Cranberry, Apple, and Pecan Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bean Custard
Adapted from Morning Glories (Rizzoli, 1996)
Traditionally, the breads used in a bread pudding are scraps and leftover pieces from the daily loaf, collected within a week’s time. Leahy advises, however, that the better the bread (she uses stale brioche and croissants), the better the pudding.
- 1 1/2 cups peeled and sliced baking apples (about 2 medium-size apples)
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 1/4 cup brandy
- 1 cup fresh cranberries
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 5 cups stale croissants and brioche, cut into cubes
- Shortening or unsalted butter to grease the mold(s)
Vanilla Bean Custard:
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
For the pudding, toss sliced apples with lemon juice together in a medium bowl and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs until frothy and pale yellow in color. Add the sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon to the eggs and beat until smooth. Stir in the butter, half-and-half, and brandy. In another large bowl, toss the apples, cranberries, and pecans with the bread cubes. Place the bread mixture in a greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan (or individual custard cups). Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread. Cover it with foil and weigh down the top with a 1- or 2-pound bag of rice or dried beans to encourage the bread to absorb the liquid. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Remove the foil and weights and place the pudding in a larger pan with 1 inch of hot water in it to form a water bath. Bake for 55 minutes or until set. Increase the oven temperature to 425ºF and bake 10 minutes more, until the top is lightly browned.
While the bread pudding is baking, prepare the custard sauce. Begin by placing the half-and-half and the vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat until it is just about to boil. Keep a careful watch over the half-and-half as it has a tendency to boil over when you least expect it. Remove it from the heat. In a metal mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is light-colored. Remove the vanilla bean from the half-and-half and with the back of a paring knife, scrape the tiny seeds inside the pod into the half-and-half. Mix the seeds with the half-and-half and discard the pod. Slowly pour 1 cup of the half-and-half into the egg mixture, constantly whisking. When the two mixtures are well incorporated, add the rest of the hot half-and-half. This process of tempering ensures that the hot half-and-half will not curdle the eggs.
Prepare a large bowl with ice and water and have a second smaller bowl ready. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it just begins to thicken and coat the back of a spoon. Immediately remove the mixture from the heat and pour into the empty bowl. Submerge the bottom of the bowl into the ice water to stop the custard from cooking and to prevent curdling; stir until cooled slightly. Cool the mixture for about 10 minutes longer. Serve the room-temperature custard sauce with the warm pudding.
8 to 10 servings