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How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe

By • March 3, 2014 • 56 Comments

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: If you have bread and a touch of creativity, you're only a hop, a skip, and a jump away from bread pudding -- no recipe required.

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Bread pudding is a dessert born of desperation.

What was once a way to use up leftover odds and ends of stale bread has turned into a sought-after comforting sweet. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't like bread pudding -- and equally hard-pressed to find two people who like it exactly the same way.

When you fuse those two defining characteristics -- endless versatility and frugal adaptability -- bread pudding truly is the ultimate dessert. It's also 99% guaranteed that you have all the ingredients to make it right now, without a recipe. Go to whatever place you keep your bread and peek in -- what do you see? A luscious loaf of brioche? Some dried-out slices of Wonder Bread? A few croissants (you should be so lucky)? As long as you have some sort of bread-like product, plus eggs, sugar, and milk, you have bread pudding.

How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe on Food52

How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe

1. If your chosen bread (or bread-like object) is still fresh, don't fret -- you can still use it as-is. However, if you want maximum absorption powers, feel free to cheat time and stale it yourself. When slicing your bread, aim for uniform size. These chunks will be the building blocks of your pudding, so you want them to cook and absorb evenly.

How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe on Food52

More: Got more stale bread than you know what to do with? Here are some inventive ways to use it.

2. Next, mix up the binder: the glue that unites, and flavors, your bread. And as with all (all right, most) good binders, we start with eggs. For a full loaf of bread, I go with 5 to 6 eggs; there's no hard-and-fast measurement here, you just have to use your own judgment. Don't worry too much about this step -- the bread will absorb most of the liquid you give it, and whatever's left at the end you'll just pour over the top.

How to Make Bread Pudding on Food52

3. Next comes the sweetener. I opted for Plain Jane white granulated sugar, but feel free to take a walk on the wild side and sub in molasses, brown sugar, or maple syrup. For 6 eggs, I used one cup of sugar, but the amount depends completely on your tastes.

How to Make Bread Pudding on Food52

4. Next, add in your milk-like liquid. You really shouldn't use anything with less fat than whole milk. You're already making bread pudding, for goodness sake, you might as well do it right. If you want to up the indulgence factor, feel free to swap out half the milk for heavy cream. If you want to be everyone in the entire world's best friend, switch out some of the milk for melted ice cream. If you're avoiding dairy, almond and soy milks are also fine substitutes.

You want the amount of milk-like liquid to be about equal to the amount of beaten eggs. If you want your bread pudding to have a more custard-like texture, add in less milk. If you prefer it gooey, add in a bit more. 

How to Make Bread Pudding without a Recipe on Food52

5. Now comes the really fun part -- that's right, we're talking mix ins! Bread pudding is a very personal thing, and you must figure out which flavors and textures most speak to you. For now, I can only tell you how I do bread pudding my way.

To start, I added in about a shot's worth of bourbon -- that way you sense a caramelized, rich flavor in the background of each bite, but don't actually detect the booze itself. If you're not a bourbon fan, or are, God forbid, OUT OF BOURBON, Grand Marnier or dark rum are also good options. Sweet, rich liquors will play well with bread pudding -- stay away of anything clear or floral.

How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe on Food52

More: While you've still got the bourbon out, mix up one of these -- it's five o'clock somewhere.

6. At this point you could toss in the grated zest of an orange, a teaspoon of vanilla, a splash of almond extract, or a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg, if that's your speed. Feel free to try out any flavor combination that strikes your fancy, but as with many of the finer things in life, less is more. Stick to a few key flavors that work well together, and leave it at that. 

But before you do, don't forget a little touch of salt -- about a teaspoon's worth. This will add just enough contrast to your bread pudding to let the sweetness really shine, and will keep it from being too cloying. Never. Skip. The Salt.

How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe on Food52

7. Now it's time for everybody to get to know each other. Pour your wet ingredients evenly over the bread, then toss to make sure everybody gets their fair share. If it seems like too much liquid for the bread to handle, don't worry -- you can adjust later.

How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe on Food52

8. Now's time to add your "chunks." If you're not an ice cream or cookie chunk person, you will not be a bread pudding chunk person either. This is all right -- skip this step, and continue with your chunk-less existence. If you're a raisin person (who are you?!?!?), add some in. If you're a nut (pun intended), throw some of those too. If you, like me, think most things in life would be improved with a good dose of chocolate chunks, you know what to do.

Leave your bread mixture alone for 30 minutes so that the liquid has time to absorb and everybody starts to get along. In the meantime, heat the oven to 350° F.

How to Make Bread Pudding without a Recipe on Food52  

9. Next, butter your pan. Yes, butter -- none of this non-stick spray nonsense. Now comes a super-cool trick: sprinkle your buttered pan with some sugar. When you bake your bread pudding, the bottom will caramelize into a delicious, sticky crust. If you want more of a crunchy bottom à la lasagna, stick your sugared pan in the preheated oven for a few minutes until the sugar melts and begins to turn brown. Once this happens, take it out and pour in your bread mixture. If there's an excess of liquid leftover, pour it over the top of the bread -- it'll turn into custard, which is never a bad thing.

How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe on Food52

10. Bake your bread pudding until, when you pull it apart slightly with a fork, no liquid comes out. This should take about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size, but start checking it after 20 minutes. If the bread browns too much, cover the pudding with tin foil and continue baking.

How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe on Food52

Serve warm or at room temperature. Bread pudding is extra delicious when doused with crème anglaise, or the poor man's version: melted vanilla ice cream. May I mention that leftovers cold from the fridge are also an excellent breakfast?

Bread Pudding without a Recipe on Food52

How do you do bread pudding? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

We're looking for contributors! Email [email protected] and tell us the dish you could make in your sleep, without a recipe. Check out what we've already covered.

Photos by James Ransom

Jump to Comments (56)

Tags: baking, how to & diy, bread pudding, stale bread, leftovers, dessert, winter, everyday cooking

Comments (56)

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about 1 month ago Marjolein de Sain

Nice and saved!

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about 1 month ago Robin Jacobs

Excellent! Thank you!!!

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about 1 month ago Linda Burkhart

I love to use sweet rolls with fruit in the center. If I don't have any on hand I put a few spoonfuls of boysenberry or blueberry jam throughout the pudding before baking it. Love your idea of letting the mixture "sit" before baking it.

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3 months ago cathern

I just made a wonderful bread pudding- with rhubarb in it! And cinnamon and nutmeg

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3 months ago Vivian Henoch

Love the added little touches, like sugar on the bottom of the pan. I don't do bread pudding with a recipe, but now I'll keep your non-recipe in mind.

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4 months ago mary

First time at this site. Am I missing something? I can't email the recipe to myself to save it???

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4 months ago laurenlocally

Lauren is Food52's Director of Partnerships.

Hi Mary. You can email it to yourself at the top right of the article. There is a little grey mail/envelope button. Hope this helps.

Stringio

5 months ago nolu

Never made bread pudding before I saw this recipe. Made it twice in the past two weeks. First time with Baltic bread and 3 eggs; second time with egg bread and 6 eggs. Both times with yogurt as the fat (love that this recipe says any fat you like!). Both times it was eggy, sweet, custardy, satisfying dessert, breakfast, treat. Great recipe! Thanks so much for posting it.

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5 months ago Christina @ Christina's Cucina

This is how I make my bread puddings, too, except I prefer to keep the booze in the sauce which I pour over the top, so you can actually taste it. http://www.christinascucina...

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5 months ago Danny Dosier

Same here. I like to use Frangelico liquor in my caramel sauce, just lightly drizzled over the top. Combined with the freshly made caramel sauce it adds a great toasty hazelnut flavor.

Stringio

5 months ago Madelaine Linebarger

I followed above recipe adding a splash of almond extract, rum extract and vanilla extract. Half a up of white sugar and a half cup of brown sugar, pecans and dried cranberries. Melted butter in bottom of baking dish added some brown sugar popped it in the oven, then added my bread pudding and baked. Wonderful non-recipe!

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

Isn't that cloyingly sweet?

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5 months ago cynthia

I do the same no recipe with savory bread pudding. I've added sauteed wild mushrooms, sausage, onion, ementhaler cheese. And I cooked in tiny cupcake pan - delicious

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4 months ago Honeylishuss

Wow! That's a brilliant idea. I'm going to try that

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5 months ago Rebecca

I like to make pudding with panettone or fruit cake usually purchased on sale after Christmas. Looking forward to experimenting with savory versions of this formula, using up this and that from the fridge and pantry. The only thing as much fun as cooking without a recipe is knitting without a pattern!

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5 months ago Marnie Schwatz

I read “How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe” & decided it would work as a Strata as well. I knew I was going to make a strata with asparagus and I had found an interesting recipe in Cooking Light, March, 2014.
So, I took 8 leftover pumpernickel bagels and used your quick stale bread directions. I mixed the dried bagel pieces with a full “quart” of egg substitute (it was about to expire and said it was equal to 20 large eggs) and an equal amount of 1% milk. I let it sit in the fridge for about 1 hour.
I tripled the asparagus recipe (below). I only had Hungarian Paprika so I added @ 1 Tb Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Hot Pepper Sauce. I was worried about having enough cheese but I stuck with the amounts given. After the veggies were done, I let them cool a bit, added about ¾ of the cheese to the egg/bread mixture and then slowly added the veggies. I used spray Canola Oil on a 7 X 11 glass dish, poured the mixture into it, sprinkled about ¼ of the cheese on top, put the dish on a baking sheet as it was really full and baked it at 350.
I started checking at 30 min as my oven runs a bit cool and it was a lot of food. I also didn’t have a sense of how much you had made in the recipe but I had so much. It would be perfect for a Pot-Luck as it would easily feed 8 as a regular meal with a salad. It took 1 hr 20 min to set.
I let it sit 10 min. There was not too much custard, the bread on top was very crunchy and if I had had to keep it in the oven longer, I would have covered it with foil. The consistency/texture excellent and the dish was tasty. The asparagus side must be very good. I would prefer more cheese, personally.

Red Pepper & Manchego Cheese Asparagus (These are the amounts I used which would serve 12)
Ingr ¾ tsp Hungarian Paprika
4 tsp canola oil ¾ tsp fresh ground black pepper
3# trimmed asparagus ½ tsp Kosher Salt
3 C thinly sliced red, yellow, 3.5 oz shaved Manchego Cheese
& orange bell pepper
Prep
1) Heat lrg skill over med-hi. + oil; swirl to coat. + asp; cook 5 min; stir occa.
2) + pep, pap, P & S; cook 2 min.

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5 months ago Donna C.

Auto correct drives me crazy sometimes. The comment below should have read...
Chop a small handful of dried apricots and soak in hot water for 5 mins.
Sorry about that,

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5 months ago Donna C.

I grew up with my Gramma's bread pudding, loved it. I have my own recipe that my family enjoys. I spread orange marmalade on one side of sliced bread, usually baguette, chop a small handful of and soak in hot water for 5 minutes, then drain and blot with paper towel.
Arrange slices of bread, in buttered dish overlapping slightly, add the milk, egg, sugar mixture to which has been added some Mexican vanilla. Let sit for 30 minutes, top with the chopped apricots and pop it in the oven for 35 to 45 mins...delish! Wonderful for a ladies luncheon.

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5 months ago Carolyn

Gonna try your recipe, Donna. It sounds wonderful with the chopped apricots. I am on a 'seafood diet'....everything I 'see' I want to cook or bake!

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5 months ago smk1023

I'm Jamaican, so I always have raisins soaked in rum in a large jar in my pantry. I use it for things like bread pudding. Try it, you'll love it!

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5 months ago maryaskew

I am firmly pro-raisin, pro-drained canned fruit and real vanilla.

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5 months ago Carolyn

Agreed! I have never added the canned fruit but certainly good raisins! Yum! I'm gonna try that fruit idea.

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5 months ago Carolyn

The only thing I would do differently is to add a quality pure vanilla! Yum! I am in South Texas, fortunate to purchase a delicious vanilla flavoring from Mexico. My mother taught her 6 daughters to cook and bake with 'a good' vanilla in just about everything! She was from Alabama so I learned a great deal of Southern style culinary tricks cooking without a recipe. I rarely saw Mama using a cookbook or a recipe unless it was handwritten from one of her relatives or friends. Home made bread pudding using the leftover stale 'heels' of bread loaves was a welcome dessert in our large family.

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5 months ago Danny Dosier

Too true. I failed to notice that they hadn't added any vanilla. Personally I like to use Madagascar pure vanilla extract or the vanilla paste, that stuff is amazing!

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4 months ago Honeylishuss

What about vanilla bean? That's what we use in Australia. Just cut the fresh bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds.

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4 months ago Danny Dosier

I love using whole vanilla bean seeds but I tend to reserve that for things where it will have a chance to shine like in my mascarpone cheesecake. :)

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5 months ago southernlady

Apples and pecans in the pudding and a drizzle of caramel on top - comfort food heaven.
Had a death by chocolate version at a cooking class in N'Awlins - chocolate milk, Cocoa Krispies and M&Ms in the pudding and hot fudge on top.
Agree that savory versions can be great - a riff on dressing.

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

That's a LOT of sugar.

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5 months ago the totally not-foolish pucko

Y'know, you don't have to make it *sweet* either- you add onions and cheese and random veggies and it's a whole other thing.

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

That sounds like a great idea.

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5 months ago Danny Dosier

I use a bit of cardamom, a touch of good cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg for seasoning. Then I grate the skin of an orange and add that along with some dark and golden raisins that I soak overnight in rum. Also I always make a simple caramel sauce with your choice of liquor added and top it off with a light sprinkling of confectioners sugar. Buon appetito!

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

Confectioners sugar would make it too sweet for me.

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5 months ago Danny Dosier

I usually just tap the shaker one time over the piece, just to give it a bit of presentation the way it contrasts floating there on the drizzled caramel sauce; which is also no more than a teaspoon zigzagged across the pudding. ;)

Jan_1

5 months ago Jennie

Heaven would be a guy that made me bread pudding!

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5 months ago Danny Dosier

Jennie, it would seem you have found heaven, or at least the cloud next door. It would be my pleasure to bake you some bread pudding. PM me an address to send it to and I'll bake and ship it to you this weekend. Cheers!

Jan_1

5 months ago Jennie

Just the offer is enough! I appreciate your generosity, but I wouldn't ask you to do that... great Capt. Jack look btw!

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5 months ago Danny Dosier

Not a problem at all. I'll be making myself a batch this weekend, so a second batch wouldn't have been an issue. I thank you kindly my dear. *tips hat* :)

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4 months ago Honeylishuss

THAT sounds amazing

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4 months ago Honeylishuss

OMG

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4 months ago Danny Dosier

Thank you very much Honeylishuss.