.

Local tasters for chocolate pudding? Anyone? Anyone?

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