A simple dessert to warm you up on chilly nights, there is no better way to celebrate the comforting flavors of fall than with this bread pudding. Sweet caramelized apples and toasted bread cubes sing in a warm cinnamon-laced custard. The cider caramel sauce itself is divine, but particularly so when generously poured over the voluptuous pudding.
Find this recipe in our Gilded Fork Cookbook!
For the bread pudding:
4 apples (Braeburn, Gala, Fuji or Empire recommended), peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
pinch of salt
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 loaf of Brioche or Challah bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla (increase to 1 tablespoon if omitting the vanilla bean)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
1 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted
For the cider caramel sauce:
1 cup apple cider
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup heavy cream, warmed
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
8×8 baking dish
Non-stick baking spray
Tall non-reactive metal pot
For the bread pudding:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toast the bread cubes in the oven until they are crispy, but not burnt, about 10-15 minutes. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Add the vanilla bean, brown sugar and salt, stir until the sugar is dissolved and then add the apples. Sauté the apples until caramelized and the sugar becomes a thick syrup consistency. Set aside to cool.
Combine the heavy cream, milk, vanilla and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the eggs, yolks and sugar. Remove the milk from the heat and slowly temper the eggs with the hot milk, whisking as you combine the two. Whisk in the cinnamon and nutmeg and remove the vanilla bean. Pour the liquid over the bread cubes in a large bowl; add the caramelized apples, walnuts or pecans and mix to combine. Let sit for about 1 hour to completely soak all of the bread with the liquid.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a baking dish with either non-stick baking spray or butter. Place the soaked bread cubes into the prepared baking dish and gently press to create and even layer on the top. Bake in the preheated oven until the custard is set and bread is puffed and golden brown on top, about 45 minutes.
For the cider caramel:
Place the apple cider in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil over a medium flame and simmer until the liquid has reached a dense syrup-like consistency and has reduced to approximately 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool slightly.
Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water and lemon juice in a tall non-reactive metal saucepan. With one hand work these two ingredients together until it feels like wet sand. With a wooden spoon, stir the sugar constantly over low heat only until the sugar is completely dissolved. This step prevents the caramel from becoming grainy. Remove from heat and using either a pastry brush or your hand, clean the insides of the pan so that there are no stray granules of sugar on the sides. Do not stir.
Return the pot to the stove and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Cook, without stirring but swirling the pan occasionally, until a golden caramel color is reached. In a separate pan or in the microwave, heat the cream to slighlty warmer than room temperature. Remove the caramelized sugar from the heat and carefully whisk in the warmed cream. It will spatter and boil up, so it is best to stand back when adding the cream. Place back on the heat and whisk to remove any remaining lumps of sugar. Quickly pour into a clean glass or metal bowl to cool. Whisk in the butter, salt and reduced apple cider. Let cool to room temperature.
[Chef's Note: We use the "wet method", which when just enough water is added to sugar to make it a sandy texture, to make caramel in this recipe. During the boiling process, any excess liquid evaporates, causing the syrup to thicken, the sugar concentration to increase, and eventually the color to change from opaque to a rich, golden brown. This method takes longer than the "dry method", cooking sugar without the addition of water, but is easier to control and does not burn as easily.
When making caramel, there is always a danger of crystallization, which can give the finished caramel a grainy texture and cause it to cook unevenly. If the pan or spoon is not completely clean, if the syrup is stirred once it boils, or if the sugar is not properly dissolved, you are bound to get lumps of sugar that will agitate and crystallize in the caramel. However, this is easy to avoid by using a clean pot, adding a pinch of an acidic ingredient such as cream of tartar or lemon juice, and taking caution not to stir the sugar once it boils. Swirling the pan during cooking also helps to evenly distribute heat and color to the sugar without stirring.]
Serve the bread pudding warm, drizzled with caramel sauce. Bread pudding is delicious eaten cold, too. For easier slicing, refrigerate the bread pudding for a few hours and then reheat before serving.
Bread pudding adapts well to improvisation. Try using a variety of breads, if available, and other flavorings such as grated lemon zest, cardamom or star anise. Pears and other fruits can also be substituted for the apples.
Recipe by Monica Glass
Photo by Andrea Meyers