Bread pudding served with bourbon sauce - By Deborah Lee Walker

(Aug. 18, 2017) Nick Beler, who co-owned the Prime Rib restaurant, introduced me to the art of cookery. Education was a daily lesson; little did I know the path of destiny was before me.

Time has moved forward and the clock of culinary progression ticks to a different tempo. My love of entertaining keeps me focused and I know each day is a reflection of a new beginning.

The wheels of progression continue and sometimes my impatience wants to push the pedal of conclusion. But as I have gotten older and wiser, I realize it is the journey itself that is the lesson for fulfillment. There are many crossways that offer diverse opportunities. It is up to the individual to ultimately decide the road of possibilities; my trust in fate tells me not to detour from my true passion.

Over the years I have been asked if I know the recipe for the Prime Rib’s bread pudding with bourbon sauce. This particular item is no longer on the their menu and unfortunately I do not know the specifics of the popular dessert.

Swirls of recollections come to the forefront; the Prime Rib’s bread pudding was delicious but it was the bourbon sauce that “stole the show.” All of a sudden the idea of bread pudding has captured my fancy.

I adore bread pudding and yet I must confess I have never made it. I have come to the conclusion there is no time like the present to learn the secrets of this delightful dessert. Following is the thought process and basic principles behind bread pudding and the bourbon sauce.

Bread is the first consideration. Stale French or Italian loafs, ciabatta and challah are the most common choices. When slicing your bread, aim for uniform size. These chunks are going to be the building blocks of your pudding, so you want them to cook and absorb evenly.

If one does not have stale bread, do not fret. Adjust oven racks to middle and lower positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Spread bread cubes in single layer on two rimmed baking sheets. Bake, tossing occasionally, until just dry, about 15 minutes, switching trays from top to bottom racks halfway through. Cool bread cubes for about 25 minutes and continue following instructions.

Chefs know the importance of contrast and the following step is optional. Spreading reserved bread cubes over top of the soaked bread mixture allows the top to get crispy; this step adds crunchiness and develops an extra layer of texture. If one is experienced in making bread pudding, I highly suggest giving this a try.

The next step is to consider the binder which in essence acts as a glue. A typical binder consists of eggs, egg yolks, milk, heavy cream and unsalted butter. There is no standard recipe so variation is common. Just remember, it is imperative the bread soak up most of the liquid, this is what gives the bread pudding its luxurious texture.

It is important to note that if one uses a handheld mixer or blender to mix the eggs and dairy products as opposed to a whisk, the consistency of the bread pudding will be much lighter. This process infuses much more air and produces a more exciting pudding.

Specifics equate superlative results, the ratio of the milk and cream must be considered. You really should not use anything with less fat than whole milk. The general rule is to replace half of the milk with cream. However, personal preference always takes precedence.

As Emeril Lagasse would say, “If you want to kick it up a notch,” consider melted ice cream. If you are avoiding dairy products, almond and soy milk are acceptable substitutions.

The binder needs to be seasoned according to the type of bread pudding. Sweet or savory puddings incorporate different flavor profiles. We will stick to the sweet aspects since this recipe is a dessert. Granulated sugar, brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and ground nutmeg are just a few examples of how one can highlight the essence of the dish.

The option of adding dried fruits or nuts is up to the individual cook, the combination not only adds flavor but also gives texture. Dried figs, dried currants, toasted hazelnuts and toasted pistachios are interesting variations. Specificity defines a chef, creativity sets him apart.

The last and most important step is the bourbon sauce. Use a bourbon that you would drink, cheap alcohol imparts inferior flavor. If you are not a bourbon fan, Grand Marnier or dark rum are good options. Sweet, rich liquors also pair well with the bread pudding. Stay away from clear or floral liquors.

Bread pudding with bourbon sauce is as decadent as it gets. Hazelnuts and dried figs are incorporated into the pudding and compliment the bourbon flavor. If you have little ones, simply omit the adult beverage. Enjoy!

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

Bread Pudding

14 ounces challah bread – cut 12 ounces into 1-inch cubes, 2 ounces into ½-inch cubes

¼ cup dried figs, chopped

¼ cup dried raisins

bourbon for soaking the fruit

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, for baking dish

2 ½ cups whole milk

2 ½ cups heavy cream

9 large eggs

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

4 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus 2 extra pinches

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus 2 extra pinches

¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped

¼ cup toasted pecans, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Twenty-four hours before you make the bread pudding, soak the dried fruit in enough bourbon to cover the fruit.

2. Combine brown sugar and 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

3. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 2 tablespoons unsalted butter; set aside.

4. Heat milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it is about to simmer; remove from heat.

5. Using a handheld mixer, blend eggs, ¾ cup sugar, salt, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

6. Blending constantly, pour cream mixture in a slow, steady stream into egg mixture.

7. Pour combined mixture over 12 ounces of 1-inch cubed bread; fold to combine. Let stand for 30 minutes, tossing and pressing occasionally to submerge the bread.

8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

9. In the meantime, drain the fruit mixture soaked in bourbon. Add the fruit and nuts to the bread mixture. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bread to the buttered dish. Pour the rest of the liquid over top.

10. Spread reserved ½-inch bread cubes over top of the soaked bread mixture. Using a pastry brush, dab melted butter over top of the dry bread cubes.

11. Sprinkle brown-sugar mixture evenly over top of the bread pudding.

12. Place bread pudding on rimmed baking sheet and bake on middle rack until custard has just set, and pressing center of pudding to ensure there is no runny liquid, about 45 to 50 minutes or 170 degrees on an instant thermometer. Transfer to cooling rack and cool until pudding is just warm.

Bourbon Sauce

1 cup packed light brown sugar

14 tablespoons heavy cream

4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 to 5 tablespoons good quality bourbon

1. Whisk brown sugar and heavy cream in small saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook, whisking frequently, until mixture comes to a boil.

2. Whisk in butter and bring mixture back to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in bourbon. Allow to cool to warm.

Presentation

Serve individual portions of warm bread pudding and warm bourbon sauce. The sauce should be served on the side. I like to make extra bourbon sauce and serve the bread pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Secret Ingredient - Memory. “Memory is man’s greatest friend and worst enemy.”

— Gilbert Parker

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