There are two types of people in this world: People who believe fall begins immediately after Labor Day, and people who believe summer lasts until the first leaf has officially fallen to the ground.
I belong firmly in the first group; my husband Dan, in the latter. While I’m already rocking boots, oversized sweaters and sipping on my pumpkin spice latte, he’s still in shorts and sandals and clinging to the last days of summer.
OK, so fall doesn’t truly begin until Sept. 22. But that’s just a technicality in my book. I’m ready for the season of creamy soups, hearty casseroles and decadent desserts – and there’s no better way to bring in fall than with this rich bread pudding with salted caramel sauce and toasted pecans.
I’ve always been a lover of bread pudding, though it has a tradition of being a poor man’s dessert. It’s an excellent way to repurpose leftover, stale bread and use simple pantry staples to create a stunning dessert. This recipe tastes like a rich, nutty caramel roll, but requires just half the work. Even my mother-in-law, who has long detested bread pudding after too many experiences of choking down runny, raisin-filled bread pudding, became a convert after her first bite.
Before searching your cupboards for your unused Wonder bread, note that bread pudding is best when you use a thick, hearty bread that can soak up the custard sauce without getting soggy. For this recipe, I’d recommend varieties like French, challah or brioche bread. Whether you’re using fresh or slightly stale bread, consider popping it in the oven for a few minutes to make the cubes of bread extra crispy to better absorb the custard sauce.
Top this salted caramel pecan bread pudding with homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or serve it warm out of the oven alongside bacon and eggs for brunch. To make a simple homemade whipped cream perfect for piping, put 1 cup cold whipped cream into a chilled Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. Using a chilled whisk attachment, beat on high speed until mixture thickens. Slowly add 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Continue mixing on high until stiff peaks form (this should take several minutes). The whipped cream is ready when it can hold its shape when the whisk attachment is held upside down.
Whether you eat this in the morning, at noon or at night, be sure to spoon on plenty of salted caramel sauce! To save time, the bread pudding can be cooked ahead of time, then rewarmed when ready to eat.
Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce and Pecans
5 cup (1/2-inch) cubed French bread (about 8 ounces)
1 cup evaporated fat-free milk
3/4 cup 1% low-fat milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons bourbon or whiskey
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
¾ cup pecans (optional)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons bourbon or whiskey (we used Crown Royal)
1 Tablespoons unsalted butter
6 Tablespoons half-and-half, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To prepare bread pudding, arrange bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes or until lightly toasted. Place in a bowl. Using a clean baking sheet, toast pecans at 350 degrees for 4-5 minutes, watching carefully to make sure they do not burn. Remove from oven, then coarsely chop.
Combine evaporated milk and next 8 ingredients (through pecans) in a large bowl; whisk until incorporated. Add bread cubes. Let stand for 20 minutes, occasionally pressing on bread to soak up milk.
To prepare sauce, combine brown sugar, bourbon and butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Simmer 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Stir in 5 Tablespoons half-and-half; simmer 10 minutes or until reduced to about 1 cup. Remove pan from heat. Stir in remaining 1Tablespoon half-and-half, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Keep warm.
Spoon half of bread mixture into a 9×5″ loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Drizzle 3 Tablespoons sauce over bread mixture. Spoon remaining half of bread mixture over sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm sauce with bread pudding.
Source: Modified slightly from Cooking Light, January 2012.