About 10 years ago, I went through a bread pudding phase. I think it became "rediscovered" by some famous chefs and recipes for it started flooding the pages of Gourmet, Bon Appetit and others and suddenly I found myself making it all the time--different kinds--apple, chocolate, maple syrup, vanilla, caramel. I brought trays of it to my mother's for dessert, served it at brunches and we frequently ate the leftovers for an indulgent breakfast or snack and then we all sort of got tired of it and I went cold turkey. But then I saw this recipe for Lemon Bread Pudding and I decided the period of abstinence had gone on long enough.
If you're not all that familiar with bread pudding, it's basically a way to use up stale bread, created by some clever housewife who didn't want to waste a loaf of the stuff she had labored so hard to bake. You usually add eggs, milk or cream and some other flavoring, mix it together, throw it in a casserole dish and bake it, often in a water bath, till you wind up with a custardy, creamy, comforting concoction (how's that for alliteration?!) What's unique about this version is that you make a divine homemade lemon curd that is layered throughout the dish, giving this an intense lemon flavor that will satisfy all those lemon lovers out there. And what's great about this is that you can make it weeks ahead and use it when you're ready to assemble the bread pudding (you just have to make sure you can resist the urge to sneak tastes--I, ahem, personally wouldn't know, but some people just can't control themselves!)
The rest of the dish is super easy to make. You cut slices of French bread, dry them out slightly in the oven, layer them in a baking pan with the lemon curd and a milk/egg mixture, sprinkle them with sugar and bake in a water bath--
Once baked, the top gets crunchy and caramelized, while underneath, your tastebuds welcome a smooth lemony-tart pudding-like texture. The combination is amazing! I served this at a family brunch, but you could easily make it for dessert and maybe accompany it with frozen raspberries or strawberries in syrup. Either way, the next time you have some old bread to use up, embrace the recycling concept and instead of throwing it out, make this lemony treat! C'mon, it's good for the environment!!
Lemon Bread Pudding
Prep Time for Lemon Curd: 20-25 minutes, plus chilling; Prep Time for Pudding: 1/2 hour plus one hour for bread to soak; Bake Time: 45 minutes-1 hour
For the Lemon Curd:
- 3 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup sugar
- Finely grated rind of 2 large lemons
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
For the Bread Pudding:
- 1 loaf (about 8 oz.) French bread
- 10 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 quart milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Lemon Curd
For the Lemon Curd:
1. In the top of a double boiler (if you don't have one, use a medium sized heat-proof bowl) beat the eggs, yolk, and sugar to mix. Stir in the rind and juice. Add the butter. Place the bowl over a pot of hot water on medium heat. Cook uncovered, stirring and scraping the pan often, with a rubber spatula, for about 15-20 minutes until the mixture resembles thick mayonnaise and register 180º on a candy thermometer.
2. Remove the bowl from the heat and let cool, stirring occasionally.
3. Use when cooled or refrigerate in an air-tight container.
For the Bread Pudding:
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9"x 13" baking pan and set aside.
2. Using a serrated bread knife, slice the bread into 1/2 inch thick slices. Place the slices on cookie sheets and bake for about 10-15 turning once throughout the time to dry out the bread, but not toast it. Set aside and turn oven off.
3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar together. Beat in the milk, salt and vanilla and set aside.
4. In the baking dish, place as many of the bread slices as you can in one layer-it's ok if they touch each other and you can break up pieces if you need to to fill in spaces. Spread half of the lemon curd over the bread. Then make a second layer of the bread, placing them at right angles to the first layer and spread the remaining curd over them.
5. Ladle the milk/egg mixture slowly over the top and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
6. Preheat oven to 350º F again and make sure rack is in center of oven.
7. Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the pudding.
8. Place the dish in a large shallow baking pan, place in the oven and carefully pour hot water into the larger pan to come up halfway up the sides of the smaller pan. Bake for about 45 minutes until top is puffed and barely golden, tapping the side of the dish to see if the middle of the pudding barely moves ( I may have cooked it a bit too long because mine got a bit dark on top, but it was great anyway.)
9. Serve right away or at room temperature. Leftovers really heat up well in the microwave too.
Note: This recipe is barely adapted from Maida Heatter's Best Dessert Book Ever.