Many people have had traumatic childhood experiences related to bread pudding or its first cousin, rice pudding. These memories start with the promise of "dessert" and end when Aunt Mae places a sloppy, milky mush of barely sweet, flavorless goo before you. Your horror intensifies when you discover sticky raisins floating between globs of...pudding? This is PUDDING???
Bread pudding doesn't have to suck. It can, but it doesn't have to. The secret to awesome bread pudding is a thick, dense bread that will hold some of its texture (day old french bread is perfect), plenty of vanilla, and a delicious sauce.
With the right ingredients, bread pudding can be as decadent as creme brulee without as much fuss. The ingredients are really flexible--in the recipe below I use real cream and milk because I happened to have it on hand, but if you google it you can find bread pudding bases with various combinations of milk, evaporated milk, and butter.
I've added tart berries to my recipe in the form of dried blueberries (hand plucked from my muesli...I've never been a fan of dried fruit in cereal) and fresh bing cherries. The sauce is given some additional sour properties with a citrus liquor, Cointreau, and these sour notes are balanced with generous spices. A variation of this recipe using dried cranberries and spiced cherry liquor would make a perfect holiday dessert.
Cherry Berry Bread Pudding
5 - 7 1" slices of day-old french bread (enough to fill 1.5 quart casserole dish)
3/4 cup white sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinammon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon mace
1/4 cup dried blueberries
Cherry Cointreau Sauce:
12 - 16 ounces of fresh cherries, pitted and diced
1 ounce Cointreau or Triple Sec
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon ginger
If you are using your oven, preheat to 300 degrees (pressure cooker directions to follow). In your mixer, beat 3 eggs. Add sugar, beat until dissolved. Add milk, cream, vanilla and spices and beat until smooth and blended.
Slice bread into 1" cubes, sprinkle dried blueberries over the bread, and pour cream sauce over bread in 1/5 quart casserole dish. Bread will float; put a plate or lid over the dish or gently push down to help it absorb the liquid. Allow 10 minutes for it to soak in. Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes, or get it all done in 20 minutes using your pressure cooker.
Pressure cooker: place a trivet or steaming plate at the bottom of the cooker, add 2 cups liquid. Make two long ropes of tin foil, cross them like an "x" beneath your casserole dish and use the ends as handles so you can easily lift the casserole dish in and out of the pressure cooker like this:
Crossing each rope like an "x" is crucial for stability. Cut a square section of tin foil for the lid, lightly grease a circle the size of your dish with butter. Tightly secure the lid onto the dish, then lift it into the pressure cooker.
Heat on high until the pressure thingy starts to rock, then reduce to about medium high so that it is gently rocking. Cook for 10 minutes, allow to cool. If desired, place your dish on a cookie sheet and place it in the broiler for a minute or two to brown the tops.
To prepare the cherry sauce, crush your cherries flat using the side of a heavy knife. Once crushed it is easy to remove seed and stems by hand. Lightly chop your cleaned cherries, then divide into equal portions.
Simmer half your cherries with Cointreau, sugar and ginger for just a minute or two until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside. In a separate sauce pan, heat cream until simmering, whisking constantly. Add two egg yolks, stir until dissolved. Add hot cherries, stir until simmered and then reduce heat. Add your reserved fresh cherries.