Bread pudding, in some form or another, has probably been around as long as man has been baking bread. Thought to be first made by thrifty cooks as a way to use stale bread, bread pudding may have started from simple and plain roots but over time it has developed into the decadent dessert we know today.
Early recipes often were little more than bread soaked in water or milk and then sweetened and then baked/steamed. As time went on and cooking techniques evolved, ingredients became more readily available, and recipes became more sophisticated, things like butter, cream, eggs, fruit, liquors, etc were added for flavorings. Today's recipes have come a long way from the days of hollowed out bread loaves filled with milk and spices.
Popular in England and the southern United States, it is not uncommon to find bread pudding on a menu as an alternative to chocolate and/or fruit desserts.
I found the recipe below while searching for a dessert for a meal I made last weekend. This slightly sweet bread pudding with the flavors of bourbon and vanilla was the perfect end to a meal of beef tenderloin, pan-seared scallops with pancetta and pomegranate seeds, and grilled asparagus.
Bourbon Bread Pudding
from page 407 of the Baking: From My Home to Yoursby Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 8 servings
8 oz. baguette or egg-based bread, preferably stale
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbls. bourbon
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. pure almond extract
Boil a pot of water and turn off the heat once it starts boiling. While the water is coming to a boil, cube the bread into 1-inch pieces. If the bread is not stale, spread it in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 350° F oven for 10 minutes. Put the stale bread cubes in a glass or ceramic 9-by-5 inch loaf pan.
In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the milk and cream just to the point where they start boiling and then turn the heat off. While they are boiling, mix the eggs, yolks, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Once the milk and cream mixture is ready, start adding it a little at a time while whisking. This will temper the eggs; add the milk and cream too fast and the eggs could curdle. It is important to keep whisking while slowly adding the remaining milk. Now add in the bourbon, vanilla, and almond extract. If you are a fan of Justin Wilson and are so inclined, go ahead and check the bourbon to be sure it's fine. Once blended, gently tap the bowl on the counter to remove any air bubbles and then pour the custard mixture over the bread. Using the back of a spoon, gently press the bread cubes down in the pan, allowing the custard to completely cover the cubes. Cover with some wax paper and let the bread soak for about an hour, making sure to press the bread down occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place a couple of paper towels in a roasting pan large enough to hold the loaf pan. Remove the wax paper and cover the loaf pan with aluminum foil. Poke a couple of holes in foil. Put the pan of bread pudding in the roasting pan and place in the center rack of the oven. Add the water you boiled previously until it comes halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. Bake for 30 minutes and then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. The pudding is done when it is puffed up, golden, and a cake tester or similar item can be inserted deeply into the middle and be removed cleanly. Remove from the water bath and let it cool on a rack. Serve warm or at least at room temperature. Store leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator for a day. Bring back to room temperature to serve.
The whip cream in the picture was made from whipping a cup of cold heavy whipping cream by hand and when peaks form, add about 3 Tbls. powdered sugar and 2 tsp. of the bourbon. It is slightly sweet but highlights the flavor of the bourbon in the pudding.
Also appearing at Just Baking and featured on the Well Fed Network.
Baking: From My Home to Yoursby Dorie Greenspan
Food Timeline-- history notes: puddings