Christmas Brunch 2016: Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel

First off, I’m sorry it has taken a little while to get to this post. This delay was caused again by a combination of the holidays, being sick and then being on vacation (more on that bit later). All that has made it pretty difficult to get this post written and out. I really have enjoyed starting this little blog and writing it during this second half of 2015. So to continue my journey with this blog my goal for this year is to at least make three posts a month. I also want to try and let you all know if there won’t be a post that week if at all possible. That all being said I enjoyed this post and the ones to come in the future from our cruise vacation should be a pretty great treat.

So I know I’ve told you all that I enjoy cooking, especially for those that I love. Hubby says I tend to go a little (or a lot) overboard  when we have company to entertain and I know I have no room to argue, particularly when a special occasion (like Christmas) is involved.

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This year hubby’s family was planning to come and stay a night with us and share in some holiday cheer. So I decided to do a couple different breakfast casseroles and a morning bread pudding, in addition to our holiday dinner. Sadly illness has been quite prevalent throughout the family this year, so hubby’s family couldn’t make it and it was just the two of us. However as I had already bought and started prepping a bunch of the food, I decided to make us some special holiday meals anyway.

Despite this year’s Christmas being a good bit quieter (and I must admit lazier) than most holidays we’ve spent together, I alway enjoy getting to hang out with just hubby. I firmly believe that the most important part of the season is those you share it with. I’m lucky that I have some pretty awesome people in my life that I’m lucky enough to call family and get to be with. Hubby is no exception, if anything he is my favorite person to do anything or nothing with. He always seems to bring a lovely calm and joy to my days with him and I’m grateful for the chance to show him I care.

After spending most of Christmas Eve evening cooking a special holiday dinner, I set about to prepping the next morning’s brunch. I am a big fan of the kind of breakfast/brunch dishes you can mostly make the night before, then pop in the oven day of (in your early morning stupor) then wait to enjoy something delightful. After searching around a couple week’s back for ideas that had this kind of preparation, I saw this great post by Smitten Kitchen for an amazing sounding Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel. I ended up settling on this one to 1. try something new, that didn’t look too crazy and 2. this also seemed a good dish to try and customize to make it like something hubby likes: Caramel Nut Rolls. I’ve only found hubby’s Caramel Nut Rolls a few times an odd grocery store here or there. They are kind of like Cinnamon Rolls in concept, but not as sweet or baking spiced. They hold a nice childhood nostalgia for him and this seemed like a good way to try and incorporate some of those flavors he likes into a dish.

I did my best to follow Smitten Kitchen’s great recipe, but I’m not always the best at reading things first or following all the steps perfectly. I’m generally a very loosey-goosey/improvisational cook. Overall the recipe was a pretty straight forward and simple to follow and in the end I enjoyed the results.

The caramel making part of this dish, was probably one of the more nerve racking parts. Not that the instructions were particularly difficult or that the process was hard to follow, I just get anxious about screwing new things up. I may have let the caramel go a little too long also, but in the end it still tasted pretty good so my stress probably wasn’t warranted.

After I got the caramel to about the right color I poured the pretty copper-colored liquid into the baking dish I had selected. My baking dish was about 8 inches across and 4 inches deep. I didn’t find it as difficult to get the caramel up the sides right away as Smitten Kitchen stated she had. However since I didn’t initially use a spatula to stir my caramel mixture some of the caramel some stayed in the pan (and remained heating) a bit longer than intended. When trying to get the last bit of caramel out of my pan, it was not as maleable as it had been. This made it a little difficult to get a nice even coat around when I tried to add it to the rest of the caramel in the dish. You can see the difference in my attempts through the images below.

While I waited for the caramel to cool, I worked on the custard potion of the recipe. This was all pretty straight forward and simple, but I was a little annoyed with how my eggs and mascarpone were  not combining as well as I would have liked at first. I decided to fix this slow whisking process by bring out a much beloved (yet seldom used) tool in my kitchen: the immersion blender. This great little tool helped me get a smooth well combined custard mixture to top my challah pieces with, probably much more quickly than the recipe expected. This might have been why my caramel still wasn’t cool  when I went on to the next step. I used a regular whisk when adding the milk and almond extract mixture to the custard base, and the two parts easily combined.

One of the few things I chose to alter about this recipe was the addition of some chopped pecans. This was to incorporate some of hubby’s flavor preferences (the afforementioned Caramel Nut Rolls), and bring what I thought might be a balancing force to what I assumed would be a heavy sweetness. Although the nuts were not per say necessary, I enjoyed the nuts in it and they were an easy change to make.

The caramel still wasn’t quite cool after I had chopped the nuts, so I set about doing other little holiday tasks around the house in the meantime. Once I deemed the caramel adequately cool I finally set about adding the bread and custard mixture and put the pudding to bed in the fridge for the night. I definitely did not even attempt the pretty rose arrangement of challah pieces Smitten Kitchen described. This was partly because I didn’t read the directions before I ripped up the bread and partly because it was just hubby and I. I like what Smitten Kitchen said in her arrangement instructions that as you arranged you could know,

“with complete confidence that even if your dish doesn’t resemble a blooming rose, nobody will care at all.”

After all the look of something doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on how it will taste.

After getting the challah in and covered in custard, I covered the dish in plastic and put it to bed for the night. In the morning when hubby and I woke up we started to follow the last paragraph of instructions. He took the dish out of the refrigerator and preheated the oven. I fixed us some brunch cocktails to get us going, Mimosas with a couple berries to make them festive/pretty.

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Mimosas with strawberries and raspberries

We tried to wait the prescribed hour of letting the Morning Bread Pudding sit out of the fridge and warm up to room temperature. I went about doing other breakfast things like cooking some sausage and setting the table a bit. Eventually though my impatience won out and I stuck the dish in the oven maybe 15-20 minutes earlier than I should have. As it baked it smelled heavenly, but since we didn’t quite wait the requisite hour after taking the dish out of the fridge it seemed to take a little longer in the oven. The middle still wasn’t set after the first 32 minutes or so I put it back in for another 5 minutes. After that I still wasn’t satisfied with the Salted Caramel Morning Bread Pudding’s doneness, so again it went back in for 10 minutes this time.

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As I was waiting to check on it again I decided to make myself a little yummy coffee beverage to pass the time. I usually have a few fun booze-y coffee additions around the house to make a more exciting beverage for entertaining. I had also purchased some whipped topping for the kids to add to hot cocoa that I served to really jazz up my Christmas coffee.

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Nothing like a little salted caramel Bailey’s in your coffee to complement a Salted Caramel Morning Bread Pudding.

Finally the Salted Caramel Morning Bread Pudding did come out all golden and caramel-y delicious. It was happily enjoyed along with the other more simply prepared goodies of sausage patties and mixed berries. I agree with Smitten Kitchen that the Salted Caramel Morning Bread Pudding isn’t quite as sweet as you might expect or “unbreakfast-like” as she writes. It made a great star player for our cozy, Christmas breakfast.

It was also good to try something new out and eat decadently. However although hubby appreciated my attempt to incorporate what he loves into this recipe, it wasn’t quite his thing. C’est la vie, more for me. I wish that my Sister-in-Law and her family could have joined us (mostly because I’m sure she would have love this), but I’m still glad I did something special for just hubby and I.

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My messy dish of Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel topped with mascarpone 

For the most part I didn’t changed much from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, so here it is, with the changes I made in process.

Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel
Adapted from The New York Times, 12/19/01

This is an overnight dish, ideally. Set it up before you go to bed and all you have to do when you wake up is bake it and invert it onto a serving dish. The longer is soaks, the more the bread and custard become one, but nevertheless, I think as long as it has an hour to soak, it will be good enough.
Serves 6 generous or 8 to 10 if other items are on the table. Estimate 1 hour prep time and then about 30 or so minutes baking time in the morning.
3/4 cup plus (optional) 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (I didn’t use the extra 2 tbs)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt or just 2 or 3 pinches of a coarse one
10 to 12-ounce loaf brioche or challah bread (cut into slices about 1/2-inch thick and about 3 inches square or round, which sounds really persnickety, but they really do fit better in the pan this way) I tore my pieces of challah while watching a TV program, before I read the recipe directions…
8 large eggs
1 cup mascarpone cheese, divided (1/4 cup for custard; 3/4 cup for serving)
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (Hubby and I aren’t big fans of the almond flavor in this, so i would probably cut this down to maybe an 1/8 tsp next time)
1/3-3/4 c. Chopped Pecans
First, choose your baking vessel. I opted for a 2-quart oval gratin/roasting dish, but also tested this in a 9-inch round cake pan (it was a squeeze; 10-inch would have been better). I used an 8-inch ceramic dish that was about 4-inches deep. Other things I suspect would work: 9- to 10-inch cast iron skillet, 2-quart casserole dish or 1 deep-dish pie pan (what Hesser suggests).
If your vessel is safe for the stovetop, use this to make the caramel. If not, use a small, heavy saucepan. In either, place 3/4 cup sugar, butter and sea salt and heat over medium heat. The butter will melt and, after 7 to 10 minutes, the sugar will dissolve and begin to brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir with a spoon or spatula so that it browns evenly. You will find that the butter separates from the melting sugar and this is just fine. Do your best to keep them stirred together but know that it will all work out in the end even if it’s split.
If you’re using a saucepan, your caramel is done when it reaches a copper color. Pour it over the base of your baking vessel and try (I failed each time) to tip it 1-inch up the sides of the dish.
If you’re making the caramel in your final baking vessel, your caramel should be taken off the stove a step sooner, a shade more pale than copper, something of a medium brown; this is because it will continue cooking and darkening for a minute off the stove.
Regardless of baking vessel, place dish in refrigerator and chill until caramel is cold and solid, about 30 minutes. This is where I chopped my pecans and added them to the top of the caramel. Once chilled, arrange the bread slices. Place the heel of the bread in the center and do what you can to fan the slices around it, overlapping each slightly and knowing with complete confidence that even if your dish doesn’t resemble a blooming rose, nobody will care at all.
In a large bowl whisk together eggs, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar (if using; I skipped this, as did I) and 1/4 mascarpone cheese (save rest for serving), until very smooth (This is where I used my handy immersion blender). Add milk and almond extract. Pour this over the bread, making sure to saturate all of it. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight. If you bread seems too high in the vessel to get a good soak, you can weight it with a plate in the fridge.
In the morning, [updated to suggest] take your dish from the fridge an hour before you want to bake it (if you don’t wait you may have some trouble baking like I did). Heat oven to 375°F. Remove plastic from dish and bake 30 to 35 minutes, until moist but not wet in center. Remove from oven and run a knife around edge of dish, loosening bread from sides. Place a serving plate over top of dish (bottom side up), and, using potholders, hold pudding over sink and flip pudding onto it. Lift baking dish off plate; scrape any extra caramel from pie dish over pudding. Serve, cutting it into wedges at the table and spooning a healthy dollop of mascarpone onto each plate.

I found that another nice thing about this dish was that the Salted Caramel Morning Bread Pudding reheated well, which is good since it was mostly just me eating it. It was nice to have some spectacular leftovers though.

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Reheated leftover Salted Caramel Morning Bread Pudding

I hope you enjoyed this post and didn’t mind the delay or gap in posts. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of my experiences from brunches on our vacation on the Disney Wonder. I had a magical time and the food was pretty good, so hopefully you enjoy those posts as well.

Until next time and throughout this New Year, keep eating well and enjoying life with those you love.

PS-The original Smitten Kitchen recipe and post can be found here:

Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel

http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2014/02/morning-bread-pudding-with-salted-caramel/

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