This is where it all starts. One freshly washed, less than perfect, organic apple. A Braeburn, I believe. The humble catalyst that ends with one of the most soul satisfying desserts I know. Bread pudding. Guys, I can’t tell you how much I love bread pudding. It gets made more than several times a year in my house, and if I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, I’d make it every week. The variations and combinations are endless. I’ve made bread pudding with cake layers, with pieces of brownies thrown in, out of stale bakery goods of almost any kind (donuts, croissants, danish, and once with kinda stale turnovers that turned out so surprisingly delectable), out of almost any kind of bread, and various combinations of all of the above. And recently, I’ve been a bit fixated on savory bread puddings, but more on that later. So this is how it began. Standing in the kitchen, a bit antsy. I want to make something, but don’t have a plan in mind. Quite a few of the things that I’ve been planning for you would require a trip to the store for ingredients I don’t have. But I’m in my comfortable clothes, it’s really grey and cold out there, and it’s going to snow any second. Gah, I don’t want to go to the store! So, I stand in front of the open refrigerator, I stand in front of the open cabinets, I pull out the freezer drawer and peer into its depth for a couple of minutes. I contemplate the bowls of fruits and veggies on the counter, I pull out the drawers with all the baking pans and doo dads, I stare out at the park and watch the people running who are so bundled up against the cold they look like multi-colored Michelin Men. As all of what I’ve stared at for the last few minutes swirls around and starts to settle, the mental checklist comes up. Eggs? Check. Milk or cream? Check. Butter, sugar, vanilla? Check, check, check. Bread? Frozen brioche will do nicely, check. Then my gaze falls on the apples. And a vision of Tarte Tatin jumps to mind, nah….but, the caramelized apple part sounds good. So, apples? Check. That’s how this recipe came together. Not exactly rocket science, but it all worked out very nicely.
I think you’re going to love this bread pudding. It’s rich and buttery tasting. The flavors are ones we all know, now couldn’t you identify apple pie with your eyes closed? Of course. So you’ll recognize this. The caramel and apples mixing in with the sweet custardy bits of bread, warm and soft on your tongue. I bet you’ll find your eyes closed at some point while it melts away in your mouth. Then you’ll be spooning your next bite up. And probably thinking about it when you shouldn’t be eating things like bread pudding. Familiar, uncomplicated, curl up and enjoy it.
Caramelized Apples and Brioche Bread Pudding
Set your oven to 350.
For the bread:
I used a standard loaf size of brioche, cut into cubes, enough to loosely fill a buttered 2 quart souffle dish. I cut the thick bottom crust off, and any other places where it looked to thick and brown to me. My cubes were about an inch to an inch and half square. Loaf sizes can vary from store to store, so if they have large round loaves I’d buy one of those and freeze what I didn’t use, and regular loaf sizes I would probably buy 2 and again, freeze what wasn’t used. This was a pretty big loaf size.
For the apples you’ll need:
4 medium sized apples
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of light brown sugar
Peel, core and roughly chop the apples. Over high heat melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet, then add the brown sugar and salt. As it starts to dissolve, add the apple chunks and stir to coat with the butter and sugar. Let it cook at high heat, stirring, until the apples start letting go of their juice and sugar is bubbling. At that point, turn the heat down to medium low and cook the apples, stirring frequently, until the apples a brown and soft but holding their shape and there is a thick syrup of sugar. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes so be patient.
For the custard:
2 cups of milk, half n half, cream or any combination.
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup of sugar
Mix all ingredients together, stirring to dissolve sugar.
Butter your baking dish, and add the cubes of brioche. Pour the cooked apples directly over the brioche cubes and gently fold them into the brioche. Don’t try to mix them completely, let there be ribbons of apples and syrup, some here and some there. The pour the custard over all of it, slowly. When the custard reaches the top of the bread and apples, you’re finished, even if you have custard left over. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes and see if it needs a bit more custard. If you used all of it on the first go round, just press lightly on the top to submerge it a bit more. Put the baking dish on a baking sheet. Put the baking sheet on a rack placed in the middle position in your oven. Set the timer for 40 minutes. At 40 minutes check and see how it’s doing. It will be done when the top is brown and crusty, and middle just jiggles a bit when you lightly shake the dish. If it’s not done at 40 minutes, continue baking, checking at 5 minute intervals until it’s done.
You need to let this cool for 30 minutes before digging in. It will be too hot before then and you’ll burn your mouth so badly you won’t be able to taste this! And that would be awful. Serve this with ice cream, or whipped cream or whatever you feel like pouring over the top. Actually, whipped cream with a touch of calvados or whiskey would be great.
Note: I baked mine in a souffle dish which is rather deep. If you use something shallower, start checking at 30 minutes.