Well-executed bread pudding is such an exceptionally delicious and comforting dessert. I've always loved the combination of eggy custard, bread, cinnamon and sugar, all warmed together into a gooey mess of yum. And, as such, I've always found it distressing to come across bad bread pudding because really, how hard is it to keep it moist and avoid white chocolate?! ;)
My mom often made bread pudding topped with a whisky sauce which is basically just good on top of good. These are my takes on her old recipes: she never added apples and her whiskey sauce isn't caramelly like mine, but both are fragrant, dense yet light, moist and absolutely wonderful. —em-i-lis
Test Kitchen Notes
The best thing about this bread pudding is the texture. Even after a few days of leftovers, it’s incredibly moist and eggy with a great vanilla flavor. I even ate it for breakfast! The apples and raisins round it out and go wonderfully with the caramel whiskey sauce. I liked the way the whiskey toned down the sweetness of the caramel sauce. A heads up: this definitely on the sweet side, but the vanilla underscored the whole dish and its complexity and richness was wonderful. —LucyS
one 8.5 x 13" casserole, or the like
For the bread pudding
butter, plus a bit more for buttering the casserole dish
apples, peeled if you like, chopped (use a nice tart one like Winesap)
eggs, lightly beaten
unrefined, granulated sugar
baguette, preferably at least a day old, torn into chunks
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a 2 quart saucepan set over medium heat, pour the milk. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape its beans into the milk. After you've got the bean pod pretty well stripped, add both halves to the milk too. Heat gently until the milk measures about 140°F; remove from heat and let steep until you're ready to use it.
In a 10 inch skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. When melted, reduce the heat to medium and add the apples and cinnamon, tossing to combine everything well. Cook a few minutes, until the apples have started to soften and have taken on a nice buttery glow. Remove from heat and set aside.
Put the lightly beaten eggs in a large mixing bowl and whisk them together with both sugars and the vanilla extract. Stir in the raisins and toss in the baguette chunks. Stir in the apples and all juices from the skillet. Remove the vanilla bean pods from the warm milk, and reserve them for another use. Pour the warm vanilla milk over the bread mixture, stir everything gently to combine and let sit for about 10 minutes.
Pour the bread pudding mixture into the prepared casserole dish and slide into the oven. Bake for one hour or until golden brown. If the top seems to be browning too early, cover with foil until the last ten minutes of cook time.
For the caramel whiskey sauce
In a small saucepan (1 1/2 or 2 quart), put the sugar and water. Set over medium-high heat and swirl gently a few times, until the sugar starts to melt. At this point, just leave it alone, watching carefully, until it turns a deep amber color, 6-10 minutes.
Remove the pot from heat, and stir in the butter and cream; it will bubble up. Don't worry, just stir. If some of the caramel hardens, return the pot to the burner and stir until the caramel melts again. In either case, once the butter has melted and the cream is all incorporated, heat the caramel until it's warmed through and thickening.
Pour into a glass vessel and stir in the vanilla, whiskey and kosher salt.
When the bread pudding is done, remove from the oven and let rest for about 10-15 minutes. Spoon into bowls and top with some caramel sauce. Both the bread pudding and sauce reheat well, so feel free to make this in advance.