Bread pudding is not a pretty food. It's chunks of bread, so it's lumpy and kind of brown. It's got the same set of problems as casserole -- everything is lumped into one baking dish and just... conglomerates.
Which is about as appetizing a word as most casseroles are a food. I know some people love casseroles, but I just cannot get into the texture.
Bread pudding is the exception that proves the rule for me. I first had it on my disaster honeymoon, in New Orleans. When we returned from the trip, I went on kind of a quest to find bread pudding in Orlando.
I was thwarted. The few places that had it also put raisins in it. And while there's nothing morally wrong with raisins, I can only tolerate eating them in, like, two configurations (both of which involve cinnamon raisin bread). So, rule number one of bread pudding in my house? No raisins.
Rule number two of bread pudding in my house? It needs both a bourbon sauce and whipped cream.
If you've never had bread pudding, here's the breakdown: bread (often slightly stale) soaked in an egg mixture (basically a custard) and delicious things, baked until it is a cohesive yet moist (but not soggy) pudding. Not, like, pudding like s.e. made. That's totally different. This is a pudding in the more European sense of the word pudding. Now it's fancy, right?
Not really. Bread pudding is a pretty standard poor-food dessert. You make it with old bread, eggs and whatever other ingredients you have on hand. We've made variations with pumpkin and other seasonings and it pretty much comes down to making sure the custard remains stable.
We don't usually have a lot of bread around the house, so in defiance of bread pudding's long tradition, we have to go to the store and buy bread. Now, you can use sliced sandwich bread. But that stuff doesn't have a lot of bite to it -- we like to go get a round loaf of something from the bakery. Sometimes a white mountain bread, sometimes a really natural grains loaf. It's a bread adventure. Just go with what you like.
At some point, when you've decided to make this dessert, you need to heat your oven to 350 degrees.
Once you've got your bread (and while your oven is heating), you need to tear that bread up. Because we're those people, we cube ours into one-inch cubes. But you can actually factually just tear it apart with your hands, which is a satisfying way to relieve some stress, I have to admit.
Put your bread chunks in an 8x8 baking dish -- and then melt three tablespoons of butter. Drizzle the butter over the bread. Yes, it needs to be three tablespoons. This is meant to be a rich and dense.
The next thing you do is grab a bowl. You're going to beat three eggs. You don't have to go all out; it's not like you're beating egg whites. This is more like you're making light and fluffy scrambled eggs. Then you are going to add two cups of heavy whipping cream.
Rich and dense. Just go with it.
Beat that up some more, then add a half cup of white sugar and a half cup of brown sugar. You can play with the ratio or use all one or the other. I really like brown sugar so sometimes we use only that. With the sugar, add some vanilla (a tablespoon) and some cinnamon (also a tablespoon). You can add other things -- the recipe is really forgiving. You can throw in raisins if you just have to have them (I just don't want to think about it) or currants or cherries or nuts or pumpkin puree. I know this is the second time I've mentioned the pumpkin -- you can treat this like a pumpkin pie and it is delicious.
So now you have this bowl full of fragrant eggy liquid. Pour that over your chunked up bread. If you don't mind getting your fingers messy, this is a fun part: push the bread down into the liquid. Squish it until all of the bread is soaked through.
If you've got the time, a magical thing you can do is cover the unbaked bread pudding and put it in the fridge overnight. Or for a few hours. You know. Whatever. This gives the bread the chance to really absorb the egg mixture. It's like short term memory versus long term memory. Letting things soak in = long term memory in this metaphor.
The only problem with putting the bread pudding in the fridge to soak overnight is if you've decided to do that mid-task. Because your oven might still be on. Check and make sure.
Whether you're baking it immediately or after a long, slow soak in the custard, your bread pudding needs to go in the oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. I don't like mine to get too crusty on top so I rarely cook it longer than that. Sprinkle some more cinnamon and brown sugar on the top of it before you bake it.
So far, we haven't used any booze. I know, I know, it can't be Baking With Booze if we aren't hitting the liquor cabinet. That's why I need you to make a bourbon sauce to go on this bread pudding.
Bourbon sauce used to really intimidate me. Surely anything that delicious had to be massively complicated, right? Not true! As is the way with so many things that are delicious, bourbon sauce depends on the tastiness of a few key ingredients.
Which means you should use good bourbon for this. You're going to taste it. None of it is going to cook off so you want something you can see yourself savoring. Maybe while sitting on a front porch one evening listening to the frogs.
Sorry, got all pastoral for a second there.
If you don't have a double boiler (we still have not acquired one), you can plonk a metal bowl over a small pot of water. In that homemade double boiler, melt 8 tablespoons of butter.
Simple, tasty ingredients.
In another small bowl, mix 1 egg in with 1 cup of sugar. I use white sugar for this but you could also use brown sugar. It just depends on what you have versus what you would have to go to the store to get because you ran out of it unexpectedly. I know that can't just be me.
Make sure the water in the pot portion of your double boiler isn't quite boiling, then mix the egg and sugar mixture into the melted, glorious golden butter.
You don't want the water to be boiling because you aren't making an omelet here. The goal is just to dissolve the sugar in the butter. Don't think about the egg. Just let it be there.
Once you've combined everything, take it off the heat. Here comes the bourbon part of things: Add a half a cup of bourbon to the sauce and whisk it in.
I'm just going to warn you now. This makes a strong bourbon sauce. If you don't like bourbon, you should not make this sauce.
The rest should be natural and instinctual -- you cut a square of the bread pudding and then put warm bourbon sauce on it. Then you put whipped cream on top of that.
It's a beautiful world that has things like bread pudding with bourbon sauce in it. Now I just wonder if I can get away with having it for breakfast.