Monday, January 3, 2011

English Caramel Bread Pudding

    Over Christmas I hosted brunches for two different groups of friends on back-to-back days. In the past when others had encouraged me to try this approach to holiday entertaining, I always thought they were mildly insane, but this year when it looked as though there was only one open week, I decided to jump in head first! Thankfully it turned out to be the easiest entertaining I have done in a long time and surprisingly, was much less work than having brunches during two different weeks.
     The nice thing about the back-to-back approach is that I set the dining room table once, used the same floral arrangements both days, and after the first brunch I simply loaded the dishwasher and unloaded it right back onto the table. I also served the same menu both days which afforded me the opportunity on the second day to improve upon a new dish that I had tried for the very first time at the first brunch (a Hostess-with-the-Mostess NO NO!). The Husband did get a little sick of eating the same leftovers for three or four nights, but the last time I checked he was none the worse for wear!
     The new dish I perfected was good enough (the improved and amended version anyway) to go into what I call my cooking repertoire. I will definitely be serving this again!
   With apologies to Nigella Lawson who first published a version of this dish known as Caramel Croissant Pudding -- I have altered the recipe, added and changed ingredients and amounts so much that the dish now bears a new name:
English Caramel Bread Pudding
   12-16 stale croissants
   1 cup sugar
   1/3 cup water
   2 cups heavy cream
   1 cup half-and-half
   2 Tbsp spiced rum or bourbon
   4 large eggs, beaten
   1 cup raisins
   2/3 cup toasted pecans or walnuts (pieces or halves)
Directions for cooking:
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees
2. Tear croissants into small pieces and place in a casserole dish that has been coated with non-stick spray. Layer the croissants and raisins so that the raisins are evenly distributed throughout the casserole.
3. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and dissolve the sugar before putting on a medium to high heat burner.
4. Caramelize the sugar and water mixture by letting it boil 3-4 minutes or until it becomes a light amber color.
5.  Reduce the heat to low, add the cream and, while whisking, add the milk and rum (may be omitted...but I say, why not!) Some of the toffee may cling to the whisk. Keep stirring until most of the toffee bits are dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat, temper the beaten eggs and then slowly add the eggs to the sugar mixture. Cook slowly on low heat (I moved to an alternate burner) until a custard begins to form. (The second time I made it I had to add 1 Tbsp of flour to get the custard to thicken appropriately).
6. Pour the custard over the croissants and let the custard stand for 10 minutes to steep.
7. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts or pecans and bake for 30-45 minutes or until golden brown.

One of the best things about this dish is that the top has a crusty crunchy golden goodness, while the layer underneath has a marvelous gooey molten toffee consistency. The English Caramel Bread Pudding made a perfect companion to my other brunch dishes which included Steeplechase Brunch (a sausage, mushroom and onion casserole), Garlic Cheese Grits, Fresh Fruit, Herb Biscuits and Lemon Blueberry Bread!

English Caramel Bread Pudding

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