Homespun bread pudding, made from dried bread and rich custard, has come a long way. Today's restaurant menus feature myriad adaptations with gingerbread, white chocolate and lemon, to name just a few. Served in souffle dishes, in individual ramekins or in a shallow baking dish, bread puddings are difficult to resist because of their old-fashioned quality.
Simple to put together, this dessert can be as versatile as your imagination. I like to serve it during the holiday season because it seems to satisfy all the generations. It's also wonderful during the chilly winter months. This particular version is based on an idea of a sticky toffee pudding. Cut-up dried dates and almonds are combined with toasted egg bread, and then the mixture is bathed in a vanilla-scented custard. I have served this at casual family gatherings and major holiday parties with great success.
The zabaglione is a luscious accompaniment. If you are in a hurry, you can make a quick ice cream sauce instead by defrosting a pint of dulce de leche ice cream and whisking it in a bowl. Spoon it over the warm pudding.
--Use a good-quality bread like challah or brioche.
--Make sure to dry the bread out so it can absorb the custard. You can do this by putting it out on the counter overnight or in a 250F oven for half an hour.
--Allow time for most of the custard to absorb into the bread before it goes into the oven. Let it sit until you can feel that a cube is soaked through to the center.
--Advance Preparation: This can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead, covered and left at room temperature. It can also be made a day ahead and served chilled. It can also be reheated.
Sticky Date and Almond Bread Pudding with Amaretto Zabaglione
This recipe needs to be started a day ahead in order to let the bread cubes dry out.
6 cups (about 3/4 pound) of egg bread with crust, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups chopped dried Majool dates (about 8 ounces)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
6 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups half and half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Amaretto Zabaglione (see recipe below)
1. Place the bread cubes on a baking sheet a day before preparing the pudding and let them rest on the counter overnight or until the bread cubes are dried out.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
3. In a medium bowl combine the dates and the almonds, and mix to combine. Set aside.
4. Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Arrange the bread in the dish, then sprinkle on the dates and almonds, and mix with a large spoon to combine, making sure that the ingredients are evenly distributed.
5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs and egg yolks on medium speed until they are frothy. Add the sugar and beat the mixture until thick and light lemon colored, about 3 minutes. Add the half and half and, reducing the blender speed to low, mix to combine. Add the vanilla and nutmeg, and mix to combine.
6. Ladle the custard over the bread. And then press lightly on the bread with a wooden spoon. Let the pudding stand for about 15 minutes to help the bread absorb the custard, occasionally pushing the bread down with a wooden spoon.
7. Place the pudding in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Open the oven, using heavy oven mitts and with a large spoon, push the bread down. The remaining liquid custard will rise. Spoon the custard evenly over the bread mixture. Bake for about 15 to 20 more minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out barely clean.
8. Remove the pudding from the oven, and let rest about 10 minutes. Sprinkle it with powdered sugar. Serve warm with warm or chilled Zabaglione, or the ice cream sauce, if desired.
6 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup amaretto
1/4 cup whipping cream
1. In a medium-size double boiler, combine the egg yolks, sugar and amaretto, and whisk until well blended.
2. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water. Whisk mixture constantly and vigorously until thickened and an instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 140 F for 3 minutes, about 5 minutes total. Remove mixture from over water. Add cream and whisk until incorporated. Serve warm or chilled.
If serving chilled, zabaglione can be prepared 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Rewhisk before serving.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)