Sweet Bay Bread Pudding

If I could only have one type of dessert for the rest of my life, it would probably be bread pudding. Of course, just saying that implies all sorts of dessert loop holes. There are a million different ways to make a bread pudding resulting in practically a new flavor and texture combination that would do me fine the rest of my days. You can change out the bread type, making your pudding pillowy soft or densely grainy. You can make single servings or a deep dish to alter your crusty to creamy ratio. And, of course, you can play around with almost any fruit or spice combination… which is what I decided to do with my sadly stale, leftover loaf of Macrina Bakery Brioche.

Last weekend, I trekked up to Swanson’s nursery for a little spring gardening fix. Since we moved, I no longer have a yard with fresh raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb shooting up… I really should have done something about that last fall, but never quite got around to it. Now, that is remedied with a couple of blueberry bushes thrown in the mix for good measure, along with a new garden star that I have never thought of before: Sweet Bay. Apparently, bay leaf is quite easily grown around here (I think it is pretty easy to grow it almost anywhere), so I’m quite excited to see how my little shrub grows. It’s already pretty bushy with bright green, shiny leaves which seem worlds away from their dried cousins that I’ve always used in the past. Since the flavor of bay is quite strong, I went ahead and plucked off a few leaves to see how it compared to the dried variety.

My initial thought was for some bay infused ice cream. I remember a few posts that had me intrigued in blogs over the years. However, that loaf of Brioche was staring at me, telling me a pudding was in order. It didn’t take me along to decide that if bay was wonderful in ice cream, it would be equally delicious in a custardy bread pudding, adding a hint of slightly green, earthy spiciness.

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For a starter recipe, I found a lovely, simple brioche pudding on Food & Wine, and altered it slightly to add in the bay and skip the healthy dose of berries that would have overwhelmed the bay essence. Of course, me resisting berries is like a cat resisting a mouse… so I ended up drizzling on a quickly made strawberry syrup in the end.

This pudding is a lovely thick and moist, subtly sweet treat… and great for either breakfast or dessert. The bay came through, although it was quite subtle. However, after preparing the dish, I realized that it’s best to use more mature, leathery bay leaves rather than the softer new leaves, so patience with my bay bush is definitely going to be called for.

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Sweet Bay Bread Pudding
Adapted from Food & Wine’s Berry-Brioche Bread Pudding Recipe
Serves 8

Some bread pudding recipes call for removing the bread crust. You can do that with this recipe too, but I personally like the crusts included… it gives even more variety of color and texture to the finished dish.

Unsalted butter, for greasing the dish
1/3 cup raw sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
5-6 fresh bay leaves
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
One 1-pound loaf of brioche, cut into 1/2-inch dice
Fresh berries or berry syrup for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter an 8-by-11-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the about half of the raw sugar, shaking it to spread the sugar crystals evenly.

In a large saucepan, bring the cream, milk, bay leaves, 2/3 cup of the granulated sugar and the salt to a simmer over moderately high heat, then remove from the heat. Strain out the bay leaves.

In a bowl, whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks and vanilla. Gradually whisk in the hot cream until blended. Strain the custard through a fine strainer into a large bowl.

Add the brioche to the custard, and gently stir to coat, trying not to break up the bread cubes. Transfer the pudding to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the top with the remaining raw sugar. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, until set in the center. Remove the foil and bake in the top third of the oven for 20 minutes longer, until lightly golden.

Preheat the broiler. Broil the pudding for 1 minute, until the top is a gorgeous golden brown. Transfer to a rack and let stand for 30 minutes, until cooled slightly. Cut the bread pudding into squares and serve with fresh berries or a fruit syrup.

  • http://www.feelgoodeats.com sue bette

    Bread pudding is a favorite as mine as well – especially savory dinner-style versions – I am excited to integrate the bay leaf step into my next pudding I think it will add an interesting flavor – Thanks!

  • http://TheRecipeGirl.blogspot.com RecipeGirl

    Bread pudding is a favorite dessert of mine too. A few weeks ago I blogged about a Strawberry- Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding that was pretty good.

    Adding the bay leaves is a brilliant idea! Something I would never have thought of for sure.

    One thing I’d love to try is a savory bread pudding. Do you like those too?

  • http://www.cookandeat.com/ L

    Recipe Girl,

    Yes, savory bread puddings are great too. I made one a few months ago with balsamic mushrooms and rosemary… mmmm.

    -L

  • http://www.cannelle-vanille.blogspot.com Aran

    I love bread pudding too and I am so intrigued by how you added bay leaves. Oh I want to try that pairing! Your photos are always sooo lovely. Great job!

  • http://www.mattikaarts.com/blog matt wright

    Bread pudding is great.. but come on, summer pudding is the ultimate dessert!

    I remember reading in one of Jerry Traunfeld books about the different kinds of bay – the type you get in the supermarket is apparently really obnoxious and over powering. I never even thought of growing bay here.. what a great idea, I tend to use a bit of it.

    Great photos. I love the light in the bay bottle shot – the caustics are fabulous.

  • http://www.souvlakiforthesoul.com Peter G

    This looks delicious and oh so moreish. Great use of the bay leaves. Never seen them used fresh in a recipe before.

  • http://laraswansonphoto.com/blog Lara

    I LOVE the color of your nail polish and its contrast with the sauce :)

  • http://cookingfromatoz.blogspot.com Kaykat

    *drool*.

    This sounds delicious! I’ve been hankering for bread pudding lately, think I should try this out. The idea of using sweet bay leaves is simply perfect!

  • http://www.londonfoodieny.wordpress.com Anna

    ooooh, im a bread and butter pudding girl all through!! though being a brit I always opt for the custard sauce.

  • http://asweetfantasy.blogspot.com/ Tarah

    Oh man that look good! Bread pudding is one of my all time favorite desserts, and yours just looks absolutely stunning! I’m going bonkers for the dressing! Makes it so pretty!

  • http://www.cookeatfret.com Claudia (cook eat FR

    i do a rice pudding with bay leaves so i totally get it. this looks creamy and custardy and well,heavenly…

  • http://foodmakesmehappy.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    I’m the number one fan for bread pudding,
    It’s just unbelievably delicious!

  • http://ayankeeinasouthernkitchen.com Kim

    Wow! Just fabulous and the photos are spectacular! It was worth the wait.

  • http://ericksonblog.com/blog/category/cooking Julia

    The name of my family’s farm is Sweet Bay, inspired by the sweet bay magnolias that grow all over it. I didn’t knew about this edible sweet bay shrub. You’ve just given me the perfect idea for a Mother’s Day gift: a shrub and your sweet bay bread pudding to match! Now I just have to find where to buy it.

  • http://foodonthebrain.wordpress.com Jessamyn

    I love bay – it’s not very hardy, actually, so not everyone can grow it. Mine (north of Seattle) is a largish tree growing under my deck, but even so it was seriously cold damaged last year. I use it all the time in soups and roast chicken, but I’ve never used it in dessert…hmmmm.

    Why, oh why, do I never think to make bread pudding?

  • http://urbanrepast.blogspot.com/ hag

    I have just ‘discovered’ your blog, and I love it already! I am a big fan of bread pudding, but never used bay in it before, I am quite excited to try this recipe. Your photos are beautiful by the way!

  • http://skinnygourmet.blogspot.com Erin @ The Skinny Gourmet

    My husband is a bread pudding fanatic. (By the way, if you ever come to Chicago, you simply must try the bread pudding at M. Henrys, it is divine beyond words.) So we are always experimenting with different recipes at home in search of that holy grail: the perfect bread pudding. Lately I have been thinking over West African inspired savory bread puddings, but I would never have thought to use the bay. An interesting choice.

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    I’ve been looking for a good bread pudding recipe to make! Yay thanks!

  • http://proofofthepudding.wordpress.com Dana

    I’ve always been intrigued by the use of herbs in dessert! Claudia Fleming has a bay leaf flan in her cookbook, and the idea always seemed interesting to me. And hey, if you’re gonna give it a try, bread pudding isn’t a bad bet; it would be pretty hard to make bread pudding bad!