Charlottesville is beautiful this time of year...lush new grass, lacy clouds of dogwood blossoms, confetti-hued azalea bushes. But my heart, it lies in another city at the end of April. Far, far south of here, where the air is heavy with music and the scent of chicory. Five years ago this Thursday, Brian and I were married against a cracked brick wall in a classic New Orleans courtyard on the most beautiful day of our lives thus far. With 35 of our closest friends and family we paraded through the French Quarter, led by a jazz quartet we'd met on Royal Street during our very first visit to the Big Easy. I walked down the aisle to "It's a Wonderful World", we said our vows with our two best friends by our sides, we danced with those we love most, we ate incredible food for hours. What a day...and so hard to believe it was five years ago now.
Yes, this time of year has me longing for New Orleans. We were married in the midst of crawfish season, and luckily for us, we have a local market that brings crawfish into Charlottesville at exactly this time of year, just for our anniversary. Well, maybe not just for us, but the timing sure does work out well. On Friday, Brian brought home with him 1 dozen oysters, 4 pounds of crawfish, and 6 blue crabs. A flash decision was made and I found myself scrambling to make a bread pudding, the perfect ending to the NOLA Seafood Boil suddenly placed on our Friday night agenda. That dinner with dear friends was the next best thing to being in our favorite city, and another evening I won't soon forget.
Bread pudding is a classic New Orleans dessert. It is one that, when we first visited the city, I was entirely unconvinced of. I've come to my senses in the last few years, and might have recently declared bread pudding one of my favorite sweets. I won't deny that. This particular recipe was a new one for me, pulled from Chef Paul Prudhomme's classic cookbook, which hasn't led us astray yet. Chef Paul is a bit of a culinary god in our house...the man did invent the blackening method after all. I expected him to pull through for me again here, and we were not disappointed. This is a traditional bread pudding, made with stale bread and sweet custard and pecans and raisins, topped with Chef Prudhomme's fabulous Chantilly Cream. Because I wasn't expecting to make bread pudding (or any baked good at all, actually) last Friday afternoon, I found myself lacking in some ingredients. But even with a bit of tweaking it was a big hit, and I think the changes made might be permanent.
Bread pudding is best while still warm, but also makes for a really, really good cold breakfast. Trust me...it will sing with your coffee.
Bread Pudding with Amaretto Cream
from Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, with minor modification
- 3 large eggs
- 1-1/4 cups sugar
- 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I substituted almond)
- 1-1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup raisins (I used golden raisins)
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans, dry roasted (I've also used walnuts, and think that almonds would be quite good, too)
- 5 cups very stale French or Italian bread cubes, with crusts on
- Amaretto Cream (recipe below)
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs on high speed until extremely frothy and bubbles are the size of pinheads, about 3 minutes (or with a metal whisk for about 6 minutes). Add the sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and butter and beat on high until well blended. Beat in the milk.
- Butter (8) small ramekins, (1) 9x5 loaf pan, or (1) 9" square glass dish. (Truly, any of these works.) Place a layer of bread cubes in the greased pan(s). Sprinkle with the golden raisins and nuts and layer bread cubes over top to fill pan.
- Pour the egg mixture over top of the bread cubes and toss (or gently press the cubes down into the liquid so that all are coated, but not covered). Let sit for about 45 minutes, pushing the bread down into the liquid occasionally. Preheat oven to 350°.
- Place the pan(s) in the preheated oven and immediately drop the temperature down to 300°. Bake for 40 minutes, until top is just starting to golden. (If you use small ramekins, bake for just 25-30 minutes). Increase the oven temperature to 425° and bake until pudding is well browned and puffy, about 15 to 20 minutes more.
- Serve with Amaretto Cream.
modified from Chef Prudhomme's Chantilly Cream (which is really, really delicious...I just didn't have the right liqueur.)
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp amaretto
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp dairy sour cream
- Refrigerate a medium-size bowl and beaters until very cold. Combine the cream and Amaretto in the bowl and beat with a handheld mixer on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the sugar and sour cream and beat on medium just until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Do not overbeat!
- Try not to eat the entire bowl. But if you do, I understand completely.