I have to apologize--I've been holding out on you. See, I made these over the Thanksgiving weekend and we all loved them, but for some deep psychological reason, I haven't shared them yet! Well, no more, I'm coming clean! These are easy to make, totally delicious and would be perfect for a holiday breakfast or brunch. You can even make them the day ahead and just reheat before serving!!
These bread puddings are classic comfort food--simple, creamy and mildly flavored with the tangy sweetness of dried cranberries. Plus, they've got the individual thing going on which just makes them more fun somehow (though you could definitely make one large casserole dish of this instead). And though, I'm pushing this for breakfast or brunch, you could also serve this for dessert to people who don't want something too complex or rich (I've heard such beings exist!)
You start by toasting cubes of challah or some other kind of eggy bread like brioche.
The rest of the recipe is basically just heating half-and-half, cream, salt and a vanilla bean and letting it sit for a bit to infuse the vanilla flavor. Meanwhile you beat eggs and sugar together, mix the cream mixture into the egg mixture and then soak the toasted cubes in that, allowing them to soften and absorb the liquid. Then you soften the dried cranberries in a little orange juice so they don't dry out too much when you cook the puddings.
Next you fill ramekins with most of the berries, reserving a few for the tops, divide the soaked bread mixture among the cups, topping with the reserved berries and bake in a water bath, which if you've never done before just means placing the ramekins in a large pan and filling the pan with enough hot water that it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins. It's easy--don't let it discourage you from making these!
About half an hour later, after you dust the top with a little powdered sugar, you're ready to dig in to your own little cup--sharing is optional!
Individual Cranberry Bread Puddings
Makes about 6-9 puddings depending on the size of the ramekins
Prep Time: 1 hour (only about 20 minutes active time); Bake Time: 30-40 minutes
1/2 large Challah
2 cups half and half
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup dried cranberries
Confectioners' sugar for dusting the tops after baking
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place 6-9 ramekins or custard cups on the counter.
2. Cut the crusts off the challah and cut into 1-inch cubes. You should have about 3 1/2 cups of the cubes in total--it doesn't have to be exact. Put them onto a cookie sheet in one layer and toast them for 8-10 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove the pan, but leave oven on. Set cubes aside to cool.
3. In a medium saucepan, heat half and half, cream, salt and vanilla bean over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture reaches a fast simmer (but is not boiling) and then remove from the heat. Cover, and let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Then, gradually, constantly whisking, add the half and half mixture to the eggs. Strain it into another bowl to remove any pieces of egg that didn't combine as well as the vanilla bean. Add the cubed bread in, mix it well and let the bread sit till most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir every now and then. This took about 1/2 hour for me.
5. Meanwhile. in a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to a simmer and then add the cranberries, simmering for about 5 minutes until the berries have softened and plumped up. Drain the orange juice and set the berries aside. Put on a kettle of water to boil.
6. Divide the berries among the ramekins, leaving a few to sprinkle on top of the puddings. Spoon the softened bread cubes into the ramekins equally, pouring over any liquid that didn't get absorbed. Top with the reserved cranberries. Place the ramekins in a large baking pan and place into the oven. With the oven rack pulled out, carefully pour enough boiling water into the larger pan so that the water goes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Gently push the rack back in so as not to splash the water, close the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until puddings are set and golden brown. If you're baking this in one large casserole, you need to increase the baking time to 40-45 minutes.
7. Carefully remove pan from oven and remove ramekins from water bath and allow to cool a bit. When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar.
8. Puddings can be made 1 day ahead and left uncooked, covered in the refrigerator. Just bring to room temperature and bake. You can also cook them ahead, chill them, bring them to room temperature and simply reheat in a 300ºF oven for about 10-15 minutes, till heated through.
Note: Recipe adapted from Butter Sugar Flour Eggs by Gale Gand, Rick Tramonte and Julia Moskins