A few weeks ago I did a really big food shopping and for some reason as I was unloading the car, I didn't notice that I'd left behind a loaf of French bread that I'd bought. By the time I did remember it, 2 days later, it was rock hard and kind of inedible. Was I sad and sorry? No way Jose, 'cause this gave me a great excuse to try a new bread pudding I'd had my eye on for some time but couldn't really justify whipping up for "no reason". Guys, I'm so glad I forgot about the bread because this bread pudding, in addition to being easy to throw together and sort of eye-catching in a leopard print kind of way, is also drop dead delicious! I'm so excited to share this with all of you!
There was a time years ago when I was on a bread pudding kick and used to make them regularly, so much so, that certain family members begged me to change course and show up with "something normal, like brownies or cookies--something not mushy in a bowl". Therein followed what I like to call the "bread puddingless years". But last year I came upon this Lemon Bread Pudding and it called out to me so much that I decided to buck the bread pudding negativity of my family and serve it for one of our parties. It was a huge hit and thus followed these adorable Individual Cranberry Bread Puddings and this knockout Miraculous Creme Caramel Bread Pudding...which brings us to today and this simple but wonderful dried fruit version.
I think what I love about a good bread pudding is the creaminess of the custard combined with the chewiness of whatever kind of bread you use. They're a great make-ahead addition to any brunch--so easy and so versatile--you can basically flavor them any way you like and make them more or less rich by choosing to go with heavy cream or lower fat milk. This version uses both heavy cream and milk, which makes it a once-in-a while treat, but oh, what a treat it is!
First you cube up the bread and then pour the custard over the cubes, letting the casserole sit for about 30 minutes, so that the stale bread has time to absorb the custard mixture. In the process, you flip the cubes so that every cube has the best chance of being thoroughly moistened. Then, the whole thing gets topped with a sprinkle of sugar.
Once the pudding is done, you pop it under the broiler for a few minutes so that the top gets toasty brown and caramelized! Heaven!
Every bite is full of creamy custard, softened bread, crunchy, sugary top layer bread and the tang of dried cherries or apricots. It's comfort food in a way you've never been quite as comfortable before. Equally good for brunch or as a simple homey dessert. And don't worry, I won't tell if you accidentally on purpose "forget" a loaf of bread in the car and just "have" to make this, so as not to waste anything! Frugality is a virtue, right?!!
Dried Cherry and Apricot Bread Pudding
Serves 8-10 people
Prep Time: 15 minutes (plus about 45 minutes of soaking time for the bread cubes); Bake Time: About 1 hour
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped (you can use more if you like)
1 loaf French bread (about 1 pound), really tough crusts cut away (You can also use challah, brioche or any good country bread)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream (you can use all milk if you like--it'll just be less rich)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Place the cherries and the water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and cover. Let the cherries sit in the water to plump up for about 10-15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. Butter a 9x13-inch glass baking dish very well. Cut the bread into small cubes and place them in the buttered dish. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sugar and melted butter and whisk well. Add in the milk, cream, vanilla, salt and cinnamon and whisk well again. Add the cherries with the liquid and the apricots and mix together well. Pour the entire mixture over the bread in the baking dish and press down gently with your hands, so that the bread is submerged in the liquid as much as possible. Let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes to allow the bread to soften,
3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Turn the bread cubes over so the the drier tops have a chance to soak in the mixture and let sit for another 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle the pudding with the remaining tablespoon of sugar and place the dish in the oven. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the custard is puffed and set. Turn on the broiler and place the dish close under the broiler for a few minutes, watching it closely, so that the top gets nicely toasted and browned but not burned.
4. Remove the dish from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve the pudding as is or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you're going the dessert route with this.
5. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and eaten cold or reheated.
Note: Recipe adapted from Wintersweet by Tammy Donroe Inman. I cooked the cherries in water rather than brandy because I didn't have any and I added dried apricots because we love them. Feel free to add whatever dried fruit you like.