The bread pudding we make at our house is basically a caramel custard with bread for extra oomph (real reason: it’s a convenient way to get rid of leftover stale bread. There is a limit to the amount of breadcrumbs a person can make and consume). So if you have a creme caramel / caramel custard / flan recipe, like the one above in the video, just add the bread and you’ve got delicious bread pudding! Or else, follow these directions:
Bread Pudding for Dummies!
Milk – 1 litre or quarter gallon
Sugar – 2 cups + approx. 1/2 cup granulated sugar for caramel
Eggs – 6 + 2 yolks (optional)
Custard powder – 1 tbsp (optional – I’ve never actually used this till now but my mother keeps telling me I should)
White Bread – Half to three quarter loaf or whatever bread you have left. Mixture at end should still be liquidy so stop before the bread soaks up all the liquid. Croissants are okay (all that butter is yummy for pudding), but pass on whole wheat or multi-grain bread. You could use it, but I have no idea what that would taste like. I usually make breadcrumbs out of those. Tell me if it works out for you if that’s the only thing you have in the house.
Vanilla – 2 tsp or one pod (if you have Food Network, you know what to do: slit the pod lengthwise, use the blunt end of the knife or point and scrape along the innards and then dump both the shell and the inner scrapings into whatever mixture you’re using).
Nutmeg – 1 tsp freshly grated OR 1/2 tsp powdered (optional, increase quantity if you’re a huge fan of nutmeg. I always have fresh nutmeg and might go up to a half tsp more if I’m using a vanilla pod)
Walnuts – optional, to taste. I use “a handful”, roughly chopped.
Water – as needed.
Two pans – one should be large enough to hold the pudding mixture but small enough to fit inside the other pan. If you’re using an oven, I suggest a souffle pot placed in a lasagna pan. It works for me. But really, anything goes as long as its not nonstick. This is not a nonstick friendly recipe, so put that thought out of your head. Although the larger pot/ pan could be nonstick. It’s going to be used as a water bath so that’s all right. The main dish, i.e. the smaller pot that’s going to hold the pudding mixture, needs to be either ceramic or metal though.
If you’re using the burner method, make sure the smaller pot has a rim of some kind so the plastic cover won’t slip off.
Okay, like I said, if you have a caramel custard / creme caramel / flan recipe that you swear by, then use that. Otherwise, here’s my culinarily challenged method for a dish that sounds fearsomely complicated but really isn’t.
First decide whether you’re going to be using the oven or the burner (read directions below in the Cooking section and make up your mind) and choose your main dish accordingly. Now you need a caramel sauce to coat the bottom.
If you’re using a souffle dish, then take a small pan and pour about 1/2 cup granulated sugar into it. This is the amount I usually use, but feel free to adjust as per your liking. If you don’t have a liking, then stick to my liking for your debut effort because at least you’ll have somebody to blame when you set your kitchen on fire. Heat pan until sugar begins to burn and bubble around the edges.
IMPORTANT: Do not use a spoon to help the caramelization process. Caramel is like mortar and you’ll spend the next three hours trying to prise it off whatever spoon you used. I learned this the hard way as my mother laughed at me.
Swirl the pan instead. When the color begins to change to gold, take pan off heat for a quick second and standing well back from it, pour a little over 1/4 cup water into burning sugar. Do not be alarmed at steam and noise. Return to heat and swirl pan a few more times until sugar has completely dissolved, caramelized and color has changed to dark brown.
Pour into souffle pot and swirl mixture around so it evenly coats the bottom of pot and about one inch of the sides. Don’t worry if the result is geometrically off. Just make sure the bottom at least is completely covered. Please be careful because if you get hot caramel on your skin, you will regret it for a long time.
If you’re using the burner method, then you can melt the caramel directly in the pot you’re going to use. Same directions. Set caramel coated pot aside to cool. Crackling noises as mixture cools and hardens are absolutely normal.
Next take 2 cups of sugar (more if you have a very sweet tooth) and blitz in the blender with 6 eggs. If you’re very committed to a firm pudding and are doubtful about the staying power of a half dozen eggs, add an extra 2 yolks. Make yourself feel better about the coming heart attack by thinking of this as a French recipe (note: there is no reason to suppose this is a French recipe). Alternatively you could add a tablespoon of custard powder. You could even add the yolks and the custard powder if you’re especially greedy and/or careful.
Personally, I’ve never used custard powder and the only time I ever added the extra yolks is the one time I made this with 2% milk. We need whole fat milk for this little show, me hearties!
Speaking of which… once eggs and sugar have been blitzed into submission, either pour in the milk and give it a good blitz to combine OR if it won’t fit in your blender, pour mixture into mixing bowl, add milk and use a handheld electric whisk or the whisk attachment in your KitchenAid and combine the three. You could whisk by hand, but then you’ll be in your kitchen till the cows come home. If things get desperate as they did once in college, then pour the egg and sugar mixture into a separate bowl and combine with the milk in your blender in batches. Indian ingenuity at work!
What you have in front of you now are the beginnings of a basic custard. Add vanilla extract and freshly grated nutmeg. If you’re not using vanilla pods, feel free to blitz for a couple more seconds to show the ingredients who’s boss. Yup, it’s you!
If caramel has cooled by now, pour custard into the pot. Otherwise, set aside for the moment. Take bread slices and remove crusts. Dice the bread into one inch pieces. Dunk bread into mixture.
NOTE: What I like to do is use a big mixing bowl and a handheld electric whisk to create the custard mixture. Then I can just dump the bread into it and set it aside for ten minutes so the bread soaks up the goodness and turns into beautiful mush.
Stir in nuts if you like. You can use whatever you have or prefer but I think walnuts stand up best to the flavors of this pudding. Remember to fish out vanilla pod if you used it. Now it’s ready to cook.
Okay, so now comes the moment of truth. This is probably the most complicated part of this no fuss, make it with leftovers, recipe. I know people who make their creme caramels in Dutch ovens and pressure cookers and whatnot. I’m not one of them. I know precisely two methods of making this and they are as follows:
1. Oven: Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Boil about five cups of water. Place souffle pot containing bread and custard mixture in the middle of empty lasagna pan. Pour boiling water into lasagna pan to roughly one inch depth. More is okay (just barely, don’t push it) but less is not. It is important that the pot have a firm position in the middle of the pan, it should not float in water.
Pause to congratulate yourself on your fancy water bath. Next up: Iron Chef!
Place the whole thing in middle rack and bake for 4o mins to an hour. It depends on your oven but start checking on the status of the pudding from 30 minutes on. When the knife inserted in center comes out clean, pudding is done. Try not to splash water all over yourself when checking. That shit is no joke.
Remove souffle pot and let stand to cool. Once the pudding has cooled – and I don’t mean is just slightly warm or anything like that. I mean cooled – stick it in the fridge for at least three hours or, better still, overnight.
2. Burner: Take a plastic grocery bag or similar item large enough to completely cover the top of the pot containing the custard mixture and wash thoroughly, inside and out. If the plastic bag is too small, it might help to cut it in two. Pat dry the plastic and stretch it tightly over the mouth of the pot. Take a piece of string and tie the plastic under the rim of the pot. Yank on the plastic to make sure it covers the mouth of the pot tightly.
Now a reasonable person might ask, “But Amrita, we live in technologically advanced times. Why can’t I use tin foil or saran wrap or something similar? Why must I butcher a grocery bag like a deprived human being?” And I would tell them, “You’re right. But my mother says this is the way we do it and my mother has strange hoodoo powers that might make my kitchen explode or make me choke and die on a piece of newfangled pudding, so this is the way I make it. I don’t think she cares how you make your pudding though, so feel free to experiment and let me know how it all turns out for you.”
Now if you’re done wasting my time with your philosophical inquiries, take your large pot and fill with water about one to two inches deep. Place smaller pot with plastic covering into the middle. As with the other water bath, make sure its placed firmly at the bottom and is not floating. Remove or add water as needed. Place lid on top and turn on the burner.
Now if you have one of those insanely cool silicone covers that stick with what seems to be willpower or are doing this whole exercise in a massive steamer of some sort, then more power to you. If you’re like me and stuck in the Stone Age, then find something really heavy, like a mortar and pestle and stick it on top of the lid to weigh it down. Wait for the water to boil and steam to struggle out. Then lower the heat to simmer and leave it be for 45 minutes.
Turn off the heat after 45 minutes and let it stand until things cool down enough for you to take the smaller pot out of its steamy haven. Let it cool. This will probably take half the day. Do not remove plastic top until it’s thoroughly cooled.
Once the pudding has cooled – and I don’t mean is just slightly warm or anything like that. I mean cooled – remove the plastic covering and stick it in the fridge for at least three hours or, better still, overnight.
After refrigerating overnight, run a knife along the edges of the pudding and upend into a serving dish the way you would a jelly out of a mould. Do it carefully over a sink because the caramel will have diluted into a thin sauce and it’ll run over everything.
Enjoy! The damn thing only took you 12 hours from start to finish!
[For M - who asked but didn't know what she was asking for! ]