Bread pudding is kind of like November - not particularly glamorous, and even a little econo, because let's face it, there's a bigger rodeo to come in, oh about 50 days. (Yes, I guess I've started the countdown.) The saver in me has, well, started saving, or is at least planning to save. A just-announced Prince concert in my town means there may have to be a small ticket purchase - if I miss him singing Purple Rain I don't think I could stand it. There's no doubt about it, over the next 7 weeks there will be saving, savouring and there will be a little splurging. Making a delicious dessert out of pantry staples is definitely key to my saving program.
My Mom likes to tell stories of growing up on the farm, especially food stories. There was always an excess amount of eggs, dairy and bread, thus bread pudding was a regular feature at the supper table. Sometimes with raisins (ew) and sometimes without. I asked her if she made it for us when we were kids and she said we hated it, so she didn't really bother. How times have changed! Now I kind of adore bread pudding, for it's crusty, caramelized edges, and the smooth, custardy middle. Studded with fruit and not-too-sweet, it's super comfort food, and super easy on the bank balance. Me like!
Bread pudding is one of those desserts that comes out and surprises you with its loveliness. Seemingly not made with anything special - I mean, what's so awesome about bread soaked in milk and egg? It's all so humble, right? The key is to start with good bread - not the junky white stuff - but a substantial sourdough, or a crusty French loaf, or a gorgeous challah. You want this bread to have some body, some life, to it. Eggs are the other key player here and their super farm fresh, bright yellow yolks make me happy. Dressed up with some generous shakes of cinnamon and a decent amount of vanilla this bread pudding would be fine. But wait! Why settle for fine (I'm not a believer in settling for anything or anyone) when you can knock it out of the park with some sour cherries?
Remember the sour cherries from one of the best things I did this Summer? Every time I see the bright red beauties tucked away in my freezer I have a little flashback to that late August morning, laughing with my cousin Leanne as we picked them in the early light. Geese flew above me and Fall was around the corner; Winter not even on my radar. Now I'm bundled in layers and scarves; gloves must keep my hands warm especially in the early morning because I hate cold hands (and cold hearts.) August mornings are a distant, but happy memory and I kind of love that sour cherries take me back to that orchard in the early morning light.
Sour cherries are just the jumping off point for all things possible with bread pudding. If you don't have a stash like I do, just substitute blueberries or raspberries, heck even canned peaches would be fabulous. Apples and pears are aplenty right now, and would be perfectly at home in this recipe. If you've been reading me for awhile you know I have a massive aversion to all things raisin - but if you'd like to toss some into this bread pudding, go right ahead, we can still be friends. I'd rather soak some dried cranberries or apricots in brandy first, then throw them in. Imagine that. (Noting to self as we speak.) There are a million recipes for bread pudding, some which call for placing the baking dish in a water bath while the pudding bakes in the oven. I don't bother here - the only time I bust out a water bath is when I'm baking either a cheesecake or crème brûlée. I don't think the dessert suffers - the caramelized edges are my favourite part - well that and its econo-friendly ways. Saving is not so bad after all. It's the savouring that matters most.
Sour Cherry Bread Pudding
6 cups day old French, sourdough or challah bread, cut into 1 1/2 " cubes
3 cups of sour cherries, thawed (I strained mine so they weren't so juicy) or other fruit
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cup half and half or whole milk
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 8 or 9 inch square baking dish. In a medium bowl toss the cubed bread with fruit. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Add sugar and half and half. Beat until well blended. Add the spices and salt. Add the bread to the egg mixture and using your hands, stir everything together. Pour into your prepared dish and let stand for 30 minutes before baking. (At this point it can be prepared overnight and baked the next day.) Bake for about 25 minutes, covered with tin foil. Unwrap and bake for 25 minutes or so more, until golden, puffed and set. While still warm, brush with the maple syrup. Best served warm, but also delicious cold, for breakfast! Makes about 6 servings.