Of all of the things we can credit to merry old England with its' empire building and so forth, excellent food is usually not at the top of the list, and that is as it should be. Even so, there are a few standouts for which we have to thank our friends across the pond; fish and chips with malt vinegar, trifle and savory meat pies. And bread pudding! One wonders at the true origins of this beautiful concoction, given that it is basically French toast or pain perdu with a longer soak time. Not that the French were creating something truly original either since Pan Dulcis, an Italian variant dates back to ancient Rome. Still, let's give credit where it is due. I believe that many if not most great culinary discoveries are the results of some serendipity. And in the case of bread pudding, it sounds logical to me that someone trying to make some French-type toast just left the old bread in the custard too long while getting distracted by the Baron coming to collect his exorbitant rent, by herding the sheep or by studying dentistry (just kidding on this last one). So then having no additional kitchen stores of bread and eggs, this accidental genius tried to salvage what he or she could and Presto! Bread Pudding!
Note: This recipe make 12-14 servings (maybe more since a little of this goes a long way). For smaller groups, reduce all ingredients by 1/2 and use smaller dish.
6 medium-large eggs
2 c. granulated sugar
4 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. whole milk
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. orange zest
8 c. 1-2 inch cubed French bread
1 1/2 - 2 c. dried cherries
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/4 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
Lay cubed bread out evenly on large sheet pan and place in oven for 10-12 minutes
Transfer bread from sheet pan into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes
Pour custard over bread
Fold until all pieces are evenly coated with custard
Press down on bread to ensure coverage, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 hours
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Give bread and custard a final stir prior to adding to large baking dish (about 9x13 inches)
Bake for 60 minutes
Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Combine corn syrup with fresh orange juice and place over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Serve bread pudding warm and drizzle with orange syrup.
Food for Thought
Many dishes like this call for day-old bread. Whatever. Just cut and toast your bread and it will work fine be it fresh or not. I just think that toasted bread is better than stale bread. The point is, that dry bread will take up the custard without getting too mushy. Like any good dish with a lot of eggs, the volume of this dish will expand at the end of baking. The finished product should also have a golden-brown appearance.
With the combination of oranges and spices, this just tastes like Christmas, which is great in the winter. However, if you are craving bread pudding in the warmer seasons you may alter the above recipe by leaving out the spices and fruit and substituting dried blueberries and doubling the lemon zest - no orange, and using lemon juice instead of orange for the syrup. For a tropical version use only 3 c. milk and 1 c. coconut milk (we prefer Thai Kitchen), substitute 1/2 of the vanilla with coconut extract and throw in some fresh pineapple and mango. Finally, dairy is a no-brainer with this. Recommended pairings are cold milk and/or fresh whipped heavy cream. So good - and good for you!?