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Bread pudding — It’s classic, it’s easy, and it’s about to be your favorite dessert.

By Darcy Lenz
March 07, 2021
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It has to be said, bread pudding is criminally underrated.

In today's world of flashy, questionably flavored Pinterest-worthy and TikTok-viral confections, I guess bread pudding may seem blasé. If ever I make mention of bread pudding, half the time, the other person doesn't know what I'm talking about, or they look at me as if I just offered them a handful of hard candies from the bottom of my grandmother's pocketbook for dessert. To an extent, I understand. I was underwhelmed and mildly off-put when I first heard tell of bread pudding at the cafe I served at during high school… After all, what's so great about soggy bread?

One bite in, and I fully grasped what's so great. 

When made well, bread pudding is densely rich, custardy, enticingly squishy, and profoundly comforting. (I mean, you're combining bread and pudding — how beautiful of a culinary vision is that?) The problem is, so often, the bread pudding we receive in restaurants or even make at home is not all that. Experience ordering bread pudding at many a restaurant — mom and pop spots and fine dining institutions alike — tells me that too many people understand bread pudding to be a rubbery cinder block, and all that matters is a crisped top and an exciting sounding sauce and toppings. 

This is a lie. And you deserve better. 

Bread pudding is my all-time favorite dessert, next to ice cream. And so, I have worked to perfect my recipe for classic bread pudding to be everything (I believe) bread pudding should be. Typically, I like to put playful twists on classic dessert recipes, but not this. 

Best Ever Bread Pudding

The bread pudding recipe I wish to share with you is absolutely "plain" — except, done right. Here's what makes it so:

 Custard Content

One of the most significant issues that gives bread pudding a bad rap is an incompatible bread-to-custard ratio. What you don't want (but often get) is a vaguely dry brick of bread squares glued together. That is a product of skimping on the custard content.

The recipe linked above calls for a significant amount of bread, 30 ounces in total, but it also calls for enough liquid dairy elements and sugar to handle so much bread. Plus, the recipe builds in adequate time for the bread to rest in the custard mixture and absorb it before baking. The result is a sweet, tender, vanilla-forward slice, with just the right amount of sponginess. 

A Blend of Breads

Technically, you can make bread pudding with just about any bread you have on hand. It is a recipe made for utilizing stale bread so that it doesn't go to waste. I've honestly used leftover hot dog and hamburger buns to make it. That said, if you're already going out of your way to make a bread pudding — not as a "use it up" effort, but as an impressive dessert — might as well spring for breads that are just right for the job. I love a blend of sourdough and brioche. Sourdough contributes crusty tang that brioche balances with fluffy sweetness. Together, they achieve a most sublime equilibrium. 

Brown and White Sugars

So often, I see bread pudding recipes call solely for white, granulated sugar. However, brown sugar provides more depth and moisture… why not invite it to the party?

Forget Raisins, Please

This may be an unpopular opinion, but chewy, dried fruit has no place interrupting the heavenly, creamy texture that bread pudding has to offer. Save the raisins for your oatmeal cookies

Crispy Cinnamon-Sugar Top

A low(ish) and slow(ish) temperature does the trick for this bread pudding for the mass duration of its cook time. However, at the very end, you're going to crank the heat up, sprinkle a mixture of white sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon evenly over the pudding, and allow the top to caramelize into a pleasantly crunchy finish. Now, if you want to really crisp it, you can turn on the broiler. Frankly, I do not entirely trust myself not to wander off, so I turn the heat up to 450 degrees F and leave things be for about six minutes or so. 

The Sauce

Much like ketchup or aioli (depending on your preference) is to fries, a warm sauce is so important when it comes to bread pudding. I happen to be very into an egg-enriched bourbon sauce. Introducing the egg to a warm caramel-esque cream sauce brings another layer of depth and luxuriousness to the final dish. The key is to be careful when introducing the warm sauce to your egg and cream mixture; you want the egg to gently cook in and thicken the sauce, not immediately scramble. That said, if things don't incorporate quite as smoothly as you might like, you can always strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve and that should take care of any floating bits.