Thursday, April 9, 2015

Brioche and Apricot Bread Pudding(Also, a guide to making any bread pudding ever)


Complete with Creme Anglaise and all!
 Easter has come and gone, quite early in the year. Catholics rejoice as Lent is over, and I rejoice because it's one more step closer to summer. I am so sick of complaining about how cold it is. I want to be complaining about how hot it is, already.

Can a woman get some bikini weather up in here??? I have got a muscular, powerful body and I am ready to show it off to the haters that say a woman should be skinny.

Anyway.

Bread pudding isn't necessarily a staple of Easter, at least as I've come to know it, but it's delicious. This dessert never really crossed my mind as a viable option for pastries, but it's got two things that I love: bread and custard. Who doesn't like bread???

Spoiler Alert: THIS IS NOT GLUTEN-FREE.

I do apologize, however, if I seem anti-celiac; I'm not, and gluten intolerance for Celiacs are real medical conditions. If you are just cutting gluten because "OMFG SO MANY CARBS SO BAD FOR YOU " then you can just not. You're making a fad out of a real disease and it's not cute.

Can you read my handwriting?
Of course you can.
I write beautifully.
I have a stand-by bread pudding formula thanks to Alton Brown, which I have written down in my recipe journal, just in case I ever get lost in the woods without internet, find a habitable cabin, rebuild a life with a dairy farm and a chicken coop, then a mill to grind flour and bake bread, and then have the ability to make bread pudding after so many years in said cabin.

In case you can't read this note, however, the basic Bread Pudding Formula is:


  • 10 cups bread, cubed
  • 5 cups half & half
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar(brown or white)
  • 2 oz flavoring/rum/any liquor you like
  • 1 cup dried fruit of your choice
  • Spices, dried or otherwise
The bread in question should be stale, but honestly, who can wait for that? Plus, living in the midwest means that there is a lot of humidity in the air, and humidity often means mold...which is something I've honestly not had that much experience with, as a proud Southwestern girl. In lieu of waiting for bread to stale overnight, may I suggest simply toasting your bread, as if you were making croutons? This will undoubtedly increase your speed on this lengthy endeavor(and it is lengthy), plus give you a new depth of flavor!

With roasting, you can take the opportunity to roast your spices and maybe even some herbs to go with it? Maybe roast some lemon slices to really get the aromas of lemon into the bread? Or roast some rosemary, which is a very common thing in yeasty, German pastries? This is your recipe, now, so use it as you like!

For my recipe, I used Brioche, which is basically butter and eggs that are held together with flour and yeast. (Seriously, there's like a dozen eggs per loaf, or something stupid like that. This shit is scary, but perfect for French toast and bread pudding.)

I had to make a lot of bread pudding for Easter, so I used ten loaves of this tender yeasty love-loaf. I "peeled" off the outer crust using a serrated knife and then cut the loaves into (roughly) 1" cubes. It was a ridiculous amount of bread. It took over my whole table! It was, of course, ultimately worth it once I had everything toasted and ready to go. Once you have your bread toasted, place in a buttered baking dish of your choice, and set it aside for the next step.

Why do we want to toast it or have it stale, you ask? Well, the simple answer is moisture. 

See, we want the bread to soak up the custard and flavors of spices for the pudding. If the bread is already moist, it's just going to get soggy and kind of gross. Think of your bread as the sponge by your kitchen sink. If the sponge is damp, it's not going to really soak up much, but it has its own uses. We want our sponge to be dry, so it can take on the custard in its entirety. This way, the bread can keep the integrity of its shape, as well as the beautiful flavors you'll later on develop.

Seriously! Cinnamon is known as the friend-maker
in the language of spices!
To make the custard, you'll combine your milk/half & half/heavy cream(you can honestly interchange them in a pinch, depending on your availability and/or preference) with your spices and a fat pinch of salt and sugar. I opted for something simple, so cinnamon, the spice of blossoming friendships, was my spice of choice.

For the incredibly large amount of liquid I used, I think I used about twenty-four sticks of cinnamon altogether, with one whole nutmeg. You can just use a few grates of nutmeg, with probably just one large cinnamon stick. You can use dried or fresh spices for this application. For a springy bread pudding, you can use lemon peel and dried(or fresh) lavender buds. For an exotic twist, may I suggest a Chinese 5 spice or perhaps using your cinnamon with cardamom pods and star anise? You could even go Southwestern by using lime peel and jalapeno. I personally have never tried this, but I can't think of a reason why you couldn't. This is your time to have fun and be creative, so go do it!

Take your dried fruit into consideration at this point, too, and make sure that it goes with which ever spices you have chosen to use. My favorite combinations are(in order):

  • Dried mango & chili powder with cinnamon
  • Dried apricots and pistachios & nutmeg and cinnamon
  • Sultanas(golden raisins) & vanilla bean
  • Dried cranberries & lemon peel
  • Dried currants & rosemary (don't ask why, but it works and it's great)
  • Dried apricots and Chinese five spice
I had to take a break from chopping to take this picture.
I think it was about 8 cups total, when all was said and done.
For this particular one, I used dried apricots, mostly because that's what I had the most of. Instead of using them whole, I sliced them into smaller, more manageable pieces, to get even distribution throughout the custard. It's not 100% required to reconstitute your fruit into either booze or hot water or whatever you have lying around, but it is recommended. Dried mangoes soaked in a dark rum will bring you closer to God in a bread pudding, and that is something I know without fail.

Once your milk/cream/whatever mixture has come to a boil, immediately remove from the heat and cover with aluminum foil. Let this stuff steam for at least 30 minutes before you touch it. This will help develop flavors in the milk, and also give you time to gather the rest of your mise en place, if you haven't already done so. Otherwise, catch an episode of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix while you wait. Or maybe take your dog for a walk; he probably needs it. 

"Don't mind me. I'm just waiting for you to put your fucking phone down, over here."

To complete your custard, whisk together the remaining sugar, eggs, egg yolks, flavorings/boozes of choice, in a bowl, and then splash some of your warm liquid into the eggs. This will raise the temperature slightly, so you can add the eggs to your warm/hot custard without fear of it curdling. This process is called tempering, in case you're not aware. Then, add everything back into the pot and bring to a steam over a medium flame, whisking constantly. Do not ACTUALLY boil, though. Just cook until it's sort of thickened, then remove. 

Strain your custard over the bread, which you've had sitting in that buttered baking dish that you absolutely have not forgotten about. Let your custard sit for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice to sort of toss the bread evenly. This hot liquid will absorb into your dry bread like crazy, and will also permeate each and every nook and cranny of your mouth when you finally get to eat it! It is at this time that you toss the fruit in with everything else. I like to use half the fruit stirred in, and then the other half sort of sprinkled on top. 

The said "color" will look something like this!
Cover your pan tightly with aluminum foil and pop into a 340 degree oven for half an hour, turning and/or checking at 10 minute intervals. Remember, the lower and slower you cook a custard, the more creamy and silky the results. Once the custard is just about to be set, remove the foil and bake for a remaining 5 minutes, just to sort of cook the top and get a little more color. 

Remove your pudding from the oven and consider your options:

  1. Dive in now and eat like a pig
  2. Allow to cool to room temperature and serve with ice cream
  3. Allow to cool to room temperature, wrap, chill, cut, then serve as needed. With ice cream. Or creme anglaise. Or chocolate sauce. Don't be picky. 
I like options 1 and 3. There are a thousand anglaise sauce recipes out there, but honestly my favorite way to eat it is warm with ice cream right on top. Plus, you can just buy ice cream instead of going through the trouble of making an anglaise sauce, especially after you've spent so much time on the bread pudding itself.

You can eat this right out of the pan, right out of the oven, if you like, but I think you should let it chill overnight in the fridge before pulling it out the next morning to have for breakfast...or to let sit on your counter for an hour to temp up for a dinner party you've been planning...or whatever. The benefit of letting it chill, though, is that you'll get super-clean slices when you take it out of the pan, versus just scooping it all out willy-nilly. 
See? Nice and even...

Bread pudding is easy, you guys, and though it might take a long time, it's well worth the effort to make this classic dessert, which you can make from (essentially) leftovers in your cabinet. 

I encourage you to get out there, make some bread puddings, and post the results on your own blogs or Facebook pages or what-have-you, so we can all connect over the yummy dessert known as Bread Pudding.

A big thank you to Alton Brown for this recipe. And a big thank you to the 11th and 12th century cooks that were trying to be frugal and stretch old stale bread into something tasty and palatable so that they didn't die from starvation or the rickets or whatever! Happy cooking and happy eating!

yum