The pudding family tree has many cousins— summer puddings, Christmas puddings, red puddings, and white puddings. There is hog’s pudding and it’s Scottish ancestor: Haggis. I’m not sure what Cheshire Pudding is, but it reminds me of a cat, so I have always stayed away from it.
Yorkshire Pudding is a hit in England, but there’s not much call for it around here. I have never eaten Figgy Pudding, though I have often stood with fellow church members on the front porches of unsuspecting home owners during the holiday season and sung the strange, yet demanding, musical request: “Oh bring us a Figgy Pudding, Oh bring us a Figgy Pudding, Oh bring us a Figgy Pudding, And bring it right here.” As of this writing, no one has ever brought me more than a cup of hot chocolate while Christmas caroling.
Rice pudding is the crazy uncle of the pudding family. It just doesn’t seem right. Having spent 47 years in South Mississippi, the only accompaniment that seems to be a suitable pairing with rice is gravy.
Most puddings don’t register on the radar of my adult life. My grandmother made an excellent corn pudding, but she’s been gone for several years. I packed chocolate pudding in my elementary school lunchbox but I have grown too old to eat a Snack Pack, so those days are a distant memory.
The one pudding that has remained a constant in my life— whether dining with my mother in the white-tablecloth restaurants of New Orleans as a child, or as a fully-grown restauranteur developing new items for the menu— is the patriarch of the pudding family: Bread Pudding.
Bread Pudding is the perfect pudding. There are no grains or pig intestines in bread pudding. It is versatile, it has broad appeal, and there are no silly holiday songs that rudely demand it be served immediately.
I suspect bread pudding was invented as a way for restaurants to get rid of their stale bread. Though I have always been suspicious of any recipe that included a “stale” or “sour” component in the ingredient list. It’s like saying: leave the milk out at room temperature for three days before making the cake.
I’ve spent 35 years in the restaurant business, so I understand the logic. The most profitable operators use all of the byproducts and scraps in the pantry. The lesser cuts of meat get ground into hamburger, the vegetable scraps go into soups and stocks, the bones— whether they be beef, pig, fish, or fowl— are used for stocks, and stale bread is used for bread pudding.
Such is the fate of bread pudding. The question, therefore is: If one has no stale bread on hand, should the bread pudding wait? The answer is simple: No.
I never use stale bread in bread pudding. Stale bread is for the birds, literally. I do with stale bread as my grandmother always did, and crumble up pieces of it and sprinkle them in the side yard for our feathered friends. When I make bread pudding, I use the freshest bread I can find.
Some might make the argument that stale bread is drier, less absorbent, and does a better job holding up to the custard, and they might be right. Nevertheless, I’m still using fresh bread.
Within the bread pudding family there are many step children. I have developed savory bread puddings using asparagus or crawfish. I have made several bread puddings that use fruit as a component— raspberries and/or blueberries seem to work best. As a kid, one of my favorite bread puddings was the one served at Mother’s restaurant on Poydras Street in New Orleans. They dumped a drained can of fruit cocktail in it.
Most of my restaurant career I have used two base bread pudding recipes— a straight New Orleans-style bread pudding, and White Chocolate Bread Pudding— all of the other recipes I have created are offshoots of those two basic staples in our kitchens.
A standard New Orleans-style bread pudding is specked with nutmeg and cinnamon, usually has raisins in it, and is always served with a sauce spiked with whiskey or bourbon.
Our White Chocolate Bread Pudding is a cross between a custard and a pudding. It is one of our flagship, and most requested, recipes. People who don’t like bread pudding love it, and people who have never liked custard order seconds. It’s uncomplicated, it’s easy to make, and it tastes great. The key is the smooth consistency.
My problem with typical bread pudding is the cubes of bread. Most recipes require that the bread be soaked in the egg/milk mixture for several hours or overnight. Even still, a random corner of a bread cube will remain above the surface and get charred during the cooking process.
When we developed the White Chocolate Bread Pudding recipe, we took care of that problem by placing the uncooked pudding in an electric mixer and gently mixing it using the paddle attachment. That process breaks up the bread and creates a smooth and rich bread pudding.
The members of the pudding family are a strange and eccentric bunch but bread puddings are the sort of relatives who are always welcome in your home.
Asparagus Bread Pudding
1 cup asparagus, cut into one-inch long pieces
1 Tbl Olive Oil
1/2 cup White Onion, diced
1/2 cup Red Pepper, diced
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
1 /2 cup Riesling Wine
12 Tbl Fresh Basil, chopped
1 tsp Dry Mustard
1 cup Sour Cream
1 cup Half and Half
1 /2 cup Whole Milk
4 Egg Yolks
6 cups French bread, crust removed and small diced
Preheat oven to 325.
Place three cups of water into a small saucepot and bring to a boil. Place the asparagus pieces in the boiling water and cook for 45 seconds Strain the asparagus and run it under cold water until cooled completely. Drain and dry the asparagus pieces and set aside.
In a medium-sized sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions and peppers for two-three minutes. Add the cooked asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for one more minute. Add the wine and allow it to reduce by half. Remove this mixture from the heat and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the basil, dry mustard, sour cream, half and half, milk and eggs. Blend them together and fold in the cooked vegetables and French bread. Cover and allow the mixture to set for one hour before baking.
Place the pudding mixture into a lightly buttered 2 quart Pyrex baking dish. Cover the pudding with a piece of parchment paper, and cover the parchment paper with a piece of aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes covered. Remove the foil and paper and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Allow pudding to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Yields: 8-10 servings
Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding
12 ounces chocolate chips, divided
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups cream
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp salt
Lightly butter an 8 1/4”x 8 1/2”x 2 1’2” Ceramic Baking Dish
Place half of the chocolate chips in a double boiler. Heat the vanilla, cream and milk with half the sugar and pour over melted chocolate. Combine the other half of the sugar with the eggs and yolks and whip until light and fluffy. Temper the hot chocolate mixture slowly into egg mixture. Cut the croissants in half. Submerge the bottom halves of the croissants into the custard mixture and soak for 10 minutes. Gently remove them from the custard, and cover the bottom of the baking dish with the soaked croissant halves. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the soaked croissants. Soak the tops of the croissants in the remaining custard mixture for 10 minutes. Gently remove them from the custard and arrange them atop the chocolate chips. Pour and remaining custard over the croissants. Cover and refrigerate over night.
Preheat oven to 325
Remove the prepared bread pudding from the refrigerator one hour before baking. Press the croissant down to make sure all of the custard has been absorbed into the croissants. Cover the bread pudding with a sheet of wax paper, followed by a sheet of aluminum foil.
Place the covered baking dish in a large roasting pan, and fill the pan with hot water so that it comes 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the baking dish.
Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and wax paper cover and bake for 20-30 more minutes, the bread pudding should jiggle slightly, but have no liquid custard remaining.
Remove from the oven and allow the bread pudding to rest for 30 minutes before serving.
Place a small pool of the bourbon crème anglais on each serving dish. Cut the bread pudding into 6-8 portions and place each piece in the center of the crème anglais, serve immediately.