People go crazy for bread pudding. As a pastry chef who enjoys fresh fruit and freshly baked cookies, I couldn’t quite understand it. You take stale bread, soak it in custard and re-bake it? What’s so great about that? And then I discovered this recipe, which has just the right amount of sweetness to complement a variety of flavor combinations. In this iteration I wanted to highlight chocolate and Oaktown’s Pumpkin Pie Spice blend.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Pumpkin Pie Spice is just a name; don’t let it fool you. It doesn’t have to be used just for pumpkin pie, although it is delicious with pumpkin. The spices in our mixture — cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, clove and allspice — lend themselves to all types of baking. Here, they add a depth of flavor to the richness of the chocolate and enhance the brightness of the orange zest. And, since the spices are already blended, you don’t have to spend time rummaging through the spice rack for all of the individual ones.
The type of bread you choose is important for the end result. While you can use anything that’s lying around, bread made from an enriched dough, like brioche, challah or pain au lait is the best. Some people like to use croissants too. When a dough is “enriched” it means it has a fat added to it. These breads often contain sugar, milk, eggs and butter. It makes the dough more “rich” in flavor while lighter in texture and it holds up better (think of a sponge) when soaked in, well, more milk and eggs. I used Fournee Bakery’s Pain au Lait for this recipe. And don’t skip the soaking step; it’s important that the custard saturates the bread.
Oh, and did I mention prep time is minimal and you don’t have to get out the stand mixer?
1 tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 cups heavy cream
1 ¼ cups whole milk
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon flake or kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Fresh orange zest from a medium-sized orange
7 cups bread (diced into 1” cubes from one 9” loaf of bread)
1 cup dark chocolate chips
3 egg yolks
About ½ cup turbinado sugar
Preheat oven to 325 F. Place bread in a bowl large enough to accommodate the custard and the bread. Combine eggs and yolks in another bowl and whisk together.
Combine pumpkin pie spice, cream, milk, sugar, salt, vanilla extract and zest in a sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Slowly whisk into the egg and yolk mixture, being careful to not add too much hot liquid at once so the eggs don’t curdle.
Using a fine mesh strainer, pour mixture through strainer and over bread. Stir to coat the bread.
Allow to sit until the custard has cooled to room temperature and the bread has soaked up as much custard as it can, stirring periodically to make sure the bread is evenly soaking up the custard, 20-30 minutes (I always squeeze a few cubes to see if they are saturated all the way through, you want soggy but not falling apart).
Stir in chocolate chips (you want to wait until the custard has cooled enough before adding the chips or else they will melt completely, unless that is the effect you want to go for, in which case add the chips earlier, but I like the texture of the chunks of chocolate in my pudding).
Divide bread mixture over 12 to 15 ramekins placed on a cookie sheet or into sprayed muffin tins if you want individual servings. Or put the mixture into a sprayed ceramic baking dish (it’s all about how you want to present your pudding. I prefer individual because they bake faster and I don’t have to worry about portioning it out later). Try to mound the pieces of bread up so that the tops get crispy when they bake. Pour extra custard into cups or the tin. Sprinkle top of puddings with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The puddings should soufflé up and are done when the custard is no longer runny-looking and bounces back when touched. The puddings can be made a day or two ahead of time and kept in the fridge. Reheat before serving.