Friday, October 31, 2014
Sure, you can carve a pumpkin for Halloween and toast its seeds up all nice for a healthy snack or salad topping. But a pumpkin is far more than a decoration, and its orange flesh rich in nutrients like alpha- and beta-carotene and soluble fiber can be enjoyed in a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Think: Thai pumpkin soup with cashews, coconut, and curry; spinach salad with pomegranates and pepitas; and pumpkin bread with dark chocolate chunks and pecans.
And then there’s this sexy little number, a dessert so divine it will make a bread pudding lover out of you, just as it did me.
You see, I used to loathe bread pudding before I discovered this recipe and made it my own. I was sadly reminded of the reason for my detest last Friday night when my husband and I ordered one, thinking it would be like this plate of lusciousness. Instead, it was a starchy hunk of tasteless white bread that I scowled at in disapproval.
So I immediately baked up my unbelievably moist pumpkin bread pudding with sticky caramel and dreamy whipped cream to supplant that horrid food memory and bring back the love.
And now I share it with you.
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
- 2 cups half and half
- 2 cups puréed fresh pumpkin (or canned with no added salt or seasonings)
- 1 cup packed Muscovado sugar (or dark brown)
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 10 cups whole grain bread, cut into 1/2 -3/4 inch cubes
- 1/2 cup raisins (I prefer golden)
Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce
- 1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar, packed (or light brown)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon bourbon (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for teetotalers)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Roast pumpkin as directed in this short cooking video here. When cool, remove the flesh from the skin (it should pull away easily if it is adequately cooked) and purée in a food processor until smooth. Measure out 2 cups and save the rest for another purpose; it freezes beautifully.
Make pudding. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl then add half and half, pumpkin, sugar, spices, and vanilla extract, whisking fully until blended. (You can use a hand beater if you prefer, though it’s really not necessary.) Gently fold in the bread and raisins until the cubes are saturated with the custard. Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased glass or porcelain baking dish; let stand 15 minutes. Custard should be largely absorbed with some liquid remaining. Bake until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
Prepare caramel. Heat sugar and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts, then whisk until fully combined. Add bourbon and salt and stir until smooth. Whisk in cream until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Taste—don’t burn your tongue!—and add more salt and/or hourbon as desired. Sauce will thicken as it cools and can be reheated over low heat when ready to serve the pudding.
Whip cream. Freshly whipped cream is a decadent addition to this dessert, a light yet velvety richness that perfectly complements the pudding and caramel. I’m going to go ahead and say it’s necessary. Simply beat 1 cup of heavy cream and 1 teaspoon vanilla until soft peaks form.
Serve. Drizzle caramel sauce on a plate creatively then top with a serving of pudding and dollop of whipped cream; a sprinkle of cinnamon here or there is optional. (See three additional plating ideas here.)
Note.This is a big recipe that serves about 8-10 people, ideal for a dinner party or holiday; leftovers can be frozen for another occasion. Or halve the ingredients for a recipe that serves 4.
Truth be told, I first wrote about pumpkin bread pudding a couple of years ago, and the original story and a few good photos are here. But that post was mostly a story, and I’ve since gotten better about writing up my recipes. And—trust me—this one you need to try.
No, the whole grain bread and fresh pumpkin doesn’t make my recipe healthy, of course, in light of all that cream and sugar. Come on now. Yet it gives me such joy swapping whole grain bread for highly refined white with no deleterious impact on flavor. I’ve made this dessert for enough guests at this point to say with conviction that no one will be the wiser. Indeed, the nuttiness of a high-quality whole grain bread melds beautifully with the rich fall flavors of the dish.
While pumpkin bread pudding isn’t a show stopper in appearance, big brownish lump that it is, do not let looks deceive: it’s the ménages-à-trois of the moist pudding together with the salted caramel and soft cream that make this one of the most sumptuous autumn desserts out there.