There’s no doubt about it. Bread pudding is the ultimate classic comfort food. It’s part monkey bread, part custard, and just as cozy as a dessert can possibly be. (Just like these recipes!) If you were growing up in the 1980s, you may have indulged in the ooey-gooey pudding as it oozed into popularity—but bread pudding has been cooked in home kitchens for much, much longer.
To give you a picture, here’s an excerpt from Richard Sax’s cookbook Classic Home Desserts:
How to Make Yr Custard Puddinge
Take a stale manchett [light French bread] and slice it as thinn as a wafer, lay your slices in yr bottome of a deep pewter dish, then take a quarter of a pound of raisons stoned, strow your raisons all about the bottome of your dish, then lay in some pieces of marrow aboutt ye bignesse of a nuttmegg then take a quart of thick creame, it must be very good, sett it overe the fire to boyle and putt in a little mace and nuttmegg, then beat yr yolks of 18 eggs very well, and then let them be strayned…then put in some sugar and your eggs, when your creame is a little cold; stirr all very well together, and putt it over yr fire, stirr in till it is prtty thick..then putt it in your dish…then some pisacho nutts, if your oven is too hott it will make your puddinge whey and not cleare.
Marrow and pewter dishes? It may sound like a bunch of jibber-jabber to you, but that recipe was sourced from the Collection of Medical and Cookery Recipes, a handwritten folio dating to 17th century England. It lays out the antiquated steps for how to make bread pudding. Some historians say people had been making bread pudding for centuries before that recipe was written.
The reason this dessert has been around for centuries? It’s an awesome way to use stale bread.
Thanks to Test Kitchen expert James Schend, you needn’t follow an ancient text or rent a time machine to indulge in this classic dessert. He’s sharing his best tips for how to make bread pudding the old-fashioned way. Read along as we guide you through the easy recipe for best-ever bread pudding—or should we say puddinge?
How to Make Bread Pudding
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2-1/4 cups half-and-half cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
20 dinner rolls (1-1/4 pounds), cut into 1-inch cubes (18 cups)*
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup butter, cubed
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup half-and-half cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
*Test Kitchen tip: Just like home cooks of time past, we agree that day-old bread works great in bread pudding. If you don’t have dinner rolls on hand, choose a sturdier bread that’s slightly stale. It will help absorb the custard better. (This tip works for homemade French toast, too!)
Step 1: Combine the Fixings
Begin by preheating the oven to 350°. While it’s getting toasty, wrangle together the first 10 ingredients to make the custard for your pudding.
Test Kitchen tip: For a silky-smooth consistency, it’s best if the milk, cream and butter are close in temperature. So wait a few minutes before you dump that fresh-from-the-microwave melted butter into the cold dairy.
In a large bowl, whisk together the first 10 ingredients until evenly blended. Toss in the bread and give it a gentle stir. Here the idea is to get the dinner roll cubes thoroughly soaked with the custard mixture.
Test Kitchen tip: Take extra care to beat the egg whites into the yolks before you add the bread. This will keep your custard from turning into scrambled eggs.
Step 2: Soak It
Transfer the ingredients into a baking dish. Make sure the rolls are fully saturated with the custard by gently pressing down on individual bread pieces with a spoon. Like a sponge, the bread will absorb more of the liquid.
Test Kitchen tip: Using dense bread? Let it soak in the custard a little bit longer. Place in the fridge until it’s entirely saturated.
Step 3: Add Sugar and Wait
Next, sprinkle the brown sugar over the pudding. Let the pudding stand about 15 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the bread has softened.
Step 4: Bake!
Pop the bread pudding in the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. The dish will turn golden brown and start to puff. Remove from the oven when a knife poked into the center comes out clean. But don’t leave the kitchen just yet. While the pudding cooks, move on to step 5.
Step 5: Start Your Sauce
The secret to a good bread pudding is in the sauce. It can be a little finicky to get the consistency just right—but follow our lead and you’ll be in great shape. Begin by melting the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.
Test Kitchen tip: If you care to add spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, let them first bloom (read: gently fry them) in the hot butter before adding cream in the next step.
Add in the brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Gradually stir in the cream and bring the liquid to a boil. As soon as you see bubbles start to rapidly rise, turn down the burners so that the sauce is simmering. (You should still see small bubbles gently rising to the surface.) Stir continuously for 15 to 20 minutes. During this time, the sauce will begin to thicken.
Step 6: Add the Final Touch
Once you’ve reached your desired consistency, remove from the stove and add the vanilla, sea salt and baking soda. Stir until combined and drizzle that heavenly goodness onto the bread pudding.
Step 7: Indulge
Your yummy bread pudding is ready! Grab your biggest serving spoon and scoop out a hefty portion while the pudding is still warm. My tip? Add a dollop of homemade whipped cream on top, or better yet, vanilla ice cream.
Saving It for Later?
Let it drop to room temperature, then cover and store in the fridge. When you’re ready to eat, reheat it in the microwave or cut the pudding into pieces and cook on the stovetop. Add a little bit of butter to the pan so that the pudding crisps on each side. The texture is wonderful!
How to Make It Even Better
For an extra boost of flavor, try adding in mix-ins like dried fruit, nuts or chocolate chips just before baking. Here are James’ favorite variations:
- Chocolate-Cherry: Stir in 3/4 cup dried cherries and 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips.
- Apricot-Almond: Stir in 3/4 cup chopped dried apricots and 3/4 cup toasted sliced almonds.
- Cranberry-Walnut: Stir in 3/4 cup dried cranberries and 3/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts.
- Fig-Pistachio: Stir in 3/4 cup chopped dried figs and 3/4 cup toasted pistachios.