I know pumpkin pie is all the rage this time of year, but I just can’t hang with it.
It’s too…moist. It gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s coat-your-throat, mush-around-your mouth, make-it-hard-to-swallow goop. The flavor is a yes, but the texture is a big fat no.
This opinion makes me a bit of an outlier at most Thanksgiving dinners, and to be honest, I wish I liked pumpkin pie. I’m a conformist like that. But I’ve tried for years, and it’s just not happening.
You know what I DO like, though? Bread pudding. (And no, I don’t know why I love stale bread soaked in milk, but a perfectly respectable pumpkin pie is a thumbs down. The heart wants what it wants.)
So in this, the season of pumpkin everything, I knew I had to pumpkin-ify some bread pudding for our holiday table. And because everything is better with more butter and sugar, I added a crunchy praline topping, chock-full of brown sugar and toasted pecans.
The result is a dessert that’s homey and warm and comforting. The rich flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and molasses should satisfy even the most strident pumpkin pie lover, but the textural contrasts in the bread pudding, and the crunchy praline topping, should satisfy the pumpkin pie haters. (ie, me!)
The biggest problem with bread pudding, especially vaguely orange, slightly goopy bread pudding like this one, is that it is a photographic nightmare. Anyone care for dirt clods on a plate?
Fortunately, I made a batch of vanilla bean crème anglaise to go with the bread pudding, and crème anglaise can cover many, many sins. As they might say on a terrible Lifetime makeover show, crème anglaise helps this bread pudding go from drab…
…to fab! [Yeah, I’m rolling my eyes at myself, too.]
If you’re not familiar with crème anglaise, it’s a cooked custard made from milk/cream, egg yolks, and sugar. It’s actually the start of many ice cream recipes, before the ice cream is frozen and churned. (And thus, an easy trick to get cheater’s crème anglaise is to melt some high-quality ice cream and serve it as a sauce!)
My friend recently came back from Madagascar and gifted me the most plump, juicy, fragrant vanilla beans I’ve ever seen, so I’ve been putting vanilla beans in everything. They’re marvelous in this crème anglaise and give the otherwise-unassuming custard a fruity, floral punch of flavor.
The crème anglaise is definitely optional, but much like pumpkin pie, I think this pumpkin bread pudding is improved with a little something on top—maybe some whipped cream, or crème fraiche, or slightly melty ice cream. Or all of the above! After all, this is the season of excess. Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
Pumpkin Praline Bread Pudding
For the bread pudding:
1 lb challah, cut into small cubes
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 1/3 cup milk (any fat percentage is fine)
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (can use more or less to taste)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
For the praline topping:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
3 oz (6 tbsp) cold butter, cubed
1 cup toasted, coarsely chopped pecans
Place the cubed bread on a baking sheet. Toast it in a 350 F oven for about 10-12 minutes, stirring every 3 or 4 minutes so that it doesn’t burn. The bread should start to take on a golden color, but shouldn’t be dark and hard—you don’t want to make croutons! Let the bread cool completely.
In the bowl of a large stand mixer, beat the eggs on medium-low speed with the whisk attachment. Once the eggs are well-mixed, add all of the remaining bread pudding ingredients (milk through salt).
Spray a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Add the toasted bread cubes to the dish, then pour the liquid over the top. Let the bread sit out on the counter for about 20 minutes, and periodically toss the cubes with your hands to make sure they get moistened equally.
After 20 minutes, cover the dish and refrigerate the bread to let it continue to soak up the wet mixture. I usually make mine in the evening and refrigerate it overnight, but a 2 hour soaking should be plenty if you want to make it the same day. Just make sure that your bread has absorbed most of the liquid and the pieces are very soft, but still holding their shape.
To make the praline topping, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cold butter cubes and process in quick bursts until it’s mixed into the dry ingredients and starts clumping together. Add the pecans and pulse a few more times to mix them in. Refrigerate the topping until you’re ready to bake the pudding.
Once the bread is properly soaked, preheat the oven to 350 F. Scatter about a cup of the praline topping over the top of the bread, and toss it with your hands to work down into the middle of the pudding. Scatter the remaining praline topping all over the top of the bread pudding, covering it evenly.
Place the pudding on a foil-covered baking sheet, in case of drips. Bake it for 20 minutes, then cover it with foil and bake it for an additional 15-20 minutes. It is done when it’s puffed, browned on top, and just barely jiggles when tapped.
Remove the pudding from the oven and let it cool until it’s warm but not hot. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
Combine the milk and heavy cream in a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and run the back of the knife down the center of the bean, scraping out the seeds. Add the seeds and the scraped pod to the milk and cream. Place the pan over medium heat just until the dairy starts to simmer. Cover the pan and remove it from the heat. Let it sit for 30 minutes to infuse the milk and cream with vanilla flavor.
While you wait, whisk together the yolks and sugar in a medium bowl.
After 30 minutes, remove the cover from the pan and return it to medium heat until it simmers. Start whisking the egg yolks and pour a little of the hot milk into the yolks, whisking all the while. Continue to whisk and pour in hot milk until you’ve poured in about a quarter of the hot milk. Then, begin whisking the milk in the pan, and pour the yolk mixture into the pan as you whisk. This process is called tempering, and it prevents the hot milk from cooking the egg yolks.
Return the pan to the heat and cook it, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Don’t let it boil! Remove the pan from the heat, and pour the crème anglaise through a wire mesh strainer into a bowl or container. Press a layer of cling wrap on top and chill it until you’re ready to use it.
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