Ways with brioche: Apricot bread pudding

Bread pudding (known by some as bread and butter pudding) seems to divide people. Either you think it’s dry, bland and uninspiring, or you love its homey, comforting stodginess. Me, I’m firmly in the latter camp. For me, bread pudding is a dessert that goes hand in hand with Landmark Trust holidays – we often make one when staying in a Landmark because it’s simply made with few ingredients, not to mention perfect for warming the belly on chilly nights in a drafty old house.

At its simplest, bread pudding slots perfectly into the recession baking category. It was devised hundreds of years ago as a way of using up stale bread; at its simplest all it needs is bread, a bit of sugar, milk and a couple of eggs. Of course these days, bread pudding is usually a fancier – and more expensive – affair with all sorts of additions like fruit, chocolate and cream. But it’s still one of the best ways I know of using up bread. Rich, high quality brioche is a perfect bread for this pudding, so it was just the way to finish off the half loaf I had lying around after the weekend’s brioche-making activities.

The version I’ve made here is an amalgamation of a couple of recipes – Dorie Greenspan’s and Nigella Lawson’s, with a bit of personal taste thrown in. It’s a soft, custardy version made more interesting with marmalade and fresh, local caramelized apricots. I served it with double cream left over from the recipe, but if you’re Edward you really want to eat this with more thick custard poured over top 🙂

Bread Pudding with Stone Fruit and Jam

Serves 4 to 6

For the fruit filling:
2 cups fresh apricot slices or halves (or substitute nectarines, peaches or plums)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp sugar

6 oz (170 g) day old bread – challah or brioche is especially good – sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/4 to 1/2 cup marmalade or apricot jam, depending on your tastes
1 cup milk
1 cup whipping cream or double cream
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Butter a small baking dish – I used a 9×6 inch oval but you could also use an 8×8 inch glass cake pan or something similar.

To prepare the fruit, heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add the butter. When it melts, sprinkle over the sugar and cook for about a minute, so the sugar starts to caramelize but not burn. Add the fruit and cook until it is tender and soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Don’t worry if the caramel seizes up and goes lumpy – once cooked it will eventually smooth out again. Set aside to cool.

Spread the slices of bread with as much jam or marmalade as you like. Cut each piece of bread on the diagonal into several smaller pieces. Place about half the slices on the bottom of your dish, jam side up (don’t worry if there are gaps between them). Now top the bread slices with the fruit and finish off with a last layer of the remaining bread slices. Set the dish aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar. In a saucepan, heat the milk and cream just until it boils. While you continue whisking quickly, pour a cup or so of the milk mixture into the eggs – this will help temper it and make sure the eggs don’t curdle. Pour in the rest of the milk and cream, whisking well. Add the vanilla.

Pour this mixture over the bread and fruit until it almost reaches the top of the dish (don’t worry if you have a bit of liquid left over because it won’t all fit). Push the bread slices down into the custard and leave the pudding to soak up the liquid for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325F / 160C and place a large roasting tin on the centre rack. Boil a kettle while you wait for the oven to preheat. When ready to bake the pudding, place the dish inside the roasting tin, then carefully pour hot water from the kettle until it comes halfway up the sides of the pudding dish. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and fifteen minutes (though you may want to check it before 1 hour is up), depending on the size and shape of your dish. The pudding is ready when the bread on top is golden brown and the custard is nearly set – a knife inserted into the centre of the pudding will come out clean or nearly clean. If at any point the top is getting too brown, cover loosely with a sheet of parchment paper or foil.

Allow to cool slightly and serve warm with cream or custard. This pudding is still good the next day!