For my entire life, my mom has been making bread pudding. When there was some bread ready to go south or there was nothing sweet in the house and somebody was Jonesing, or there just wasn’t enough money on hand for store-bought treats.
And that’s kind of how I thought of it; as a substitution, or fill-in, or an also-ran. I really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my all-time favorite (although my brother, Bud adores it).
Mom’s bread pudding
Exactly 13 slices sandwich bread (Like Sun Beam), cubed
4 cups milk (any kind)
1 cup raisins (I like golden raisins)
1 cup chopped roasted pecans (optional)
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg
Preheat oven to 325.
In very large bowl, whisk together everything but bread, raisins, and nuts. Pour the bread into the custard and with your hands, mix and mash until the bread is completely worked in and the custard is a mostly smooth batter. Stir in raisins and pecans.
Pour into greased 9X13 baking dish and bake for 50 minutes or until moist, but set.
Then I worked for Sara Foster at her Bull City institution, Foster’s (2694 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd), and met her mother, Say.
Say made the bread pudding for the restaurant. I helped her make it a couple times. She’d go around the store and scoop up any bread products that weren’t totally fresh. Croissants, bagels, biscuits, you name it. It got ripped up and dumped into a big silver hotel pan.
This stuff was different from the bread pudding I grew up with. Apple and oranges are both fruit and grow on trees. This was more like shoes and giraffes.
My mom’s was mixed until it was homogenous—it baked up more like a dense flan. Say’s was chunky, with crispy edges of bread peeking out. Then Say baptized her pudding in a sweet, buttery, boozy sauce. That sauce is so good it could make a sugar-hating food cop tear up their ticket book and go rogue.
What got me thinking about bread pudding and sauce was a dinner Petey and I had at Pan-Pan diner (Northgate Mall, in Durham).
They are a terrific eatery to get your Southern on, and an awesome place to take out-of-towners. After eating my weight at their buffet in delicious things like popcorn shrimp, fried chicken, pintos and rice, cabbage and mac and cheese, I went in for dessert.
The choices were apple and peach cobblers, sweet potato pie, and bread pudding. I picked bread pudding.
When I unwrapped it, I noticed it was uniform in consistency, like Mom’s. It was also sliced into thin slabs, about 2 by 3 inches, and ½ inch thick. My brain started clicking away and making connections.
I suddenly thought, “What if I made my mom’s pudding, chilled it, and cut it into slices like this? Then what if I melted some butter in a skillet, and browned and crisped up both sides, like I do when I make meatloaf sandwiches? Then…what if I drenched it in something like Say’s amazing bourbon-butter sauce? Could the world handle the awesomeness that would ensue?”
Say-inspired brown butter rum sauce
1 stick butter
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
¾ cup heavy cream
1/3 cup amber rum, like Bacardi Gold
1 vanilla bean
Big pinch of salt
In a heavy saucepan, melt butter on medium-low, then watching carefully, continue to cook until it has browned to a light caramel color. Take off heat.
Whisk in sugar, ½ cup at a time until smooth and fully incorporated.
Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the caviar inside and add to the butter/sugar mixture.
Whisk in cream and rum, and salt. Cover, and keep warm if using right away. To store, refrigerate, then warm on very low heat before service.
Having lived in Puerto Rico, I have a soft spot for rum. Plus I think the notes of molasses go well with brown butter.
So, thanks mom and Say, for this recipe mash-up. Mothers are pretty darn terrific (Did you catch that, sweet child o’ mine?).
Thanks for your time.