I don’t know when (or why) my craving for bread pudding started, but for the last few months or so — or maybe it’s only been a few weeks, 2018 has been crazy — I’ve had a lingering hunger for spoonably soft, vanilla-scented, custardy bread pudding. I can’t explain it.
And then, this weekend, it was as though the stars had aligned: I was talking to my parents on the phone, and they had just pulled some bread pudding out of the oven, made with leftover scraps of bread. “Send me the recipe!” I practically yelled. Because, at that very moment, I remembered that I, too, had leftover bread. This was what I’d been waiting for.
The bread in question, if you’re curious, was Melissa Clark’s soda bread. I made it for the very first time for St. Patrick’s Day (a holiday which, like most others, I celebrate for the food) and paired with salty Irish butter, it was incredible — especially considering that making it took just one hour from start to finish. I made it again last Thursday night after an especially long day because I knew hot, fresh bread would lift my spirits (and because I live alone, and one of the great joys of living alone is that you can make bread at 8:00 at night and no one is there to judge you). By Sunday, though still dense and tasty, my half-eaten loaf was a little less enchanting. And so it became destined for bread pudding.
The recipe is my grandmother’s, and it feels fittingly simple. Most bread pudding recipes ask you to use a rich bread, like challah or brioche, but this one is flexible and forgiving. Use any bread you like, as long as it doesn’t veer savory — I used soda bread and a pain au lait I found in the depths of my freezer. I scattered some Medjool dates over the top (in place of the optional raisins), torn into pieces, because I love them.
When I opened the oven to check on it, I was overwhelmed with the creamy smell of vanilla and cinnamon, and had my own vaguely Proustian moment. I can’t remember if my grandmother ever made this for me, but I know my parents did, and the smell whisked me back to some misty, long-forgotten memory of eating this pudding with milk poured over it.
This week, my grandmother will have been gone for a year. So maybe the stars really did align: the prolonged craving, the phone call, and the stale loaf of bread all coming together this weekend as a kind of cosmic reminder of my grandmother’s love. You should make this, too, for the people you love.
2 cups bread, cut into large chunks
1/2 cup raisins, optional (or another dried fruit of your choosing)
2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 325º F. Arrange bread cubes in a medium oven-safe dish and scatter raisins over the top (if using). In a large bowl, combine milk, eggs, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla, mixing well to incorporate all the ingredients. Pour the milk mixture over the bread — it’ll look soupy, but don’t worry.
Place the dish in a larger oven-safe dish filled with water (this is a bain-marie). Place your nested pans in the oven and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes. Let cool. Serve plain or in a bowl with milk poured over it.