By ELLEN BIRKETT MORRIS
Certain foods provide instant comfort. When I’ve had a hard day, I hanker for the butter and sugar sandwiches on white bread my mom used to serve me and my sisters. They were a snack with a story.
Growing up in southern Indiana, my grandma had made them for my mom and her sister when they needed an afternoon snack and grandma wanted some quiet while preparing dinner.
I loved to feel the sugar between my teeth as I ate the sandwich. I also loved feeling connected to my mom by eating something she ate as a kid.
As my father was dying of cancer and was having trouble mustering enthusiasm for food, he remembered his grandmother serving him white bread dipped in milk mixed with sugar. We brought Dad a plate of white bread and a bowl of sugared milk. As he ate, his brothers and sister, who were visiting, told stories about the old neighborhood in Detroit, including the tale of how crazy Uncle Bert would pay them a quarter to eat a hot pepper. Dad was edified by food, family and conversation.
This got me thinking of a more grown-up alternative to the milk-sugar-bread combination. Add eggs, spices, nuts or other ingredients, bake for a while, and you have bread pudding. Bread puddings are simple, delicious and wonderfully versatile. Soak bread in eggs, cream and sugar, add flavorings and bake. Any white bread will do. Many recipes recommend soft Italian bread, left out overnight. Toast the bread to enhance its flavor and consider buttering the bread for an even richer dish.
As an added benefit for these trying economic times, bread pudding is a good way to use up stale bread.
During the heat of the summer, bread pudding can be served cold with an in-season fruit sauce. Served warm, a bread pudding is equal in comfort to hot cocoa on a cold night.
Peach bread pudding with cream sauce, fig bread pudding with brandy sauce, and chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce—the combinations are endless.
Following are three of my favorite bread pudding recipes, raspberry summer pudding from The Gourmet Cookbook, an apple bread pudding from Yankee Magazine in honor of my father’s northern roots, and Emeril Lagasse’s praline bread pudding. Serve one of these or create your own recipe. Maybe someday your kids will serve it to their kids. “Remember that bread pudding mom used to make …”
Raspberry Summer Pudding
Gourmet describes this traditional English dessert as sunset on a plate with its bright berry flavor and deep red color.
10 (½-inch-thick) slices of firm white sandwich bread, crusts removed, 6 slices halved crosswise
3 cups raspberries
1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3 cup sugar, or to taste
¼ cup framboise or other raspberry liquor
Raspberries, strawberries or whipped cream to garnish
Line a charlotte mold with plastic wrap. Trim 1 whole bread slice into a round to fit in the bottom of mold and reserve. Arrange halved slices, overlapping slightly, around the sides of the mold, then press bread round into the bottom.
Combine raspberries, strawberries, sugar and framboise in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until fruit is crushed and has given off liquid and sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes.
Pour fruit into a medium-mesh sieve set over a bowl and let drain for 5 minutes; reserve fruit and syrup separately. (You should have about 1 cup syrup.)
Spoon half of fruit into mold. Top with 1 slice of remaining bread, trimming it as necessary. Spoon remaining fruit into the mold and ladle about 1/3 cup syrup over it. Top with remaining 2 slices of bread, cut into pieces as necessary, to cover top completely.
Cover bread with plastic wrap and top with cardboard round, then weight pudding evenly with a 2-pound weight. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Refrigerate remaining syrup, covered.
Just before serving, remove weight, cardboard, and top piece of plastic wrap, invert into a large round serving plate with a lip over mold, and invert pudding onto plate; remove plastic wrap. Spoon revered syrup a little at a time over the top and sides of pudding. Decorate top with fruit and serve, with whipped cream if desired.
Apple Bread Pudding
This recipe is simple, simple, simple. It is fantastic topped with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
6 ripe apples, firm
½ cup water
1 cup raisins (optional)
8 slices buttered bread
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Peel and core the apples, then slice thinly. Put them into a saucepan with water and raisins (if desired), then cover and cook for 15 minutes, until soft.
Cut bread into fingers and arrange half in a pie dish, butter side down. Cover with apple mixture, then top layer with bread, butter side up.
Top with sugar and spices. Bake for 20 minutes, until crisp.
Praline Bread Pudding
While the pralines are an essential ingredient, when I am in a really decadent mood I skip the anglaise sauce and top each serving with a square of good quality dark chocolate.
1 Tablespoon butter
1 cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
6 cups ½-inch day-old bread cubes
2 cups crumbled pralines
2 cups Anglaise Sauce
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease muffin tins with the butter.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla together. Whisk in the cream and milk. Fold in the bread and pralines. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Spoon the filling into each muffin tin. Place the muffin tin on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until the center is firm. Serve the pudding with the Anglaise sauce.
½ pound light brown sugar (1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons)
¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons evaporated milk
1 ½ teaspoons butter
1 cup chopped pecans
Mix sugar, salt, evaporated milk and butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until sugar dissolves. Stir in pecans and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches the soft ball stage. (234 to 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer; if you spoon a drop of boiling syrup into a cup of ice water, it will form a soft ball that flattens easily between your fingers.)
Remove pan from heat and stir rapidly until mixture thickens. Drop pralines by teaspoonfuls, 1-inch apart onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets; let cool completely until firmed up. Store in an airtight container.
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean split and scraped
5 egg yolks
In a saucepan, over high heat, whisk the cream together with the sugar and vanilla bean. Bring to a simmer and remove from heat. In a bowl beat the egg yolks until thick and frothy. Temper the egg yolks by stirring ¼ cup of the sauce into the yolks, until incorporated. Turn the egg yolk mixture into the sauce and stir until thoroughly blended.
Return the saucepan to low heat and cook 2 to 4 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching. Remove from heat. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
Ellen Birkett Morris a writer, poet and food lover, who lives in Louisville. Her poem “Measurements” is forthcoming in the journal Gastronomica.