My husband’s birthday is this week and among his all-time favorite desserts is bread pudding, so that is what I will make. Although you wouldn’t know it from the mild temperatures we had all weekend, it’s still winter, and to me, winter means citrus. So this bread pudding is flavored with chocolate and orange. And just to make sure my birthday boy feels extra-loved, I’m serving it with an over-the-top Orange Creme Anglaise.
Bread pudding is a dish that was invented to make use of leftover or stale bread. At the same time, sweet bread pudding — I say “sweet” because you can also make a savory bread pudding — is best made with a relatively sweet bread such as challah or brioche.
Do you often have leftover challah or brioche at your house? If so, your family is not as carb-happy as mine. But, if you regularly make or buy challah or brioche and have some bits and pieces left over, you can always freeze those until you have collected enough for a bread pudding.
Because we don’t always have leftover challah and my family loves bread pudding, I sometimes have to go ahead and make a challah just so I can let it get stale for bread pudding. That may seem crazy, but frankly a lot of what I do would seem crazy if you only knew about it. Thus, I hereby give you permission to
make buy a challah and make this bread pudding whenever you like.
If you aren’t making a challah from scratch as step one, bread pudding is an easy dessert. You simply cut up stale bread into cubes, make a rich, eggy custard, let the bread soak up the custard and then bake the whole thing in the oven until it becomes pudding-like.
If your bread is not stale to begin with — because perhaps you
made bought it just to make this dessert? — cube it up and leave it out overnight or toast it in the oven to make the cubes nice and dry. Dry, stale cubes soak up the custard better than soft, fresh ones.
And speaking of soaking up the custard, I think it’s best if you let the bread pudding sit for at least an hour, but possibly longer, before baking to give the bread more time to absorb the liquid. This means, of course, that you can make bread pudding in advance. My favorite thing.
The orange crème Anglaise is definitely extra work, but it is insanely delicious. Crème anglaise is also a kind of custard, so for those of you keeping track at home, that’s two custards in one dessert. When you read the instuctions for making crème anglaise, you may think to yourself: “That sounds crazy complicated. No way am I doing that.” I have felt the same way myself many times. But when I actually commit to making crème anglaise, I’m always pleasantly surprised by how quickly it comes together. And trust me: your family or guests or whoever is enjoying this sauce on their bread pudding will thank you when they taste the vanilla-orange ambrosia that you have created.
The reason the instructions sound complicated is that you have to be careful not to curdle the sauce and end up with vanilla-flavored scrambled eggs. That is why you go through the rigmarole of tempering the eggs, i.e., gradually adding part of the warm milk to the whisked egg yolks and then returning the mixture to the sauce pan. The ice bath also helps you cool the sauce quickly and prevent overcooking. Again, it all sounds more complicated than it is in practice.
My husband’s love of bread pudding runs deep. He orders it almost every time he sees it on a restaurant menu. (Among his most memorable bread puddings? Tartine in San Francisco. And that was at breakfast, folks.) He has encountered a few fellow bread pudding aficionados in his travels and they regularly text each other pictures of bread pudding porn. He is looking forward to sharing this post with his bread pudding-loving brethren.
Happy birthday to my darling husband!
- 8 cups of dry, 1-inch bread pieces, preferably from a challah or brioche
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups cream
- 5 eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 TB vanilla extract
- 1 TB Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
- Zest and juice of two oranges
- 3.5 ounces dark chocolate, preferably at least 60% cocoa solids, broken into pieces.
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Zest of one orange
- 1 TB vanilla extract
- 1 TB Grand Marnier, Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur (optional)
- Pinch salt
- 4 egg yolks
- If needed, toast bread cubes in a 325 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until dry.
- Butter a 9x13 baking dish and arrange bread cubes in a single layer.
- Whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, Grand Marnier, if using, and the orange juice and zest in a large bowl until the sugar is dissolved and the ingredients combined.
- Pour the custard over the bread cubes in the baking dish and toss to coat the bread cubes. Scatter the chocolate pieces among the bread cubes.
- Cover and refrigerate to allow the bread to absorb the custard for at least one hour and up to overnight.
- Meanwhile, make the creme anglaise. Create an ice bath by placing ice and cold water in a large glass or metal bowl and placing a smaller bowl inside of it. Set a fine-mesh sieve over the smaller of the two bowls.
- Combine the milk, sugar, orange zest, vanilla, Grand Marnier, if using, and salt in a medium saucepan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve sugar until warm but still cool enough to touch.
- In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks with a pinch of sugar until foamy and lighter in color.
- Slowly, while whisking, pour half the warm milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks.
- Slowly, while whisking, add the egg mixture back to the saucepan. Heat gently, over medium-low heat, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. (This may only take a few minutes. Do not under any circumstances allow the sauce to come to a boil.)
- Pour sauce into the fine-mesh sieve and press on the orange zest to extract all the liquid.
- Stir sauce in bowl set over ice bath until cool. Refrigerate until needed.
- Preheat oven to 325.
- Bake bread pudding for 45 minutes to one hour.
- Allow to cool for a few minutes before cutting.
- Serve with creme anglaise.