Tuesday, March 16, 2010

BICOASTAL BREAD

If you had come over to our house anytime this past month, you would have been forced to eat a piece of bread pudding prepared one of the following ways: savory, sweet, crisp, quite moist, too dry, hot, cold, sliced, bland, scooped, creamy, with asparagus and cheese, packed with chocolate chunks, infused with vanilla and orange, drenched in maple syrup, drizzled with caramel sauce, or, of course, topped with lots of vanilla bean ice cream. Nine batches of bread pudding. Twenty taste testers. Quite a range of opinions. People are very picky about their bread pudding. No one likes it when you muck with their comfort food.
This is the loaf that started my obsession with bread pudding (I bought it at Tavern in Los Angeles). I left it out for five days to get stale before cutting it open. I got 2 bread puddings out of it. 
A few weeks later, I brought back six pounds of HELLA YUMMY BREAD from New York City. (Yes, we have great bread in Berkeley but there's something nice about having a little bit of NYC in my freezer at all times.)  I needed to check a second suitcase just for the bread. Two feet of brioche from Balthazar Bakery. One foot of Eli's Farmer's bread from Zabar's. And 26 H&H bagels. I sliced and froze it all. I busted out 3 more bread puddings from the Balthazar brioche.
Bella is always up for eating bread pudding. Dash is always up for making it. He knows all the ingredients but he still does not know how to crack an egg. 

"I squeeze egg open?"
"I add milk now?"
"So so so much of sugar. I cut the vanilla stick. I cut it. I CUT IT!!!!!!!!"
Both Bella and Dash were psyched to shove chocolate chunks deep into the moistened bread.
Bella and I HAD to taste test bread pudding every night while we watched the Olympics. Exhausting work. Our conclusions:

1. Bread pudding made from brioche has the best flavor. 
2. Bread pudding is great for breakfast. And lunch.
3. We prefer bread pudding that's baked in a shallow dish, not too moist, and with lots of crunchy crusty sugary top. Lots of people disagreed with us.
4. Less sugar in the custard (only 1/2 cup), more sugar in the toppings.
5. Bread pudding is good at every temperature but it's best right out of the oven all puffed and golden with ice cream and some kind of sauce. Bella was happy with caramel, butterscotch, chocolate, maple, or honey.
After eating a gazillion variations, I finally burned out on the sweet bread pudding. Below is a savory one with asparagus (spring has arrived), pecorino, parmesan, garlic, and shallots. Good by itself. Even better served next to butter lettuce drenched in meyer lemon/caper vinaigrette.
P.S. If you don't feel like making your own bread pudding AND you live in the Bay Area, head over to the new Elmwood Cafe (formerly Ozzie's Soda Fountain--with lots of Ozzie's spirit still around for those of you who grew up going there). Seven days a week they're serving tasty savory bread pudding (leek/feta, roasted pepper/feta, sausage/spinach just to name a few). And half of Elmwood Cafe's profits go to charity. Amazing. Check out their fan page on facebook for more details.

P.P.S. Pastry chefs Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson of Tartine in San Francisco recommend frying up leftover bread pudding as if it's french toast. Genius. We're having that for breakfast tomorrow with cinnamon sugar.

RECIPES:
You can use any kind of white bread for these recipes. Just know that different kinds of bread absorb different amounts of custard. Be prepared to make a little extra custard. I leave the crust on unless it's very thick (like on a baguette).

VANILLA BEAN AND ORANGE BREAD PUDDING
You can add chocolate chunks (any size) to this recipe by pressing them into the moistened bread right before baking. If you like a lot of surface area that's crunchy then bake it in an 8"x12" pan. If you like it more moist and custardy then bake it in a smaller (but deeper) loaf pan.
serves 6-8

-butter for greasing baking dish
-10-12 slices of white sandwich bread or brioche, sliced about 1/2" thick (if the bread isn't stale you can lightly toasted it in the oven on both sides until it's dry)
-7 eggs
-6 cups whole milk (or substitute a cup or two with heavy cream for richer pudding)
-3/4 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup sugar
-3 teaspoons vanilla extract
-1 vanilla bean, sliced in half and seeds scraped out
-2 tablespoons orange juice
-1/2 teaspoon orange zest.
-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar, to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease your baking dish with butter. 

You can tear the bread or cut it into nice square cubes (it will end up looking pretty much the same either way). Spread bread in baking pan.

Whisk together the eggs and milk. Strain the mixture into a large pitcher. Add salt, sugar, vanilla extract, vanilla bean, orange juice and orange zest. Mix well. Pour custard over the bread and let it sit for a few minutes. It's okay to have a few corners of bread peeking up above the custard (they will brown nicely). If the bread soaks up all the custard you'll want to make and add some more (2 cups milk + 1 egg + 2 tablespoons sugar +1 teaspoon vanilla + pinch of salt). 

Sprinkle turbinado sugar over the top in an even layer. Cover with tin foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed and the top is golden brown. If it's not nicely browned you can put it under the broiler for a few minutes (keep an eye on it the whole time). 

Serve right out of the oven if you can. Top with vanilla ice cream and some sort of sweet sauce (caramel, chocolate, maple syrup, and honey work well). You can also serve it warm or room temperature. I don't recommend serving it cold.

BREAD PUDDING WITH ASPARAGUS AND SHALLOTS printable recipe
You can make this with any combination of sausage, leeks, baby onions, bacon, ham, pancetta, or winter greens.
serves 4-6

-olive oil for greasing baking dish
-12 stalks of asparagus, trimmed, peeled (unless they're really thin), and cut into 1" pieces
-3 shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1 clove grated garlic
-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
-pepper to taste
-10-12 slices of stale white sandwich bread or brioche (if the bread isn't stale you can lightly toasted it in the oven on both sides until it's dry)
-7 eggs
-6 cups whole milk (or substitute a cup or two with heavy cream for richer pudding)
-3/4 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
-1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (or any combination of parmesan, pecorino, cheddar, or gruyere), split in half

Preheat broiler to 450°F. Grease a baking dish (about 8"x12") with olive oil. Set aside.

On a sheet pan, mix together asparagus, shallots, olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Place under the broiler very briefly to get a bit of color on the asparagus and shallots. Stir a few times. Charring them a bit is fine. Set aside to cool. 

Turn broiler off and turn oven down to 350°F.  

Tear the bread into small pieces or cut it into nice square cubes (it will end up looking pretty much the same either way). Spread bread in baking pan. Whisk together the eggs and milk. Strain the mixture into a large pitcher. Whisk in salt and nutmeg. Add asparagus/shallot mixture and 1/2 the cheese. Stir together. Pour mixture over bread. I used my hands to evenly spread the asparagus, cheese, and shallots throughout the pieces of bread. It's okay to have a few corners of bread peeking up above the custard (they will brown nicely). If the bread has soaked up all the custard you should make and add some more custard (2 cups milk + 1 egg + pinch of salt). 

Sprinkle other 1/2 of cheese over the top. Cover with tin foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until most of the custard is absorbed and the top is golden brown.

8 comments:

  1. Even though I can no longer eat those gorgeous breads, through your photos, I can really appreciate the beauty and imagine the glorious flavors of all of your bread puddings.
    Yum!

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  2. that is so funny, as i was reading i was thinking "i've got to ask phyllis if she's had the bread pudding at the elmwood cafe yet." i'm sorry we didn't think to stuff a suitcase full of bagels - we had H&H bagels every morning while in ny!
    extra great post. i love bread pudding.
    penny

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  3. Two thoughts:

    1. H&H Bagels! Yum yum yum.

    2. I never liked bread pudding, because it's always come out soggy for me. I'm all in favor of a less moist pudding. I'll have to try your recipe.

    With continued admiration,
    Pam (from Knopf)

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  4. Love that you travel with an extra suitcase for bread picked up on your travels. I travel with an extra one for shoes I pick up on my travels!
    I used to get a great chocolate sourdough bread in NYC from Ecce Panis. It never made it tinto the suitcase.

    I agree with your assessment that the best bread puddings are the shallow ones. The crispy part on top is the best.

    Leftover bread pudding is great sliced up and made into french toast!

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  5. Your photos continue to impress me, and the bread pudding sounds incredible! Amazing work, Phyllis!

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  6. Another beautiful asparagus recipe, I like the idea of savory bread pudding.....
    great photos...:)

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  7. I made the sweet bread pudding french toast for easter brunch...was a smash hit. also ran into bella and your mom at berk bowl on sat--they were buying stuff for decorating eggs. i'll try the aparagus salad later this week-thanks!

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  8. wow jenn. you've made so many of my recipes. thanks for all your support. i ran into geoff and he said he'd eaten the bread pudding for easter. i have some in the freezer that we're going to make into french toast tomorrow. maybe with cinnamon sugar?

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