I love Dorie Greenspan's cookbooks. They're not only easy to follow but almost every recipe I've tried from them has turned out pretty well. If you're a novice baker, this is a good book to have (click on the amazon link or book title above to read more about it). I've never made a bread pudding before but for my first attempt, I knew I could play it safe and try a recipe from Dorie's cookbook and increase my chances of success. After my half-failure with the Black & White Creme Brulee, I needed to stack the baking odds in my favor.
I haven't brushed up on my food history but I'm going to assume bread pudding was invented to make stale bread edible again and repurpose it back into good food, just like banana bread came into being because I'm sure some enterprising person was sick of all the overripe bananas they couldn't eat fast enough and had to do something with blackened bananas. I never had bread pudding until a few years ago because it just didn't look that appetizing and I'm not normally a custard person anyway (except for creme brulee). Fortunately, the first bread pudding I ever tried was very well made and I ended up loving it. It's like French toast on steroids but better.
I've seen various recipes say the more stale the bread, the better, since it'll be soaked in a cream and egg mixture before being baked. So I bought a loaf of challah from Trader Joe's last week and prepared to let it sit on my counter until it got stale (and hopefully before it got moldy). That was the plan, anyway. But I forgot the part where I love challah. We made it in culinary school and it was the best.bread.ever. So you can imagine my leaving that challah alone long enough for it to get stale wasn't really working out. Fortunately, Dorie's recipe had a tip about how to "stale" the bread in the oven so after I'd eaten a quarter of the loaf already, I figured I'd better take the shortcut version or my bread pudding was going to miss its headline ingredient. In my defense, that quarter of a loaf was consumed over the course of a week, usually after I had come from a run at the gym, so I had some resistance. Still, I didn't like the challah's chances of survival to genuine staleness.
Since I had less bread than the recipe called for, I decided to make only a half recipe of the custard. Ever try getting half an egg yolk and half an egg? Yeah, it ain't easy. I eyeballed the halfsies and mixed up the rest of the ingredients. To shortcut time, I made the bread pudding mixture first to give it enough time to soak then I caramelized the apples. I only had Granny Smiths on hand and those soften really quickly when cooked so it wasn't the best type of apple to use for this. Next time I think Fujis would be better.
The trick to making anything custard-y with such a high proportion of eggs and cream is it must be cooked or baked slowly at a lower temp. That will ensure the mixture will thicken and set with a more creamy consistency. Too fast or too hot, and your mixture will break, the eggs will curdle and you'll end up with a grainy product. I've made
For the Caramelized Apples
3 medium apples, peeled and cored (Fujis or Galas work well)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
12 ounces egg bread, such as challah or brioche, preferably stale, sliced ½ inch thick
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
5 large egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking pan (preferably Pyrex or other glass or ceramic pan), dust the inside with sugar and tap out the excess. Line a larger roasting pan with a double thickness of paper towels.
2. To caramelize the apples: Cut each apple in half from top to bottom, cut each half lengthwise into 6 to 8 slices and then cut each slice in half crosswise.
3. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter and, when it melts, sprinkle over the sugar. Cook the butter and sugar for a minute or so to caramelize but not burn. Toss in the apple slices and cook, carefully turning the apples once or twice, until they are tender but not soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the apples and buttery liquid to a plate.
4. If your bread is not stale, spread it out on a baking sheet and bake at 350⁰F for 10 minutes to “stale” it. Cut bread into chunks and set aside.
5. Bring the milk and cream just to a boil.
6. Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar. Still whisking, slowly drizzle in a quarter of the hot milk mixture to temper the egg mixture. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the rest of the milk mixture. Add the vanilla and whisk to blend. Pour the custard over the bread and press the bread gently with the back of a spoon to help it absorb the liquid. Let bread soak in the mixture for about 30 minutes, pressing occasionally with the back of a spoon.
7. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325⁰F.
8. Put the baking pan into a slightly larger roasting pan and fill the roasting pan with hot water. Place the caramelized apples in an even layer on the bottom and gently place the soaked bread over the apples, covering them completely. Pour any remaining liquid over the bread.