Bread pudding is  a practical, and simple dessert.  Traditionally composed of bread, milk and/or cream, sugar, and eggs, my own grandmother would make it just to ensure that the daily staples in the kitchen never went to waste.

That doesn’t mean however that a good bread pudding should be devoid of inspiration, flavor, or texture.  There are many variations, both in flavor and texture.  It can be a very versatile dessert, and even elegant enough for company.

Bread pudding with brandied figs, apples and walnuts

I admit that I’m a bread pudding snob. The best are always homemade, but a restaurant that can produce a quality, memorable pudding, is a restaurant I’m likely to return to. In the last twenty years though, I’ve had a scant few memorable ones, and sadly have suffered through more mushy, soggy, flavorless and uninspired puddings than I care to recall.

After scouring many recipes, and numerous experiments in the kitchen, this bread pudding recipe is fast becoming our favorite here.  Ultimately, the key to a good bread pudding is the bread.  Hearty rustic white loaves should be used, such as Ciabatta, Pugliese, or even Sourdough, more the better if the bread was homemade.

Even a rustic sourdough, if not too sour, can be used to make bread pudding

We bake bread at Curbstone Valley a few times a week, and occasionally find ourselves with extra, perfect for a dessert such as this.  The rich flavor of the figs, paired with the apples, brings a sweetness to the dessert, without being cloying, or using excess sugar, and the toasted walnuts bring a welcome contrast in texture to the bread.  Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable dessert, perfect served warm on a crisp cool fall evening.

Yield: 10-12 servings

14 oz Quality Rustic White Bread, cubed
2 Cups dried, unsulphured Organic Black Mission Figs, stems removed, sliced
1/2 Cup Brandy
2 1/2 Cups Whole Milk
2 1/2 Cups Heavy Cream
2 Whole Vanilla Beans
2 Medium Organic Apples, diced
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tsp Lemon Zest
3/4 Tsp Fresh Ground Nutmeg
4 Large Eggs
1 Large Egg Yolk
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/4 Tsp Salt
1 Cup Walnut Pieces, lightly toasted, and chopped

1 1/2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Melted
4-5 Tbsp Vanilla Sugar*, or Light Brown Sugar
Preheat Oven to 325 F

Generously butter a 13×9 inch baking dish.

The night before, cut the bread into 1 inch cubes, and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Leave the bread out overnight to dry slightly.

Cubed Sourdough

When ready to make the pudding, reserve 2 Cups of the bread cubes, and set aside.

Soak the sliced dried figs in the brandy for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally to ensure the fruit is evenly moistened.  Drain the figs, reserving 3 Tbsp of the brandy, and set aside.

Brandy-soaked Black Mission Figs

Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan.  Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape the seeds.  Add the vanilla to the milk and cream, and heat the vanilla-milk mixture until warm, no higher than 180F (do NOT boil).  Set aside to cool for 20 minutes.

Milk and cream mixture is heated through with the vanilla

To enhance their flavor, toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Toast the walnut pieces in a dry skillet

When sufficiently cooled, roughly chop the walnuts and set aside.

Rather than chopping, nuts can be placed in a zip-top bag, and gently crushed with a rolling pin

Peel, core, and dice the apples into half inch pieces, and in a medium bowl, immediately toss the apples together with the lemon juice and zest.

Diced Apples

In a large bowl, or using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the whole eggs, yolk, and sugar together. Carefully whisk in the warm milk-vanilla mixture, nutmeg, salt, and the 3 Tbsp of reserved brandy. If after soaking the figs there is insufficient brandy remaining,  add enough brandy to bring the volume up to 3 Tbsp.

The cream mixture can be whisked by hand, or in a stand mixer

Pour the cream mixture over the bread, and mix thoroughly to moisten. Let stand 20 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the cream.

Allow the bread to soak to absorb some of the cream mixture

Toss the brandied figs, apples, and walnuts together, and add the fruit to the bread and cream mixture.

Mix the figs, apples and walnuts together, and add to the soaked bread

Pour the bread-fruit mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Scatter the reserved 2 cups of bread pieces evenly across the top, and brush the dry bread cubes with melted butter.  Sprinkle vanilla sugar evenly across the top.

Assembled bread pudding, ready for the oven

Set the bread pudding on the center rack of the oven, and bake until the pudding is just set in the center, a deep golden brown, and starting to rise up the side of the baking dish, 45-55 minutes.

Bake until set, and a rich golden brown

Allow to cool until set, but serve while still warm, with brandied whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.  Indulge, and enjoy!

Cinnamon Variation:

Omit the vanilla beans from the cream mixture.  After whisking the cream into the egg mixture, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Instead of vanilla sugar, mix 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and sprinkle over the pudding before baking.


*Don’t discard your vanilla beans!  Even after they’ve been scraped, they still have a lot of flavor left.  After the beans are scraped, you can make your own vanilla sugar by placing the split beans into 2 cups of granulated sugar.  Place the sugar into an airtight jar, and let it sit for 2 weeks before using.  Vanilla sugar can be used in place of granulated sugar in many desserts to add a little extra flavor.