It is one of the strange realities of life. When we’re young, we can’t wait to grow up. And then the older we get, the younger we want to be. There is apparently, that subtle tipping of the scales when we turn thirty. Not that I hate being my age right now, but I believe eighteen was my ideal year. I would have been quite happy being that for the rest of my life. Not older, not younger. My Goldilocks version of just right. I didn’t really have a crisis of any kind at thirty. I faced it like I face any other birthday. Just another day. Friends tell me that’s just ridiculous, how can I not have freaked out?? I don’t know but I’m thankful, also a bit worried. Maybe the freaking bit just skipped thirty and is lurking about, waiting for me at my fortieth check post.
My husband doesn’t seem to care about age at all. The only time I can tell he misses his childhood is when I hear him tell me about it in that “wasn’t that just the best story you ever heard” fashion. I think he looks for it in his own way. For the longest time, he only cooked what he ate back home as a kid. I’m all for nostalgia but I had to stop his culinary visits. There is only so many times that I can eat rajma (indian beans) and rice. And when they started popping up again and again and again and (!!!), it was time to blow the whistle, which I did….only to have him start to cook his second-favourite dish repeatedly. It was touch-and-go whether he’d evolve into an all-rounder there for a while, but the ingredients he saw everywhere in California got to him, and he started experimenting with new stuff. Nevertheless, he still loves to visit his childhood through his food.
For a while now, I’ve been meaning to make bread pudding. Nothing gourmet about this, bit of bread and a little dance of eggs and milk to bring it all together; an easy bit of business. What I didn’t know was the idea of bread pudding would turn my six-foot plus husband into a tiny little boy, eating his grandma’s hand-made bread pudding. I’d known Amey’s grandma for a while. She was a wonderful woman who passed away a couple of years back at awe-inspiring age of ninety-two. She had been ailing since I’d known her, so unfortunately I’d never had the chance to try her bread pudding. And I’m curious to know how this life-long vegetarian made a dessert which definitively calls for eggs. If there was a vegetarian substitution, I’d surely like to know about it.
Chancing on a wonderful loaf of brioche at a new Farmers’ Market in San Francisco, I decided to make bread pudding this weekend. I know this is a simple dessert in which practically nothing can go wrong, (unless you forget to take it out of the oven in time!) but I’d never made it before. So I looked at the various ways people made it, but really a perfect recipe seemed out of reach. I think quick and not-too rich dessert when I think of bread pudding. It does, after all, star stale bread in the leading role. But the recipes I read sounded too heavy, (some called for too much cream or too much butter or too much both), too sweet (3 cups of two kinds of sugar!! Are you kidding me??!!) or too exotic (I think I draw a line at shopping for sugared violets, mango and pineapple for a bread pudding and what’s worse for the same bread pudding. I’m no flavour expert, but that’s a disaster even in my mind). So I took what I know of eggs and heat and for the first time ever, made up a recipe for baking something all by myself. I do this often in cooking but even slightly tweaking a baked dessert recipe can have disastrous results if you don’t know what you’re doing. Baking for me is mostly like a finely tuned scientific experiment. So with the randomness of this one, I prayed a little and worried a lot after I stuck the pan in the oven. But then something wonderful happened. The whole apartment was covered in the warm and sweetly spicy smell of vanilla (which Amey claims to have smelled down the end of the street) and when I took the pudding out of the oven it actually looked and tasted like bread pudding. Good bread pudding! I think the ultimate seal of approval was the look of pure happiness on Amey’s face when he took his first bite.
For a second there, I caught a glimpse of a little boy, dangling his feet from his grandma’s sofa with a much-too-large bowl of bread pudding in his little hands.
Bread pudding with a jammy glaze
For the pudding:-
Brioche – half a loaf, cut into large cubes
Eggs – 4 large
Whole Milk – 2 1/2 cups
Agave nectar – 1 cup
Vanilla Extract – 1 tbsp
Raisins – 1/2 cup, small
Hazelnuts – 1/4 cup
Cherries – 10, pitted and halved
For the glaze:-
Strawberry Jam – 1/4 cup
Brandy – 1/4 cup
Whole milk – 1 tbsp
To make the pudding:
- Heat the oven to 350º F.
- In a large bowl, add the eggs and milk and whisk together until incorporated.
- Add the agave nectar and vanilla extract and whisk to mix.
- Butter the sides of an oven-proof dish, place the cubed bread in it and pour the milk-egg mixture over.
- Add the raisins to the mixture and fold everything with a spatula to evenly coat the bread.
- Press down on the bread a bit so that it is covered by the liquid. Let this sit outside for 5-10 minutes.
- Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown on top.
- When baked and out of the oven, pour the glaze over the pudding.
Sprinkle the nuts and cherries over the pudding, if using, and serve the pudding in thick slices.
To make the sauce:
- Place a saucepan over medium heat and add the jam to it.
- When the jam is heated and turns syrupy add the brandy.
- Stir the mixture for a bit and then let it boil and the brandy will evaporate.
- Add the milk, mix to incorporate. Turn the heat down.
- Let the mixture simmer for a while before taking it off the heat.
- Pour over the pudding when it is still a little warm.
This pudding certainly surpassed my expectations. Amey sustained minor burns trying to eat it while it was in the oven. This is also the first time I’ve used agave nectar in anything but my occasional cup of tea so I was thrilled to bits with the results. I don’t know if you’ve heard of agave nectar. It is about 25% sweeter than sugar but it doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels like regular sugar (I know its kind of a moot point here with all the bread doing exactly that). I believe it is being pushed for diabetics as an alternative to sugar. I bought it because I’m always curious about alternative ingredients and am happy to report that I really can’t tell the difference in flavour between it and sugar, not in my cup of tea and certainly not in this dessert. By all means, use sugar if you don’t have it, about a cup.
Some form of potato bread, even white bread would probably work just as well if you didn’t have brioche. It shouldn’t have chewable grains though, they would strike a jarring note in this smooth dense texture. Though I used cherries and hazelnuts here, they weren’t my first choice, just what I had in the kitchen. The hazelnuts were fine, though I think walnuts would be better. The cherries I will certainly trade out for bananas the next time, which I think are the perfect pudding fruit in their soft texture and caramelly flavour. I mention the cherries in the recipe because the person the pudding was made for thought they were perfect here. You can decide for your own version. I think a myriad of fruit might work. The texture of the pudding turns out nice and dense, especially if you let the bread soak in the liquid for a while; and some of the raisins sink to the bottom and help form a sticky crust. So here you go, I’m proud to present my very own, very first, baked dessert recipe!
(update 01/2010): *sigh* As with everything else, we are now being told there is something wrong with agave nectar. I plan to continue to stick to my motto of “Everything in moderation”.