Superbowl week was crazy in between work and setting up for a mini gathering at my place. Prepping the food for game day should have been my focus but I was obsessed with bread pudding - classic, drunken, good ol' American pudding! I have not always liked bread pudding - my first encounter was BAD... too sweet! too soggy! Plus, it had raisins; I was not very fond of raisin. The smell was just too strong for my taste. Fast forward to 2007, D re-introduced me to bread pudding. We were just dating and I didn't want to "spoil the moment" by ranting about how I hated raisins. Plus the guy had such a way of describing the remarkable food he's had. By the end of it, he almost had me believing raisins were a fave of mine. Back to the subject on hand - he was right on. The pudding we had was great - perhaps not as good as this recipe (hehe) but pretty darn good that raisins were no longer a prob.
Historically, bread pudding was conceived in order to make use of stale bread. I read a lot of recipes that ok'd the left over bread, but come on! You are embarking towards calorie heaven here, so if you are going bad - do it properly. Good bread is a must. Look for that great french baguette, croissant or brioche. Eizel's pick would be challah. Challah is a traditional Jewish bread, enriched using eggs. Many have compared it to brioche except challah is more sturdy. This bread is good on its own - sweet, moist and that crust - it's one you'd want to save instead of cutting it out. To ensure that the bread absorbs as much of the custard as possible, I oven-toast the bread cubes for about 15 minutes. The original recipe I referenced from asked that I toast it until it is slightly browned. Mine didn't come out as browned and I didn't realize I was supposed to until I re-read the recipe after all was done. Oh well! It didn't really make much of a difference. I think the whole point was to dry out the bread enough that it will absorb without breaking down to mush.
I toggled between bourbon and rum for this recipe. Most recipes called for bourbon and there were quite a few which used rum instead. The weigh in for me was that I already had a bottle of rum. But going back to the original intent - this has to be done properly if I am to consume a calorie filled recipe. So an hour before an early morning meeting, I stopped by Molly Stones to pick up a bottle of bourbon. I stood in the liquor aisle, contemplating my choices. There were bourbon-whiskey, whiskey-bourbon, aged whiskey that could be bourbon - good lord! Wikipedia was no help either - there doesn't seem to be any websites that could clearly explain what brands sold bourbon. I was running out of time, so I grabbed a bottle by Seagrams and dashed to the counter. Checking his watch, the cashier asks "Isn't 7 a little too early for a drink??"
I was so glad I chose to go with bourbon instead - the taste is so intense! Combined with currants, it mellowed the raisin like taste and gave it a hint of vanilla. I was going to make the bread pudding the day before the party, but time was running out. At the time I had already combined the cream, eggs and the currants/bourbon mixture. So I stored it in the refrigerator until the next day. I was pleasantly surprised by how much better the custard tasted. What you get as the currants and the bourbon soaks in the custard for a longer period of time is this butterscotch like fruit enveloped in this cream mixture. Yum!
I chose to use currant based on some Moroccan recipes that I've been reading. They use a lot of dried currants instead of raisins. Currants didn't give off the same scent that I disliked about raisins and they were smaller so I found them more edible. Therefore, if you are not a raisin fan or is serving this to a crowd that dislike raisins - try currants instead.
The pudding was well received at the party - a nice change from your typical brownies and cookies at a game day fiesta. I was so thrilled by comments of "I didn't think I'd like bread pudding - but this is fabulous!"
Bourbon Bread Pudding
serves 8 to 10
2/3 cup currants or raisin
5 teaspoons bourbon
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 (14-ounce) loaf bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (about 10 cups)*
5 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Combine currants/raisins and bourbon in a small bowl. Microwave for 20 seconds; set aside to cool, about 15 minutes.
Combine brown sugar and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, tossing occassionally - switch the trays top to bottom racks halfway through baking. Let the bread cubes cool and set aside 2 cups.
Whisk eggs, 3/4 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk cream and milk until combined. Stir in cooled raisin mixture. Add the remaining 8 cups of cooled bread cubes and toss to coat. Transfer the mixture to a 13 x 9-inch baking dish and let it stand. Occasionally press the bread cubes into the custard, about 30 minutes. sprinkle half the currants collecting on the bottom of the bowl and set the remaining currants aside.
Spread the reserved bread cubes evenly over the top of the soaked bread mixture and gently press into the custard. Sprinkle the rest of the currants on top. Using a pastry brush, dab melted butter over the top. Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture evenly over the top. Bake on the middle rack until the custard has just set, 45 to 50 minutes. You'll know when the pudding is done by pressing gently on a cube of bread in the center of the pudding. If it exudes liquid, return the pudding to the oven until it is just set. Let the bread pudding cool to set and then serve.