I’m intrigued by “retro” cooking, and I thought that for Christmas this year, I’d make a figgy pudding. This prompted me to ask myself (1) just what is a figgy pudding anyway and (2) will it please my culinarily unadventurous family?
It turns out that the answers to those questions are (1) figgy pudding is a sweet dessert made with suet and treacle, which is boiled in a cloth bag and hung up to age for several weeks before serving and (2) under no circumstances.
OK, so no figgy pudding this year. In fact, no figgy pudding ever, thank you very much. But thinking along the lines of puddings, I remembered how much I like bread pudding. It’s one of those things that I go for pretty much whenever I see it on a menu, but that I’d never tried to make myself. So I reread Jonathan’s post about it and decided to give it a try myself. Considering what bread pudding really is (extra-sweet french toast in a pot, pretty much), I realized it couldn’t be that hard.
And it isn’t.
In fact, it’s insanely easy. Now, I know I’m prone to hyperbole when describing the ease of dishes. But, I swear to you, this is foolproof. And to prove it, I decided to act a fool.
After looking at about 15 different recipes online, I settled on the simplest one I could find, and one that was praised for being “not too eggy,” a quality I found appealing. But it still wasn’t simple enough for my liking. Bread pudding is peasant fare, a clever way of using up leftovers, not some tony French pastry. There’s plenty of room for error, and I saw no reason not to make the recipe as minimalist as possible:
Instead of three large eggs and three large egg yolks, which seemed like a waste of egg whites, I used five large eggs. Instead of a cup of heavy cream and one and a half cups of milk, I used two and a half cups of half and half. The recipe called for me to trim the crusts off the bread, but I didn’t feel like it. So I didn’t. (Although on that point, I should admit that my bread was only a day old. If you’re using really, really crusty bread, you may want to trim it or extend the soaking time.) Finally, the recipe called for raisins, which you were supposed to soak in bourbon for several hours. Screw that. I used chocolate chips because my folks are chocolate addicts, and I saved the bourbon for the pudding, the sauce, and the Manhattans.
Did all this fooling around spell disaster? Not in the least:
The pudding was absolutely delicious, even without the sauce. I am convinced, though too lazy to fully test the theory, that you would have to err by about 3 eggs and a cup of milk to actually cause any problems. And even then I’m not sure. The trick is just to have the bread to liquid ratio such that when the bread absorbs all the liquid it’s able, it’s still floating in some, but not too much. I realize how vague this is, but use your best judgment, and I promise it will turn out fine.
And even if it doesn’t, at least it’s not figgy pudding.
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
Adapted, very loosely, from Bon Appétit, July 1997
2 1/2 cups half and half
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Place bread in large bowl. Whisk milk, 3/4 cup sugar, cream, eggs, 2 egg yolks, vanilla, cinnamon, and bourbon in medium bowl to blend. Pour egg mixture over bread. Add chocolate chips and mix gently to coat bread.
Allow mixture to soak for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours, then transfer to a casserole dish. Preheat oven to 375°F.
Cover baking dish with foil and bake pudding for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes longer, but check regularly to prevent burning. Cool slightly.
For the sauce:
(The sauce is a little trickier than the pudding, but if you keep the heat low, you should be fine. If it doesn’t turn out on your first try, just toss it and don’t sweat it. The pudding will stand alone.)
Melt butter over low heat or in top of double boiler set over simmering water. Combine all ingredients and whisk until mixture thickens slightly.
Pour sauce on pudding and eat up. The pudding keeps well in the fridge and reheats wonderfully in the microwave. The sauce does as well, but be prepared: The butter will separate when it cools. It will recombine just fine when heated, but don’t be frightened when you pull it out and it looks a bit like a science experiment gone wrong.