Classic Comfort — Bread Pudding

A lot of people consider bread pudding a classic comfort food, especially those who live in the South or have their roots on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line. Actually, it’s considered “extreme” comfort food by some Southerners.

But I’ve known a few Yanks who swear by bread pudding. Two of my former Grand Forks exercising cohorts used to travel regularly to a cafe in Mayville, N.D., for bread pudding and couldn’t stop raving about it.

I’ve eaten bread pudding a couple of times and found it to my liking. I was especially fond of the raisins in the tasty dessert.

Here’s a bread pudding recipe, sans the raisins, which caught my eye today. It’s from Los Angeles Time food writer Noelle Carter’s SOS column. Noelle adapted the recipe from Nopa in San Francisco, which uses a mixture of pain de mie and white levain breads in the dessert. But the most interesting ingredient is fresh goat cheese. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Goat Cheese Bread Pudding
3½ cups milk
3½ cups heavy cream
1 cup creme fraiche
8 cups crustless bread cubes, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 eggs
1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided
1 8-ounce log fresh goat cheese, crumbled
In a large bowl, mix together the milk, heavy cream and creme fraiche.
In an 11-by-15-inch baking dish, place the bread, mounding it slightly in the center of the dish. Pour over the milk mixture, gently pushing the bread down into the liquid so it is evenly soaked. Wrap the dish in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, black pepper and ¼ cup each Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses. Pour the egg mixture over the soaked bread. Dot the top with the crumbled goat cheese.
Using your hands, gently but thoroughly mix together all of the ingredients, making sure there are no pockets of unincorporated egg or cream. Don’t worry if the bread breaks down. When everything is thoroughly mixed, sprinkle the remaining Parmesan and Gruyere over the top.
Cover the top of the dish with a sheet of greased foil, then place the baking dish in a larger roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven, carefully pouring in enough hot water to come up the sides of the baking dish by half.
Bake the bread pudding until set when jiggled (the middle will be moist but not runny), 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours. Gently remove the foil and continue to bake until the top is browned, about 15 minutes more. Cool the bread pudding completely and chill before slicing, then rewarm the slices before serving.
Yield: Serves 16.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 382 calories, 12 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 31 grams fat (19 grams saturated), 189 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams sugar, 494 milligrams sodium.

Bread Pudding with Mushrooms, Spinach and Leeks

There are some foods that just seem to be made for each other. Two are mushrooms and onions. You can find them together in all sorts of favorites. The ones that immediately come to mind for me is when they’re sauteed and served with steak or put atop a grilled burger.

Two other foods that I like in combination are spinach and cheese. I’ve tried them in a number of strata casserole recipes, but my favorite use of them is in vegetable lasagna, which we recently had for dinner.

A recipe that came my way this week contained all four of the aforementioned foods in a tasty-looking bread pudding recipe. (Actually, the recipe calls for leeks, a cousin of the onion and also a member of the allium family.)

The dish is not something that I would make on a weekly basis, since it’s laden with calories. But for a special occasion such as Mother’s Day, it would quite a breakfast treat for the honoree.

Bread Pudding with Mushrooms, Spinach and Leeks
1 large (12-ounce) baguette
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 leeks, white and light green parts, washed and finely chopped
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
Salt, divided
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 large eggs
1 quart half-and-half
Ground black pepper
12 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Slice baguette crosswise into ¾-inch-thick slices. Place on a baking sheet and toast until dry and just beginning to color around the edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Brush some butter on one side of each bread slice. Add leeks to skillet with remaining butter and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release their liquid, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in spinach and set aside.
Whisk eggs, half-and-half, ½ teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to taste together in a large bowl. Add bread slices and gently toss to coat. Arrange bread slices in overlapping rows in a shallow 3-quart baking dish. Pour remaining liquid over bread and let stand 10 minutes.
Spoon mushroom and spinach mixture in between bread slices. Sprinkle cheese over pudding. Bake until puffed, golden and set, 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand 20 minutes and serve warm.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6.

Croissant Bread Pudding

Bread pudding is one of those foods that harken a simpler era. It was a delicious dessert that even the masses could enjoy, hence its original name — “poor man’s pudding.” The first bread pudding evolved as a means of salvaging stale bread.

These days, there are a lot of versions out there, including this one that Noelle Carter of the Los Angeles Times recently shared in one of her interesting food stories that come to us via McClatchy Tribune Information Services.

Croissant Bread Pudding
SHORT DOUGH:
2¼ ounces (¼ stick plus ½ tablespoon) butter, at room temperature
½ cup plus 1½ tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (5.8 ounces) flour
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and salt over low speed until combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer running, add the egg, beating until fully incorporated. Gradually add the flour and continue to mix until it forms a sandy texture. Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
CUSTARD BASE:
3 ounces (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
3 eggs
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, heavy cream, milk and vanilla.
Pudding and assembly:
Short dough
Custard base
About 3 cups (4 ounces) chopped (½-inch dice) croissants, 3 to 4 croissants depending on size
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Whipped cream, chocolate sauce and/or fresh fruit, for garnish
Butter each of 6 ramekins. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cut 12 short dough circles: On a floured board, roll out the short dough to a thickness of a scant one-fourth inch. Cut the dough into 4-inch circles (wide enough to cover the base of the ramekins). You will need a total of 12 circles; re-roll and cut the dough as needed. Line the bottom of each ramekin with 1 short dough circle.
Divide the chopped croissants among the ramekins, making a solid single layer of croissants. Ladle the custard evenly over the croissants. Top each ramekin with a short dough circle.
Place the puddings on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the custard is puffed and set, and the crust is firm and faintly colored, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly before unmolding.
Dust the puddings with powdered sugar. The puddings can be served with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and/or fresh fruit. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 513 calories, 10 grams protein, 59 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 27 grams fat (15 grams saturated), 198 milligrams cholesterol, 30 grams sugar, 239 milligrams sodium.