This post was inspired by a ten-minute phone conversation I had with my dad last week. My parents were expecting company. Mom was making dinner and Dad was in charge of dessert. Say what? Dad is in charge of dessert? In our house, Dad baking the sweets is a novelty. A heart-warming, homesickness-inducing novelty.
Even Dad the cook is also relatively new. He stayed out of the kitchen when we were kids, but now that’s he’s a stay-at-home relaxee he spends quite a few of his hours caught up in plumes of smoke and spice at the stove. Whenever Gus and I go home to Connecticut for a visit, Dad tells us about the latest cioppino or curry and whips out a Tupperware for us to inspect. A new-fangled method for grilling chicken thighs that he’s invented. Or maybe a new special sauce. I think it’s probably nice for my mother, most of the time.
Dad has historically been more of a dessert fan than chef. Back in the 80’s, whenever I happened to catch Marcel Desaulnier’s Death by Chocolate on public television, I would barge into my dad’s office and turn on the television. Dad would drop whatever he was doing and I would curl up in his comfy chair and together we would coo as Marcel made endless bowls of cream and chocolate swirl together into ganache magic. Later Dad would just say the word “ganache” at me, completely out of context, just to elicit a smile. It was like our secret code for happiness.
During our phone call last week he told me how he’s been working on his bread pudding recipe. He gave me all the specifics and you know I was interested. He started with regular white sandwich bread, but that was far too mushy. He gave ciabatta a shot. Now he’s settled on a rustic Italian loaf. He’s definitely a raisins man. He tinkered with his cream to eggs ratio. He claims he’s got it just right. I tried to offer a bit of my own bread pudding knowledge, which I believe he will completely ignore. He isn’t even the least bit interested in taking cooking advice from his daughter. No matter. He clearly doesn’t need my help. Mom told me that he’s even been making crème anglaise to pour over the bread pudding. Gilding the lily like a champ. Go Dad.
After that phone call, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dad’s bread pudding. I felt more than a little bit jealous of their dinner guests. What else could I do but make my own? Not to steal his thunder, but my version is a combination of pumpkin pie, bread pudding, and crème brûlée. Perfect if you looking for an alternative to the classic holiday favorites. Also perfect for any not-so-special Thursday when you have a hankering for bread and miss your parents.
Brûléed Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Serves 6 to 8
Brûléeing bread pudding really takes it to another level. The pleasantly burnt, crunchy sugar goes so beautifully with the chewy bread and creamy custard. It really makes all the difference. This genius idea comes from Chef Suzanne Goin’s book Sunday Suppers at Lucques.
For more genius ideas check out what these ladies are doing with pumpkin. Perfect pumpkin scones, rich little chocolate pumpkin almond butter cups, and this gorgeous pumpkin spice cinnamon roll loaf. Lots of inspiration floating around...
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
8 to 10 1/2-inch thick slices of brioche
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish. Spread one side of each of the slices of bread with butter. Arrange the slices in the prepared dish.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, heavy cream, whole milk, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Pour the egg mixture over the bread in the dish. Gently press the bread down to cover it in the custard and then let it stand for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a kettle of water to boil.
3. Set the baking dish in a large roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Transfer the roasting pan to the oven. Bake until the custard is set and the bread has puffed, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer the baking dish to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm or chill completely to serve cold.
4. Just before serving, sprinkle the top of the pudding with about 2 tablespoons of sugar. Use a mini blowtorch to melt the sugar into a crunchy caramelized top. Serve immediately.