Bread pudding has been around for centuries (literally) and came about as a way to use leftover, stale bread. As far back as the 12th century, leftover bread was used to mop up sauces, hollowed and used as edible serving dishes, or soaked in milk and sweetened for a dessert. In fac,t it seems bread pudding has its history most firmly rooted as a dessert. Thankfully, like many long-standing recipes, it has evolved to become a favorite sweet or savory dish.
The basics of bread pudding are to cut or tear stale bread into bite-sized chunks, soak them in a mixture of milk, eggs, seasonings, then toss with other desired ingredients (could be fruit, cheese, meat, vegetables, etc.), and finally bake the mixture until set and hot throughout, ideally a bit crispy on top.
The great news is that this basic recipe allows for infinite variation, so it’s a great one to master in one form and then play with it to make it your own or come up with your own creative versions. For bread, you can use anything from leftover danish pastry, sourdough, challah, brioche or even a flavored bread like olive or onion. If you are doing a dessert bread pudding, you’ll want to add sugar to the milk and egg mixture, and toss with things like fresh or dried fruit, chocolate chips or some other tempting sweet treat. For savory, you can toss with fresh mushrooms (as the recipe below provides), fresh herbs, cheese or a combo of all of the above. Roasted squash would be great in a bread pudding.
Here’s a recipe to get you started…it’s wild mushroom and herb bread pudding.
4 cups of bread in 1″ cubes (preferably day-old and dried out, but instructions below if using fresh)
2 leeks, white parts only, cleaned, halved and thinly sliced
1 large or 2 small shallots, diced
3 Tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 lb fresh mushrooms (preferably a combination of wild mushrooms), cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 tsp salt & 1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp sherry
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup each gruyere and parmesan, grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 9×9 baking dish generously and set aside. If you are using fresh bread, put the cubes on a baking sheet and place in the 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, until the bread cubes are dry and very lightly browned.
In a skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat. When melted, add the leeks and shallots, and sauté until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, and stir until fragrant, about another minute. Add the mushrooms, season with the salt & pepper, and lower the heat to medium. Cook until the mushrooms are tender and their released liquids are evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add the parsley, chives, thyme and sherry and mis well. Taste for seasoning (mixture will be diluted with bread and the half-and-half, so should be a bit saltier than you might otherwise make.)
In a large bowl, whisk together the half-and-half and the eggs until well mixed. Stir in the mushroom mixture, the bread and the cheese, and combine thoroughly. Spoon into the buttered baking dish, and bake until cooked through, set (firm to the touch), and browned on top, about 35 to 40 minutes.
NOTE: If you want to use a 13×9 baking pan, make 1.5x the recipe above.