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Bread pudding originated in 11th century as frugal dish, but has become trendy dessert

Bread pudding originated in 11th century as frugal dish, but has become trendy dessert

Food historians trace the history of bread pudding to the early 11th and 12th centuries, as frugal c
Bread pudding originated in 11th century as frugal dish, but has become trendy dessert
Bread pudding can be created in a number of variations, often with fruits such as cranberries, oranges, raspberries and apples. This one was prepared by pastry chef John Vasquez of Tosca Grille in Troy.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Bread pudding has the most plebeian of origins, but it now shows up on the dessert menus of upscale restaurants.

Food historians trace the history of bread pudding to the early 11th and 12th centuries, as frugal cooks looked for ways to use stale, leftover bread instead of letting it go to waste. In 13th century England, bread pudding was known as “poor man’s pudding,” as it was a popular dish with the lower classes.

While bread pudding is still a way to use up leftover bread, it has gained a reputation as a comfort food and is a featured dessert item in trendy establishments, having shed its humble roots.

Basically, the dish is made by layering bits of bread and any add-ins in a dish and pouring a custard sauce over before baking. The possibilities for the dish are endless, because cooks can vary the type of bread and any ingredients they choose to add.

Cookbook author Portia Little, who considers bread pudding the ultimate comfort food, was inspired to make bread pudding one night after her husband brought home a bottle of single-malt scotch, which she sipped over ice before dinner. Pretty soon, she found herself in the kitchen, soaking some golden raisins in Scotch and cutting up some leftover Italian bread into chunks. She put the bread in a baking dish, poured the booze-soaked raisins on top, and then combined some eggs, brown sugar, warm milk and melted butter which she poured over the top.

Little baked the concoction until it was puffy and brown on top, let it cool a bit, and then enjoyed it with some whipped cream on top. This spur-of-the-moment creation became Boozey Bread Pudding in her cookbook “Bread Pudding Bliss” (Panntree Press, January 2007), although she says that flavoring the bread pudding with rum or a flavored liquor makes a less strong version than using Scotch.

Little became so well-known for her bread pudding recipes that her online cookbook collectors’ group dubbed her the “Bread Pudding Queen.” Little has a collection of almost 1,000 bread pudding recipes for both dessert and main dishes. Her online group encouraged her to put the recipes together into the cookbook.

The sheer number of bread pudding recipes that Little has collected is a testament to just how versatile this dish is. Any type of bread can be used. John Vasquez, pastry chef at Tosca Grille, Illium Café and Le Marche Vert in Troy, uses bits of leftover challah for his caramel apple bread pudding. Sourdoughs and wheat and grain breads are fair game, too.

Both Vasquez and Little point out that bread pudding isn’t limited to just bread, either. One can use leftover brioche, Danishes, coffee cake, muffins, croissants, donuts, and even hotdog and hamburger buns. “I don’t really have a favorite; I just play with what’s around on my shelf crying out, ‘Make me into bread pudding!’ ” Little said.

The other variable element is what one adds in. Vasquez likes to throw some chocolate chips into the milk, egg and sugar mixture after it’s heated to make chocolate bread pudding. He suggests adding orange or lemon zest or some rum or Grand Marnier to jazz it up a little bit.

Little has high praise for bread pudding because of the creativity one can employ in making it. “Find a basic recipe that works well for you, and just add items from your shelf such as cereal, nuts, granola, canned or dried fruit, marshmallows, cookie chunks and ice cream sauces,” she said. Once, Little even made bread pudding with leftover Halloween candy bars crushed into chunks — the perfect bread pudding for a chocoholic, she says.

She also points out that bread pudding can not only be made in the oven, but also in the crock pot, microwave, grill or stove top.

Little includes in her book a list tips for making bread pudding. Among her suggestions:

-- Using only stale bread is important, because it absorbs liquid ingredients more easily. If you don’t have stale bread, dry fresh bread out in the over for about 10 minutes or let it set out overnight.

-- Bread cubes should be measured loosely, not packed in the measuring cup.

-- Varying the proportion of liquid to bread changes the denseness.

Basic Bread Pudding

Recipe by pastry chef John Vasquez of Tosca Grille, Illium Café and Le Marche Vert in Troy.

1 cup milk (or half-and-half, or 3⁄4 cup milk and 1⁄4 cup heavy cream)

1 vanilla bean or 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

1⁄4 cup sugar

6 slices of bread

1⁄2 to 1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat milk to just under boiling point. If using a vanilla bean, open it up and scrape the seeds into the milk as it is heating. Whisk the eggs with sugar. Pour the milk over egg mixture. Whisk well. Skim any foam off the top and strain. If using vanilla extract, add it now.

Shingle the bread into a ramekin or mold and scatter raisins on top. Pour the milk mixture over top and let the bread soak it up, making sure that the bread is sufficiently moist before it goes into the oven. To help it bake evenly, put ramekins into another pan filled with water before placing in the oven. Bake until the bread pudding is puffy and no liquid is visible when a knife is inserted. Bake it at 325 degrees.

Serves 4 to 6.

Cranberry-Orange Bread Pudding

Recipe from “Bread Pudding Bliss” (Panntree Press, January 2007, by Portia Little).

11⁄2 to 2 cups stale bread cubes

3⁄4 cup milk, scalded

3⁄4 cup orange juice

Grated rind one orange

4 egg yolks, beaten with fork (or 2 eggs and 1 yolk)

1⁄2 cup sugar

Dash salt

1⁄2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Cinnamon-sugar (1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon)

Soak bread cubes in scalded milk. In bowl, combine juice, rind, eggs, sugar and salt; stir to dissolve sugar. Add to bread mixture along with cranberries. Pour into buttered 8- or 9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle a little cinnamon-sugar on top. Set in larger pan of hot water.

Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Or, bake in individual molds and adjust time.

Serves 4 to 6.

Chocolate Bread Pudding

Recipe from “Bread Pudding Bliss” (Panntree Press, January 2007 by Portia Little).

5 to 6 cups cubed French or Italian bread (crusts removed)

1⁄4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

13⁄4 cups whole milk

1 cup half-and-half

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

Place bread cubes in large bowl; add butter and toss to coat, then put into buttered 8-inch glass baking dish. In large saucepan, heat milk and half-and-half to a simmer; remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate until melted in and smooth.

Whisk together sugar, eggs and yolks in separate bowl.

Combine sugar and chocolate mixtures, stirring until well-combined. Pour liquid over bread. Cover and let stand 1 to 2 hours in fridge. Bring to room temperature before baking in oven at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes or until set.

Serve warm or cool topped with whipped cream. Serves 6 to 8.

Fresh Raspberry Bread Pudding

Recipe from “Bread Pudding Bliss” (Panntree Press, January 2007 by Portia Little).

3 eggs

1⁄2 cup plus heaping teaspoon sugar

2 cups milk

4 cups cubed day-old French or Italian bread

3⁄4 cup fresh raspberries (see note)

With electric mixer, beat eggs until foamy. Beat in 1⁄2 cup sugar. Stir in milk. Place bread cubes in buttered or cooking-sprayed 11⁄2-quart baking dish or soufflé pan. Pour egg mixture over bread. Scatter berries over top of bread, pushing down into mixture. Dot with slivers of butter and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake in oven at 400 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, or until knife inserted into center comes out clean.

Serve warm with whipped cream or topping. Serves 6.

NOTE: You can use frozen raspberries. Do not thaw before adding.

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