When I bake, 9 times out of 10, its a recipe that I’ve seen and want to try (or want to improve). I can’t recall the last time I whipped something up that I wasn’t actually looking forward to tasting; what’s the point of the hard work of baking if there isn’t a worthwhile result at the end. But J and I have differing opinions on what makes the perfect dessert (um…chocolate, hello!), and I knew that I couldn’t just pull together double chocolate brownies or vanilla cupcakes for his birthday. No, it needed to be something unique and special. And J requested bread pudding.
The words ‘bread pudding’ used to terrify me. What is more disgusting than the thought of pudding made out of bread? I was picturing a day-old loaf of Wonderbread, crammed in a blender and mixed into a wiggly, gelatinous soup. A weird, carb-laden mess of a dessert. But when I started flipping through recipe books and searching for bread pudding inspiration, I was intrigued. I like custard. I like bread. I like baked things that get crispy on top. And creme anglaise? Its pretty much just cream and sugar.
So, though I was nervous about the prospect of bread pudding, I started cooking, and chopping, and mixing, and this is what resulted.
Maple-Cinnamon Bread Pudding
8 cups cubed stale challah bread
2 cups milk (anything but skim)
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp maple syrup
Maple Creme Anglaise
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp white sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp maple extract
Make the creme anglaise first (it can keep in the fridge for several days). Combine the milk, whipping cream and 1 tbsp of sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges (don’t boil!). In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks and remaining tbsp of sugar. When milk is heated, add a small amount to the egg yolk mixture, beating well. Continue to add milk to eggs until about 1/2 cup of milk mixture has been added. Then, over low heat, whisk this egg/milk mixture back into the remaining milk on the stove. This process makes sure that you don’t end up with a pot of scrambled eggs. Heat the whole thing through again, stirring for about 3 minutes or until it thickens slightly. Remove from heat, stir in maple extract, strain through a mesh strainer, and refrigerate.
For the bread pudding, start with your slightly stale cubed bread. Spread it evenly in a 9×12 pan (or a 9×3 and 9×9, like I did). In a bowl, beat together the milk, whipping cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Pour over the bread, and leave it to soak for about 15 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, melted butter, cinnamon and maple syrup. Crumble this mixture over the top of the bread cubes. Set this pan into a larger pan, and add about an inch or so of water. Bake the pudding in this water bath at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes. Pudding will jiggle slightly when it first comes out of the oven, but will set up.
Let stand for 10 minutes or so, then serve with a healthy pour of creme anglaise or a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.