Using up bread that threatens to become stale is a common practice in economical households. Culinary legend says that the French invented the idea of soaking their sliced bread in eggs and milk and sauteing it, hence the name French toast.
But in another day-old bread situation, the custard solution was used to create Bread Pudding. This dish has become a major comfort food in the U. S. and there are many iterations of it, with and without popular ingredients like spices.
As I was growing up in Guam, in the western Pacific ocean community of many islands, large and small, the local version of Bread Pudding was a very tight, heavy mixture of much bread and little custard. The Chamorro people of Guam add raisins to their mix and cut it into bars. This was quite a contrast to the creamy mixture at my house that my mother made. Bernice Needham made her pudding much like a typical pudding that might be made without bread. It was much softer and had a higher custard content.
I still make my mother's Bread Pudding, but if I want to add raisins I add golden ones, simply because I dislike the look of black raisins in such recipes. That means I also add golden raisins to rice pudding, when I make it.
I also go dairy-free, and if you want a new taste sensation, try using coconut milk in your bread pudding instead of dairy milk. And if you would prefer less of a different taste overtone, almond milk will work as well. I advise parents to introduce their children to such things as almond, coconut and soy milks for several reasons.
The first reason is that a continued heavy exposure to dairy milk will produce that pesky dairy allergy, which is exactly what I did to myself. Over years of milk, cheese and ice cream, I gradually acquired an intolerance to milk protein. So your children can avoid that unfortunate outcome if you tone down the milk. And as for the calcium claims made by dairy milk, the milk alternatives contain equal or better percentages.
Another reason to lighten up on dairy products is that you will be lightening up on calories as well. Get used to alternatives to milk and you can cut the calories in your food, which can be nothing but good.
Finally, you may wonder what was the problem with day-old bread in the first place. We say that now because our supermarket bread is loaded with preservative chemicals that render it about as fresh the second day as it was on the day we bought it. But this is not always the case. If you make your own bread, you will see the drying and crisping of the slices, not in a good way, after only one day. And by the way, even though I normally eat whole-grain bread, I do recommend typical white bread for Bread Pudding.
My son and his wife like to experiment with bread pudding, so I recently sent them this recipe to play around with. It is as close as I can come to my mother's recipe.
CLASSIC BREAD PUDDING
6 slices organically-baked day-old bread
2 tablespoons organic butter, melted
1/2 cup organic golden raisins (optional)
4 large organic eggs, at room temperature, separated into yolks and whites
2 cups organic milk, coconut milk or almond milk
3/4 cup granulated organic sugar
1 teaspoon ground organic cinnamon
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Break the bread into small pieces in the baking pan. Drizzle the melted butter over the bread. If desired, sprinkle with the golden raisins.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Beat well, until the milk and eggs are thoroughly mixed. Pour over the bread, and lightly push the whole thing down with a fork until the bread is covered and soaking up the custard mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
While the pudding is in the oven, transfer the egg whites to a mixing bowl and whip them with 1 Tablespoon of sugar until they are very stiff, as in a meringue topping.
When the timer goes off, remove the pudding from the oven and set it on the stove top. Cover it with the meringue and place it back in the oven for 15 minutes, until the meringue is slightly golden and fully cooked. Remove it from the oven and let it cool to lukewarm before serving.
When you spread the meringue over the pudding, make sure it touches the pan around the edges. This will prevent it from shrinking into the center of the pudding--it's an old trick.
Another little thing to know is to use superfine sugar for the meringue. It melts faster and the meringue will be a bit sweeter because the superfine granules will compress into the Tablespoon measure, and you get a bit more.
Check out a mighty fancy bread pudding in the video I attached, by the way!