Stale bread may not sound very appetizing to you, but it is the main ingredient in one of the tastiest desserts you will ever eat. And it is so easy to make that people have been baking bread pudding for thousands of years.
I imagine that the first bread pudding was made three or four days after the first bread was pulled off the fire. It may have happened like this:
When Adam asked Eve, “Should I throw out this old bread?” she said, “Don’t you dare. I worked hard baking that bread.”
“But it’s stale and hard and you baked some more today,” says Adam.
“Just put it on that rock. I’ll make something with it. Maybe chop up an apple to make a good pudding.”
The rest is history.
My mother baked most of the bread we ate at home, but my parents both looked for bargains. When the A & P was having a special on bread, they would buy a couple of loaves of what we kids loved: “Store Bought Bread.” We liked the soft slices with peanut butter and jelly, but Mom dried them for bread pudding or turkey stuffing.
I do the same today. I watch for sales on ordinary white bread and turn it into bread pudding. It’s remarkably easy to do. If you don’t count the time to dry the bread or while the pudding is baking, it takes less than half an hour to make the pudding and sauce.
For the pudding:
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 T vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
6 cups dry bread cut into cubes
1/2 cup raisins
For the sauce:
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 T cornstarch
1/3 cup half-and-half
2 T maple syrup
1 T butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
To make the pudding, first dry the bread. You can cut 10 to 12 slices of soft white bread into half inch cubes and dry them in a warm oven for a couple of hours or dry the slices and cut them into cubes later. I have done it both ways, but I prefer the second because I like the more irregularly shaped pieces and bread crumbs that result.
My method is to arrange the slices in a couple of large pizza pans, turn the oven on low for five minutes, turn the oven off and let the slices dry for an hour. I then turn them over, turn the oven on for another five minutes, turn it off and let the slices finish drying. I usually dry the bread a day or two in advance and store the slices in plastic bags until I need them.
To make the pudding, start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Put six cups of dried bread cubes in a large bowl. Mix the raisins with the bread and spread the mixture in a seven by eleven inch ungreased baking dish.
In a large bowl beat the eggs until they are lemon colored. Beat the cinnamon into the eggs, then stir in the milk, sugar, salt and vanilla. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread mixture. Flatten the mixture gently with the back of a spoon to ensure that all the bread cubes are moistened.
Bake the pudding uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool slightly. Serve warm with the warm caramel sauce.
To make the sauce, combine the brown sugar and cornstarch in a small heavy saucepan. Dissolve the sugar and cornstarch in a quarter cup of cold water. Put the pan over medium heat. Stir in the half-and-half, maple syrup, and butter. Cook and stir until bubbly.
Don’t worry if the sauce appears curdled as it will become smooth and creamy when you stir in the vanilla. Cook and stir two minutes more. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Store any leftover pudding and sauce in the refrigerator.
NOTES: I have not tried chopped apples in my bread pudding, but currants and dried cranberries work fine. Chopped dates would work too, but we have a really good date pudding recipe that you can find here.
If you use unsalted butter for the sauce, add a dash of salt to the recipe. Salt helps bring out the sweetness of the sugar and syrup.
If you don’t have whole milk in the fridge but do have some half and half, use two cups reduced fat milk and one half cup of half and half. Otherwise, punt and pray.
You can use any kind of commercial or homemade white bread including French or Italian bread if it doesn’t have seeds on it. Don’t worry about the crusts; they add interest to the pudding.