Monday, September 01, 2008

Louisiana Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

Louisiana in the news today hasn't suggested rich desserts. But at some point, people will return again from their hurricaine exiles, and life, hopefully will start recovering, yet once more. But the name Louisiana always recalls food for me, and not just the tough endurance of its people. New Orleans was the first place in the United States where everything I ate for a week was both unfamiliar and totally memorable. I hope it won't be too insensitive to that battered land to share a recipe that reminds me of there.

Here's my take on Creole bread pudding. We make this dessert occasionally at our restaurant in Athens, especially around Mardi Gras and for special catering. With the bourbon sauce already soaked into the pudding when served, rather than having a sauce to pour over just as it's eaten, it works well in a commercial setting. An alternative presentation would be to make 3 times the sauce recipe and present it in a bowl to be spooned over the pudding by those dining.

The recipe serves six, with highly desirable leftovers. Good coffee is the best accompaniment, chicory coffee if you like that. (Ground coffee with chicory is available in cans with the 'Café du Monde' label).

Louisiana Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce Tim

8 cups, moderately packed, cubed (1/2 inch) soft baguette or dinner rolls
3 eggs
3 cups whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons canola oil (or melted butter for richer pudding)
1/4 cup pecans (optional), coarsely chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins, separated if stuck together
3 tablespoons Craisins (dried cranberries), separated if stuck together
More oil or butter for pan

Sauce:
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey
4 teaspoons brown sugar

Heat the oven to 375 degrees (360 convection).

Prepare the bread. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until lightly beaten. Add milk, sugar, seasonings, and oil or melted butter. Mix well to dissolve sugar, then blend into the bread, along with raisins, pecans, if used, and Craisins. Let sit 10 minutes. Stir again.

Generously butter or oil a 9-inch round casserole or high-sided cake pan or 8 by 8-inch glass pan. Fill with the pudding mixture and smooth the top. Cover loosely with a sheet of waxed paper and then aluminum foil.

Place the pan into a larger pan. Put 1 inch of boiling water into the lower pan to make a water bath for the pudding pan. Bake 45 minutes, then uncover and test for doneness – the sides should have pulled away from the pan, and the center should be slightly springy. A sharp knife inserted near the center comes out clean without any milky juices clinging. Bake uncovered for a few more minutes to dry the top, and until the pudding tests done. (The pudding typically takes about 55-60 minutes total.) Remove from the oven to a cake rack.

Simmer the sauce ingredients 1 minute. With a 2-prong fork poke holes into the still hot pudding here and there. Spoon sauce over the pudding so it soaks in.

Cool, then cover with plastic wrap. The pudding can be served very cold, or warmed slightly. (Microwave warming is acceptable for individual pieces.)

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