Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Apricot bread pudding is no mystery

Curling up with a good mystery novel is one of my favorite ways to relax. So when I find one that also includes some great recipes, and ta tum – one of those recipes is for bread pudding, well my day goes from good to better to best.

Recently I discovered Joanne Fluke’s culinary mystery series, starring the intrepid amateur sleuth and bakery owner, Hannah Swenson, who seems to trip over dead bodies almost as often as I find new bread puddings to try. And judging by the titles of some of Fluke’s books, the author must have a killer sweet tooth: Cherry Cheesecake Murder; Sugar Cookie Murder; and Fudge Cupcake Murder, to name a few in the series. You can find these and her other books at http://www.kensingtonbooks.com.

Today we adapted her recipe for Apricot Bread Pudding, which is featured in Fluke’s Strawberry Shortcake Murder. We cut it in half, which still made plenty for dessert tonight and also tomorrow’s breakfast. The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of chopped dried apricots, an amount that I maintained in the halved version – no need to spare any of this wonderful fragrant fruit. Also, I didn’t remove the bread crusts because I like a BP with texture.

The result was custardy inside and the bread triangles crisped up nicely on top as it baked. Come to think of it, a slice of this BP would be nice right now with a hot cuppa tea on this cool-ish day in Rhode Island.

(adapted from Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke)

8 slices white bread
1/2 cup melted butter
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (you could use more)
3 large eggs, beaten with fork
2-1/4 cups milk (or light cream, or half & half)

Butter 2-quart casserole. Remove crusts from bread. (I left crusts on.) Cut each slice into 4 triangles. Melt butter in large microwave-safe bowl, then put in bread triangles, tossing them lightly until coated with butter.
Arrange approximately one-third of triangles in bottom of baking dish. Sprinkle on a third of the sugar and half the chopped apricots. Add layer of half of remaining bread triangles, sprinkle on half of remaining sugar, and add remaining apricots.

Cover with rest of bread. Add any remaining butter to top. Sprinkle with last of sugar. Whisk eggs and milk or cream together in butter bowl. Pour over bread mixture; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. with rack in center position. Bake pudding uncovered for 45 to 55 minutes, until pudding is set and top is golden brown. Let cool and serve topped with heavy cream, sweetened whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.
(The author suggests making this with any dried fruit, including currants, raisins, dates, pears, or prunes, although she said she didn’t try it with the latter.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mom liked her bread pudding best

When you’ve got a good thing going, you don’t want to mess with it. Such as my mom’s bread pudding, for example, the one I grew up with, custardy in the middle and crusty on top. And full of those plump raisins that you’d bite into with each spoonful. It had a hint of cinnamon too, and sometimes she’d serve it with real whipped cream on top. Or with a lemon sauce made with fresh lemons, none of that stuff that comes in a piece of yellow plastic.

I wonder what she’d think of these “modern” bread puddings that you find in trendy restaurants – made with chocolate and nuts and ‘exotic’ fruits such as blueberries and pineapple. And topped with sauces made with bourbon or rum.

Granted, I’ve gravitated over to the ‘dark side,’ when making my own puddings, often adding whatever I can find on my shelf – such as granola, cranberries, caramel, bananas, chocolate syrup, coffee, and pumpkin. Because I create and bake so many different types of bread puddings, I often ask friends and neighbors to be taste testers. Many are traditionalists, like my neighbor, Eric, who fondly remembers his mom’s own bread pudding, and was a little skeptical of the one I brought over containing chocolate and cherries. My other neighbor, Gail, however, was delighted with my pumpkin rum raisin BP, which she rated an “Eleven.”

But it all began with mom. She taught me about bread pudding. Here’s her tried and true recipe. It’s very custardy, so if you’d like a denser bread pudding, just increase the bread to liquid ratio. Thanks, mom.


2 to 3 slices day-old white bread, buttered and cubed
1/2 cup raisins
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)
2 cups milk, scalded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine bread cubes and raisins in buttered 1-1/2-quart baking dish, or 8- or 9-inch square pan. In large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon. Add hot milk slowly, stirring to mix well. Pour over bread mixture. Set baking dish in shallow pan of hot water. Bake about 60 minutes, or until pudding is firm and browned on top. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with whipped cream, warm chocolate sauce, or lemon sauce. Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mother's Day Bread Pudding bakes in slow cooker

We’ll have the whole gang coming here for Mother’s Day. At the last count the guest list numbered fourteen, with the possibility of even more warm bodies. And as a mom of three and a grandmom of six, I’m working on a menu that will include easy dishes to make ahead.

So why aren’t we just going out and giving Mom/Grandmom a break, you ask? Hmm, well uh, I volunteered for this party, and with everyone chipping in to bring something, it will be a bit more relaxing (did I really say that?) than going out to a restaurant with the baby and toddler set.

Of course, one of the menu items will be a bread pudding. Something light and with a citrus scent for a touch of spring. I’ve decided to make an Orange Marmalade Bread Pudding in the slow cooker. Sitting in its own little corner of the kitchen counter, leaving the oven free to bake other dishes. This BP takes about two hours, more or less, as it puffs up and fills the house with a delectable aroma.

As a variation, you could substitute other thick-textured jams such as peach or strawberry for the marmalade. For my money, though you can’t beat the orange citrus scent. Try adding a handful of chopped nuts, perhaps macadamias, for some extra crunch.


Butter or cooking spray
5 to 6 cups white or egg bread, cut into cubes
1-1/4 cups orange marmalade
1 cup whole milk
1 cup half & half
1/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

Coat bottom and sides of slow cooker with butter or cooking spray. Place bread cubes in cooker. Pour marmalade over bread and stir to combine. In bowl, whisk together milk, half & half, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and Grand Marnier. Pour mixture over bread. Cover and cook on HIGH for 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until puffed up and fully cooked in center. Serve warm topped with whipped cream, ice cream, or topping. Serves 8.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Celebrate National Amaretto Day with Bread Pudding

There’s always room for one more celebration. And how many of you know that today, April 19, is National Amaretto Day?

In honor of this illustrious occasion, let’s raise our glasses to toast this almond-flavored liqueur, and also to create a fragrant Amaretto sauce to serve over bread pudding. Here are some easy sauce recipes that you can make ahead and keep in the fridge to heat up later and ladle over a favorite bread pudding. The flavor of Amaretto is especially good over bread puddings containing a little chocolate, or some cherries, golden raisins, or raspberries. It’s also delicate enough to enhance a rather plain bread pudding - nice for dessert on a warm spring evening.

We’ve also included a bread pudding that’s flavored with almond extract, in case you’d like to add to your growing collection of BP recipes.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur

In saucepan, on low heat, stir together butter, buttermilk, and sugar until sugar dissolves. Combine cornstarch with Amaretto; add to pan. Heat, stirring, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens slightly. Makes about 1 cup sauce.


1 loaf French bread (10-ounce), about 5 cups
1 quart (4 cups) half & half
Butter to grease pan
4 large eggs
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons almond extract
3/4 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup sliced almonds

(Amaretto Sauce)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

For pudding, cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in large bowl and cover with half & half; let stand 1 hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter 9x13-inch baking pan. In separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and almond extract together. Stir into bread mixture. Fold in raisins and almonds. Spread evenly in baking pan. Bake about 50 minutes. Remove and cool.
For sauce, stir together butter and sugar until hot and butter melts. Remove from heat. Whisk eggs into butter/sugar mixture. Add liqueur.
Serve pudding at room temperature topped with sauce and whipped cream, if desired. Makes 12-15 servings.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Boston Marathon Bread Pudding is a winner

It’s a rite of spring.

One of my favorite happenings of the year is the Boston Marathon. No I don’t participate, but I do admire the spirit of those who do take part. Many of them, year after year, in weather that ranges from cold and drizzly to hot and steamy, and even, this being New England, snow.

I often join the spectators who watch at the five-mile-point in Framingham, often fighting back tears as the wheelchair entrants go by. And then I’m amazed as hundreds and hundreds of runners dash past, too many and too quickly for me to even pick out a friend who is running.

The enthusiasm and bigheartedness of the people who watch this race in Boston is outstanding, according to Lisa Cecchi of RI, a mother of six who will be running the race again this year along with her husband Michael. She said the onlookers are most generous in handing out water and oranges to the runners and cheering them on as they pass by.

In honor of this great event we’ve created Boston Marathon Bread Pudding – full of carbs and with the healthful addition of granola. I made this BP with one percent milk instead of the usual calorie-laden cream or whole milk, and the result was excellent. And, as a reward for outstanding Marathon effort, I added chunks of chocolate and cherries too. Hooray for all the Boston Marathon participants – you are all winners!!

BOSTON MARATHON BREAD PUDDING (with Granola and Chocolate)

2-3/4 cups Italian bread chunks (or bread of your choice)
1/2 cup granola mix (with fruit, nuts, and oatmeal)
1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips
1/3 cup dried cherries
2 cups 1 percent milk
2 tablespoons butter
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
Cinnamon-sugar for sprinkling on top

Place bread cubes into buttered or cooking-sprayed 2-quart baking dish, or 8- or 9-inch square pan. Sprinkle with granola, chocolate chunks, and dried cherries. In saucepan, heat milk with butter until milk reaches scalding point and butter melts.
In large bowl, whisk eggs together with sugar and extract. Slowly pour hot milk/butter into egg mixture, stirring to combine. Pour liquid over bread mixture in baking pan. Let stand about 20 minutes for bread to absorb liquid.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle top of pudding with cinnamon/sugar. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until top is crisp and pudding puffs up.
Serve warm or at room temp topped with whipped cream, topping, or ice cream. Serves 8.
© 2008, Recipe by Portia Little.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Celebrate spring with an asparagus and Boursin bread pudding

Finally, spring!

After weeks of ‘promises, promises,’ when temps didn’t venture much above the forties, today we have a glorious day. Blue skies, sunshine, and warm enough outside for just a light jacket. In the yard are suggestions of yellow forsythia ready to burst forth from old branches, a lone narcissus bud shyly whispering hello, and lots of the usual potholes in the street. Ah yes, spring IS here on the New England seashore.

And even though it’s available all year round, asparagus just seems to say ‘spring’ to me, with it’s lovely color that changes to bright green when you cook it in a little water. In honor of the season, we made a lovely asparagus bread pudding this morning. Well, the original recipe, calls it a ‘strata,’ but it has the usual suspects – bread, eggs, and milk – so we’re going to call it a bread pudding. We adapted our recipe from one in the Cook’s Illustrated Test Kitchen, so who could go wrong? Instead of baking it in a single skillet as they did, we poured some of the bread/asparagus mixture into a five-inch round ceramic baking dish (enough for two servings, or one hearty one), and baked the rest in a larger glass pan.

We enjoyed the pudding for lunch with a few clementine slices to go along. Boursin cheese makes a wonderful topping for this creamy dish, which is almost like a quiche, with chunks of fresh asparagus and toasty onions. It doesn’t get much better than this.


(adapted from Skillet Strata with Asparagus and Boursin, Cook’s Illustrated, 3/2006)

1 pound asparagus, tough ends cut off
6 large eggs
1-1/4 cups milk
Ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
Table salt
4 slices Italian bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup Boursin cheese, crumbled
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut asparagus diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Place asparagus in microwave-safe bowl with 2 tablespoons water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain. Whisk eggs, milk, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in large bowl.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl to coat skillet, then add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until onion is soft, about 3 minutes. Add bread; cook, stirring frequently, until bread and onion are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add mixture to egg/bread mixture in bowl; stir to combine. Pour into 2-1/2-quart baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Scatter cheese on top. Bake in middle rack of oven 25-30 minutes or until top is puffed and slightly brown. Serves 4.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chicken bread pudding makes a hearty supper dish

You know, in the 'olden days, when life was simpler (we suppose), people used to just make do with whatever leftovers they had on hand. Such as bread, veggies, chicken, and cheese. I bet they came up with some really ingenious dishes too. Such as this Chicken bread pudding.

On a cool, gray day in Rhode Island, this looks like a good bet for supper. Will have to dash out to the local super for the celery soup, but other than that, we have the ingredients on hand. Thanks to my Internet friend Kathy, for sending this recipe, which she found in the Best of the Best from California cookbook.

What to go along? How about a spinach salad tossed with fresh orange segments, some sliced almonds, and a honey-orange dressing? The crisp spinach and fragrant oranges will make a nice contrast to the creamy pudding.

Chicken-Bread Pudding

6 slices white bread, crusts trimmed
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
4 tablespoons butter, divided
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1/4 cup mayonnaise1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup milk
1 (10-ounce) can cream of celery soup
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons chopped pimento
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Line bottom of buttered 9x13-inch baking dish with bread slices, cutting to fit. Top with chicken. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet. Saute mushrooms in butter until browned; remove from heat. Stir in water chestnuts and mayonnaise. Spoon over chicken layer. Sprinkle with cheese. Combine next 6 ingredients in bowl; mix well. Pour over cheese layer. Bake at 350 F. for 1 hour or until set. Sprinkle with bread crumbs; dot with remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Bake for 10 minutes longer or until crumbs are browned. Yields 8 servings.
Original cookbook source: California GoldSource: Best of the Best from California Cookbook