Thursday, April 24, 2008

Use That Stale Bread

Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook features a recipe that uses stale ingredients -- bread, in this case -- to make a Praline Bread Pudding with Praline Creme Anglaise and Caramel Sauce. The recipe, on page 282 in the "Desserts and Dessert Sauces" chapter, uses a water bath for the baking of it and calls for a nine- or ten-inch piece of day-old French bread. The praline creme anglaise sauce can be prepared with praline liqueur -- or not, as the home chef desires.

The Food Timeline site by Lynn Olver has an extensive history of pudding. Most likely developed as a way to use stale bread and extend food resources, it has gradually evolved from the Middle Ages into the desserts of today. An excerpt from the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani suggests a Roman origin to the dish:
"The word seems to derive from the Old French boudin, (sausage), and, ultimately, from the Latin botelinus, for many puddings were a form of encased meat or innards. The earliest examples of this word in English refer to such dishes. Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (1755) defines the word as a "kind of food very variously compounded, but generally made of meal, milk, and eggs."
Mark R. Vogel of dates the creation of bread puddings to the 13th Century. Bread was soaked in water or milk and was seasoned with sugar and suet with fruits or spices adding flavor then baked. Sometimes these ingredients would be placed in the center of a hollowed out piece of bread called a "sop." French variations called for the bread to be prepared with milk, eggs, raisins, rum and oranges. Today's bread puddings are made by pouring custard over cubed bread and baking.

Stephanie Jaworski's includes in its history of bread pudding a discussion of the use of water baths in its preparation. It's necessary in order to protect more delicate recipes from burning, drying out or curdling (where a milk or egg mixture breaks down into its liquid and solid parts.)

Ian McNulty of has this to say about bread pudding:
"When most bread goes stale it gets tossed in the trash or fed to the birds. But for some lucky loaves, going stale is just the beginning of a transformation into bread pudding - the ambrosial dessert that is a mainstay finale at Creole restaurants across New Orleans."
He credits bread pudding's popularity to the bread itself. The bread soaks up any sauce it is presented with, infusing the dish with further flavor, and its softer texture makes a nice contrast to the pecans, raisins or walnuts that often top the dish. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook's version of the recipe is topped with a pecan and brown sugar crumble.

The Food Timeline: "Puddings" 06/10/07
Reluctant Gourmet: "How to Make a Delicious Bread Pudding"
Joy of Baking: "Bread Pudding" "Proof in the Bread Pudding--
Chefs Add Variety to New Orleans' Classic Dessert" 2006

photo courtesy of FotoDawg, used under this Creative Commons license

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