I remember the first time I heard about Tartine Bakery in the San Fransisco Bay Area. Baker husband + pastry chef wife, baking their way across the French countryside – could anything be more romantic and dreamy? Of course, I had to get my hands on their pastry recipe book which has proven to be both useful as well as inspirational. The pâte sablée recipe has become my go-to for any sweet tart, while the lemon meringue cake inspired me to try my hand atmy own version.
A few days back, I found myself with a leftover loaf of homemade brioche, made sorta on the spur of the moment from this recipe. I’d baked it at my brother’s request, for some rather tasty stuffed french toast that he whipped up for family brunch. Of course, every such family get-together invariably ends up with heaps of leftovers. And what better way to use up two-day-old brioche than to turn it into some bread pudding!
Now I’ve made as well as tasted several bread puddings in the past, but they’ve largely been rather uninspiring. Most recipes tend to produce a finished product that’s dry and stodgy and tastes pretty much like what a bread pudding essentially is – stale bread in a baked custard. I wanted something more worthy of a rich brioche, something that would be far greater than the sum of its parts. And in my quest for the perfect bread pudding recipe, I stumbled upon Tartine’s. Previously, I think I had actually written it off because the milk:egg ratio just seemed too overwhelmingly disproportionate. FOUR cups of milk in a tiny loaf pan?? But after reading raving review after raving review of both bakers who had tried it as well as customers who had tasted the original (lucky them!!!), I knew I just HAD to make it and see for myself what all the hype was about.
And you know what? It is hands down the best bread pudding I have ever tasted. The bread slices really benefit from being soaked in the custard base, for it transforms them from being mere bread-in-eggs-and-milk into an entirely different creature; soft, moist and utterly delectable. The pools of liquid interspersing the bread bake up into a smooth-as-silk custard (some have described it as being flan-like). And the caramel sauce that is lavishly spooned on top – oh, my. Forget creme anglaise, this sauce is THE way we were meant to enjoy a perfect bread pudding.
Bottomline: Make it. Now.
Start off by slicing up your loaf of choice (I used a brioche; feel free to use whatever suits your fancy!). Lightly toast the bread, and then arrange the slices in a 9×5 or similar-sized pan.
Eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, whisk away! Bread slices meet custard mixture, soak it all up before going into the oven.
While the pudding is baking, it’s time to make the sauce! Apparently, over in Tartine, the pudding is served “topped with seasonal fresh fruits, such as cherries, peaches, or thinly sliced apples or pears that we lightly sauté in butter and then heat in caramel until they are soft”. I chose to make mine with apples cos that’s what we had in the fruit basket at home, also cos both caramel apple and apples with cinnamon are such delectable flavour combinations. I also took the liberty of bumping up the salt, as I firmly believe that salted caramel is always always better than regular caramel.
First up, prep your fruit. I went with one green and one red apple, which gave the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness. Peel, chop, and soak in lemon juice/saltwater to prevent them from browning.
Now for the caramel. I remember was initially immensely daunted, too, the first time I attempted it, but when it comes down to it it’s really just sugar that you bring up to the temperature at which at caramelises. Some recipes advocate the use of a candy thermometer, but I prefer just to go by sight and smell. That golden-brown hue and that almost-burnt sugar scent – you can’t miss it. Unless you run off to the bathroom or you’re busy eating durian or something, that is.
Saute the cinnamon-kissed apples lightly in a pat of butter, till they’re slightly tender yet still crunchy.
Now stir the apples into the warm caramel sauce, and let it bubble together a while longer. This magical sauce is really one-half of what makes this bread pudding oh-so-special. Please don’t skip it!
Once the pudding’s out of the oven, the sauce goes on, and in. According to this extremely helpful source, over at Tartine, holes are poked all over the pudding to create space for the sauce to fit in. What this results in is not just sauce over the pudding, but hidden pockets of apple-caramelly goodness scattered throughout the interior of it. Brilliant indeed!
Brioche Bread Pudding
6 brioche slices, each 1″ thick
120g sugar (reduced from 185g in original recipe; caramel sauce more than makes up for it!)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon (not in original)
Preheat your oven to 350F (180C). Slice up a regular-sized loaf of brioche (challah, croissants or any other similarly rich, sweet loaf would work too) into 1″-thick slices. Toast 6 slices in the preheated oven, 5 minutes on each side. When cool, arrange in a 9″x5″ or similar-sized pan.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk 8 eggs. Add in sugar and whisk to combine. Add milk, vanilla extract, salt and cinnamon, whisk again to combine.
Pour custard mixture into baking pan and let stand for 15 minutes. Top up with additional custard. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 1 hour, or until custard firms up and no longer oozes liquid when pressed gently with the back of a spoon.
Remove pudding from oven. Using a butter knife or a teaspoon, make small indentations all over the surface of the pudding. Pour caramel sauce (recipe below) generously over the pudding, allowing the sauce to seep through the little holes. Reserve leftover sauce to spoon over each individual serving.
Serve immediately. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days, simply reheat the pudding or even eat it cold!
Salted caramel apple sauce:
2 apples (green or red or both)
180ml heavy cream
250g caster sugar
3/4 tsp salt (original recipe calls for 1/4 tsp)
2 tbsp light corn syrup
3/4 tsp lemon juice
55g unsalted butter, plus extra for sautéing the apples
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Peel and core apples, and chop them into roughly 1″ cubes. Soak in lemon juice/salt water to prevent them from oxidising. Set aside.
Microwave heavy cream on high at 30s intervals until it starts bubbling, about 1 1/2 mins. Have it ready by the stove.
In a medium heavy saucepan, combine sugar, water, salt, corn syrup and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring just only until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, without stirring, until sugar caramelizes and is golden-brown. Remove from heat and immediately pour heated cream into the caramel. The mixture will seethe and bubble furiously for a while; let the mixture simmer down and then whisk until smooth. Add in the butter, and whisk to combine.
Drain apples and stir in ground cinnamon. In a frying pan over medium heat, add a pat of butter. Pour in apple cubes and cook until slightly tender but still crunchy. Add sautéd apples to caramel sauce and heat just until mixture starts to bubble.
adapted from Tartine, by Elisabeth Prueitt & Chad Robertson.