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APPLE CHALLAH BREAD PUDDING
1 small loaf challah, trimmed of crusts and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 7-8 cups)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise into 2 pieces
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs, plus 4 large egg yolks
2 tart apples, peeled and cut into wedges
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional butter for greasing pan
1 cup toffee chips (optional)
To make the custard, add cream, milk, and vanilla bean to heavy-bottomed saucepan, and heat until just steaming. In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the sugar, whole eggs, and yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly add hot cream and milk to the egg mixture. Strain custard through a fine sieve into a large clean bowl and allow to cool completely. Add challah cubes to custard and let them soak at least 2 hours or up to twelve hours.
In a heavy medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add apples and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Cook, stirring, until apples are softened and just golden.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter an 8x12-inch glass baking dish. Pour bread mixture into prepared dish. Scatter apples on top, along with toffee chips, if using. Lightly butter one side of a foil sheet and cover pudding, buttered-side down. Set baking dish into a larger pan and place on oven rack. Pour enough hot water into the larger pan to reach two-thirds of the way up the sides of the pudding pan. Bake 30 minutes, rotate pan, and bake 20 minutes more. Remove foil and continue baking, uncovered, 10 - 15 minutes more, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or room temperature.
Variation: For bread pudding cake, generously butter a round 3-quart glass baking dish (at least 3 inches deep). Arrange sauteed apple wedges in a decorative manner (a fan around the center is nice) in bottom of dish. If using toffee chips, stir them into pudding. Spoon pudding into prepared dish, being careful not to disturb the apple design. Press down, packing pudding into dish.
Bake in a hot water bath, as above. Remove from oven and allow to partially cool before unmolding. To unmold, invert still-warm cake onto serving plate and lift up baking dish. If the pudding does not come out easily, run a thin blade around sides and invert again.
Yield: 10-12 servings