06 May 2010

Salvaging Mediocre Brioche

April showers bring May flowers, but I don't know what the hell April snowstorms bring... misery perhaps?  An incredibly strong urge to head for the airport, passport and credit card in hand?  Ok, so technically it's May now, but that doesn't make a spring snowfall any more welcoming.  In just 24 hours, I went from wearing sandals & enjoying a coffee in the morning sun, to shoveling my car out from under a mass of heavy, wet snow, cursing under my breath the whole time.  It's true, winter is foe, not friend to I, and a heavy snowfall in spring just makes me downright cranky... just ask my hubby.  Just ask *anybody* who has seen me on a snowy day.

Of course, my mood is already fragile because of the weekend I killed, trying to make a simple brioche to enjoy for breakfast on Saturday.  I began right after work on Friday, and the ordeal ended at 11:59 pm Sunday night, when I finally pulled the final batch from the oven... not exactly how I had originally envisioned my weekend.  Well, the "good" news is that Batch #2, the batch that I added milk to, even though the recipe didn't ever call for milk... well, while quite bland, it did at least turn out to be edible.  When I bake, I am definitely aiming for more than "edible".  I want "OMG" "delicious" or just a simple groan of pleasure... and I was nowhere near that with this batch.  OK, so how do I make mediocre brioche into something that's actually enjoyable to eat?  Well, thanks once again to my unofficial brioche coach, Cecilia at OneVanillaBean, suggested french toast or bread pudding.  Haha!  Great idea!  I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.  French toast is more a weekend thing for me, and we were now as far from the weekend as one can get, so Bread Pudding it is!

Like Carrot Pudding, Bread Pudding is one of those foods I typically associate with winter.  Three days ago, I was thinking more about fruit sorbets and BBQ than creamy, warm, custardy pudding and a nice hot cup of coffee, but Mother Nature changed all that the minute she dropped the first snowflake on my lawn.  Suddenly, cozy comfort food is looking just fine..

This bread pudding is fantastically easy to prepare, though it's not an "instant gratification" recipe.  First, all that dry bread needs some time to soak up all that custardy goodness, before it has a nice long sit in a warm oven, and another rest on a cooling rack before you can dig in.  Rest assured, in return for your patience, you will be rewarded with the culinary equivalent of a nice warm blanket to soothe cold tastebuds.  You can also throw in a variety of extra goodies to suit your mood:  currants, some nice berries, toasted nuts, chunks of rich, dark chocolate... or simply play around with different liquors to flavour the pudding with.  This is a great time to let your cravings call the shots.  Oh, and don't worry if you haven't got any mediocre brioche lying around, pretty much any old bread will work.

Bread Pudding
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
serves 8-10

1 1/2 Tbsp (22g) melted, unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pans 
2 Tbsp (30g) demerara sugar, or dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp (15g) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 Cup (150g) granulated sugar
2 1/2 Cups (600ml) whole milk
2 1/2 Cups (600ml) heavy cream
3 Tbsp (45ml) dark rum, or favourite liquor
1 Tbsp (15ml) vanilla extract
3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
8 Cups stale bread, cut into cubes

Preheat oven to 350˚F and place rack in lower third of oven.  Brush baking pan or ramekins with unsalted butter and set aside.  In a small bowl, combine the demerara and granulated sugars with the cinnamon & salt and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, cream, rum, vanilla, salt and spices, and whisk together until well blended.  Stir in about 6 cups of the stale bread cubes, reserving the rest for the topping.  Allow the bread to soak in the custard mixture for about 20-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, add the remaining bread cubes, the melted butter and about 2 tsp of the cinnamon sugar, and toss until the bread is well coated.   Pour the custard and soaked bread mixture into the prepared pan (if using several small ramekins, evenly distribute the soaked bread, then ladle custard mixture over top, dividing the custard evenly among the ramekins).  Scatter the buttered bread over the top of the puddings, and sprinkle the remaining cinnamon sugar overtop.  Bake for 45-50 minutes.  The Pudding should be golden brown, puffy and it should jiggle just slightly in the centre when shaken.  Allow to cool for 30-45 minutes before serving.

Happy Baking!

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