I grew up eating bread pudding. It’s a cheap, filling breakfast (or dessert, more on that later) that uses up things we usually had in abundance: bread, milk, and eggs. Since we were milking goats, kept chickens, and making homemade bread which stales if you look at it funny, it was a great option. Later in life, milk mostly went straight into the kids, storeboughten bread is more likely to succumb to mold than staleness, having enough preservatives in it to stun a horse, so bread pudding was a rare thing. Usually I made it if I was having a yen for comfort food.
As we were discussing what to do for this week’s Vintage Kitchen recipe, the First Reader pointed out that the Little Man had picked out two loaves of ‘his’ bread and they should be used up before they went bad. We’d been talking French Toast, but what’s bread pudding other than baked French Toast? Ok, it’s a little more complex…
I pulled out a couple of cookbooks from the shelf that is now dedicated to my old and heirloom books, and decided that I’d use a recipe from Great-Grandma Ella’s Oregon Grange cookbook. It dates back to 1940, and has some great recipes in it. This is one of them. Although I will confess I altered it slightly, because I made too many bread crumbs and because I wanted four hearty portions, not dessert-sized ones. I reduced the sugar as well.
In order to make this in keeping with the recipe, I used four lidded pots (I have no idea if they have a name!) and cooked the pudding in a bain marie. But before I started mixing up the pudding, I staled the bread. Store-bought bread has a very different ‘crumb’ than homemade, and as I mentioned above, it doesn’t stale. So I tore up about 8 slices of bread into ‘spoon-sized’ pieces and put them in the oven spread out on a pan for about ten minutes at 325 (I was preheating for the puddings anyway). You could achieve the same result by letting the pieces stand out overnight and dry.
I mixed up the liquid ingredients, folded the staled bread in, then spooned it (about one cupful each) into the pots. I then mixed in the flavorings, as the kids don’t like nuts, and the First Reader won’t eat raisins. So we had two with chopped dates and walnuts, one with raisins, and one plain. I covered them (I covered the tagine-style lids with aluminum foil) and put them back into the pan I’d staled the bread crumbs in, along with about 4 cups of hot water to create a bain marie. I baked them at 325 for thirty minutes, then raised the temperature to 350 and baked for another 40 minutes, until they were risen and a toothpick came out clean.
I think you could prepare much of this overnight, only folding in the melted butter and baking soda at the last minute with the bread crumbs to put in pan(s) and bake. That would be faster – we had this for Sunday brunch, but it’s not a quick breakfast! It is easily sweet and rich enough for an elegant dessert in smaller portions, I’d not hesitate to serve it that way as well. The First Reader took a bite, and then another, and then looked at me and told me it’s the best bread pudding he’s ever eaten. It’s caramelly, and rich, and with the dates in ours, sweeter than I would have thought initially.