“In moments of considerable strain, I tend to take to bread-and-butter pudding. There is something about the blandness of soggy bread, the crispness of the golden outer crust and the unadulterated pleasure of a lightly set custard that makes the world seem a better place to live.” Clement Freud, food-writer, grandson of Sigmund Freud
Bread is called the “staff of life,” as it has sustained hungry humans for thousands of years. What a wonderful creation bread is; so good that nearly everyone loves it. People on diets wouldn't mourn if, say, asparagus became a “must-not-eat food.” But take away their bread, and they lapse into a discouraged state.
Bread is not only delicious, but also inexpensive, which helps parents on a budget fill the bellies of hungry children. It’s satisfying, it smells wonderful when it’s baking, and it is easily used as an ingredient in many of our favorite foods, like Thanksgiving dressing or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
When I was a child, my grandmother loved taking mom, my sister and me to the “bread store” in Panama City. It was a day-old bakery outlet, and it made buying bread even more economical. Grammy was frugal, so she’d buy several loaves to keep in her freezer, which I guess made her feel secure, having lived in an orphanage as a child and then living through the Great Depression as a young woman. Having bread in the freezer was security to her.
“All sorrows are less with bread…” Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
We children liked the bread store because there were things like Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs and little fruit pies there. Mom liked buying some of those to put into our school lunch boxes. We didn’t care that they were a little stale by the time Thursday rolled around. We were just happy that there was a cute little cupcake in there waiting for us at lunchtime.
Now that I’m an adult, I have to say I really don’t get into those kinds of snack cakes anymore. They’re just a little on the waxy side for me, and I would just as soon do without something sweet as eat one. But there is still something special about driving by a bread store, remembering ourselves as kids with Grammy and Mom filling up a bag or two with bread and treats from the shelves.
I know that bread is usually thought of as something savory, to go alongside bacon and eggs, or sprinkled with garlic and butter for enjoying with a pasta dinner. But let’s not forget the dessert that bread makes outstanding, taking on a starring role: bread pudding!
My family never made bread pudding, so I never really thought much about that dessert when I saw it on menus. However, ten years or so ago, my mother-in-law and I were having dinner at a local restaurant, and she encouraged me to try the bread pudding with whiskey sauce. “Best bread pudding I’ve ever had,” she assured me.
I ordered it, and she was right on the money. That dessert was creamy, warm, and decadent. I was only able to eat a few bites, as it was so rich, which I deeply regretted.
Some time later my husband and I went to a restaurant called Seth’s, a small place with seafood and steaks on the menu, and we heard people raving about Seth’s bread pudding. We decided to order one to split. Another victory for the dessert world; his bread pudding was a thinner concoction than the first I’d tried, and was studded with white chocolate chips and drizzled with a caramel sauce. Heavenly. When we went back another night, months later, we were so ready for that bread pudding that we ordered it first, afraid after our dinner we’d be too full to eat any. It was just that good.
Well, I’ve learned to make bread pudding now, myself, and have found it’s even fun and simple to make in a slow cooker. This frees up your oven space during the holidays, which is a real benefit! It’s delicious with a cup of coffee in the morning, or when sitting by a fire at night when you’re ready for something sweet to share. It can also be doubled if you have a large enough slow cooker!
I hope you enjoy this simple, warm dessert.
White Chocolate-Pecan Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Drizzle
(Makes about six servings)
1/2 loaf stale French bread, cubed or torn into bite-sized pieces
2/3 cup chopped or halved pecans
2/3 cup white chocolate chips
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups half and half
1 stick of salted butter, melted
Jar of butterscotch ice cream topping
Butter the inside of your slow cooker, and then place the bread, pecans, and white chocolate chips in it. (Tip: Using a slow-cooker liner is even better than buttering, helping make clean-up easy)
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, and half and half until sugar dissolves completely.
Pour the liquid mixture over the bread in the slow cooker. Cover and allow to cook on low until a knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean, about three hours.
Serve while warm, drizzled with a tablespoon of butterscotch syrup. You can use any flavor syrup you prefer, such as caramel or chocolate, of course.
This second recipe, shared with me by my friend, Chef David Wallace, always works perfectly and utilizes a minimal number of ingredients. Using eggnog eliminates the need for flavorings and spices and makes it a perfect choice for a holiday dessert.
Eggnog bread pudding
1/2 loaf French bread (cut into 1 inch cubes)
3 whole eggs
1 cup eggnog
1 cup Half n Half creamer (or you can substitute whole milk)
Before you start, in a saucepan, melt 1 stick butter, add 1 cup brown sugar, and cook while stirring until well incorporated. About one minute.
Use some non-stick cooking spray on the inside of a 2-quart baking dish. Then pour the butter/brown sugar mixture into the baking dish and allow to spread across the bottom.
In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the eggnog and Half n Half creamer (or whole milk).
Mix well, then add cubed bread. Gently toss all, coating all bread cubes. As an optional Christmas touch, add 1/2 cup of dried cranberries and a 1/2 cup of chopped or whole pecans. Pour bread mixture over top of brown sugar mixture and evenly level all.
Allow dish to remain in the fridge until approximately an hour before serving, or cook immediately. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. The pudding should puff up and be lightly brown on top.
Lightly dust with powdered sugar. Serve with whipped cream.
The butter/brown sugar mixture, will turn to caramel sauce and prevent the pudding from sticking to the bottom of the dish. It’s so good, and I think it’d make a perfect addition to your holiday table.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com, and she’d love to hear about your own favorite recipes via email at Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.