Our daughter who lives in Los Angeles paid us a short but welcome visit last week. My wife asked her if she had any food requests. Without hesitation, Carol said, “Bread pudding.” She grew up in Louisiana and so she loves Southern, Cajun and Creole cooking. Bread pudding is one of the classics. Other cuisines and cultures have other versions of bread pudding. Mexican capirotada comes to mind. But New Orleans style bread pudding with whiskey sauce may be in a class on its own.
The best restaurant version of the dessert I have ever eaten was served at Stephen & Martin, a New Orleans neighborhood restaurant on Saint Charles Avenue in Uptown. It was hidden in the back of a building that faced the street. The place was popular with locals but not greatly frequented by tourists because it was a bit out of the way and somewhat hard to find. They served everything from po’boys to fancy Creole specialties, but I believe that the best dish on the menu was the bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Unfortunately the restaurant has been closed for many years, so the bread pudding is a thing of the past. My wife took all of that as a challenge to create her own version of Stephen & Martin’s masterpiece. The whole family enjoyed participating in her experiments, and that’s the bread pudding that our daughter remembers and requested.
This is not Sue’s Bread Pudding. I would be out on the street if I shared her hard-earned recipe. My version is, however, a fairly close resemblance of the real thing. Enough so that I think you might enjoy giving it a try. You should use the very best French bread you can find. That is not hard in New Orleans, but it may be a challenge elsewhere. The usual supermarket version is not a good substitute. When you serve the bread pudding, it should be warm. Ladle over a generous amount of whiskey sauce. If you are averse to whiskey, you can substitute lemon sauce. A generous dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream is the perfect finishing touch.
New Orleans Style Bread Pudding
- 1 medium loaf good quality French bread
- 2/3 cup raisins
- 2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- 4 eggs
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
- 2 cups half and half
- Cut bread into ½ inch cubes and spread out in a baking pan to dry overnight. Stir occasionally. You should have about 8 cups.
- Mix dried bread cubes with raisins and chopped nuts. Transfer to a well-buttered 8 x 11½ inch glass baking dish. The pan should be about half full.
- In a large bowl and using an electric beater, beat the eggs until foamy. Then add the sugar and continue to beat until completely mixed. Add the vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Beat in the melted butter and half-and-half.
- Pour the milk and egg mixture over the bread cube mixture and let soak for at least ½ hour, pressing down occasionally to make sure the bread absorbs the milk.
- Place the pan in the middle of an oven that has been preheated to 350°F. Immediately turn the temperature down to 300°F and bake for 40 minutes. Then increase the temperature to 425°F and bake for 10 more minutes or until the pudding is well browned on top. Be sure to watch closely so that it does not burn.
- Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes and then serve while still warm. Top with whiskey sauce and, if desired, whipped cream.
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup whiskey
- whipped cream (optional)
- In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth (note: the sugar may not melt completely until the whiskey is added)
- Add the whiskey and stir until completely combined. The sauce should become translucent.
- Serve immediately. A perfect topping for bread pudding. You can gild the lily with a dollop of whipped cream. If the sauce cools, the butter may set up and the sauce will lose its translucency. To correct that, just reheat gently.