I guarantee that bread pudding is one of the simplest desserts you can make and this one is sure to impart its zesty, sunshine-y happiness onto anyone who digs in. It is comfort food at its finest and most elevated with a punch of lemon, plump blueberries mixed throughout and dotted with white chocolate chips for that extra creamy richness in every spoonful.
Have you ever eaten something that evokes strong emotion? Perhaps your grandmother’s noodle Kugel or your mother’s potato pancakes? Think back to your favorite foods; the ones you need in an emergency. Notice I said need, not want. The ones that once the aroma is permeating the room, you are transported to a time, place or event.
I actually have a long list of those. Mostly, they come from my mother’s kitchen and usually the memory hits me like a ton of bricks when I walk up the pathway to her door. Smells like brisket slow roasting, our family’s favorite spaghetti bubbling in a pot, or chocolate pancakes on the griddle remind me of holidays, family dinners and many, many good times.
Some foods can equally make you sad because you miss the dish that was cooked a particular way by a person who is no longer here. When I smell lamb roasting, I tear up. My grandmother made roasted lamb at least once a month for our Sunday dinner and times spent with her are some of my very best memories ever.
A book I read recently, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender, makes me think of cooking in a new light. The main character could taste the emotions of the person who made the food she was eating. It seems ridiculous. But it makes me wonder what is that magic je ne sais quoi that makes a favorite dish made by Mom or Grandma so special and unable to replicate?
Why does my trying to make Grandma’s lamb end in disappointment, even though the lamb itself is delicious? What is the difference? Obviously, some would argue that the difference is entirely in your memory or lack thereof, itself. While others might offer that it’s her expert knowledge on how long to cook it or the perfect way to season the lamb or perhaps some secret ingredient was forgotten when the recipe was written down. Maybe, it’s simply that Mom or Grandma is just all that and a bag of chips and I, the one trying to replicate the dish, just don’t have “it”.
But I think that perhaps Aimee Bender was on to something in this unusual novel she wrote about Food ESP. Perhaps there is something more that we give our food beyond the ingredients and measurable actions. Maybe we are giving something of ourselves, literally. Maybe food that is prepared with love and good thoughts about the people who we prepare it for just turns out better. Perhaps our raw emotions are somehow being translated into the food?
Although in the novel the Lemon Cake was full of sadness, I hope my little bread puddings are full of sunshine and happiness. While making them, my daughter was steadily plucking away at her homework on the kitchen table and my son had come home early from track and was snacking at the counter. My ducks were in a row and everything was just how it should be for the moment.
Perhaps my utter contentment as sun poured through my kitchen window translated somehow into the pudding because the flavors were bright and cheerful, yet the texture was warm and rich, just a bit creamy and custardy. My daughter said verbatim, “This is amazing! You made the best bread pudding ever!” Maybe food ESP isn’t so crazy…maybe she did taste my happiness.
Lemon-Blueberry Bread Pudding with White Chocolate
Serves 8-10 people
9 oz, or one loaf day-old French bread or Challah, crusts removed, cut into 1 inch cubes (I used left over hamburger buns and French rolls that were past their prime–bread pudding is the perfect use for bread that has dried out a touch)
juice of one lemon
1 T. lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
8 large eggs brought to room temperature
4 c. heavy cream or 2 c. heavy cream and 2 c. whole milk to cut down on the fat a smidge
1 and 1/4 c. granulated sugar (1/4 of which is used to coat your casserole dish)
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 c. fresh blueberries
1/2 c. white chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the center. Cover one large casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray or 8-10 individual casserole ramekins or dishes. A glass rectangular Pyrex dish would work fine as well. Sprinkle 1/4 c. of granulated sugar around the bottom of the dish, evenly coating it. For individual sizes, sprinkle a small spoonful of sugar onto the bottom of each dish, totalling 1/4 a cup of the sugar.
Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes. Place bread loosely in the casserole dish. Crack each of the eggs singly first into a small vessel, then transferring each egg into a large mixing bowl with the previously cracked eggs. This assures that you do not mix a bad egg in with several other good eggs or do not end up with any shells in your mixture. Pour your milk into a liquid measuring cup, and then zest and juice the lemon into the milk. Add the milk, vanilla and the one cup of granulated sugar to the eggs. Beat together until well combined. Gently stir in the blueberries.
Pour cream and egg mixture over the bread cubes evenly. Sprinkle the 1/2 c. of white chocolate chips over the bread mixture. You will need to create a water bath now by getting a larger dish, like a roasting pan, and placing it in the oven. Then place your bread pudding filled dish into the larger pan and slowly pour water from a pitcher into the larger dish. Only pour water half way up the side of the bread pudding dish. Do not splash any water into the bread pudding dish.
Cover and bake for 45 minutes and then uncover and bake for 15 additional minutes or until top is lightly browned and custard is set-up inside the pudding. CAREFULLY remove the inside, smaller bread pudding dish FIRST from the oven. Turn off the oven and let the larger dish with hot water cool and remove it when it has cooled down.
Top individual servings of the bread pudding with lemon hard sauce and a dollop of whipped cream
Lemon Hard Sauce
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
1/4 softened butter
1 c. sifted powdered sugar
1 T. juice from a lemon
2 t. grated lemon zest (no whites pith!)
In a small mixer bowl, beat together softened butter and powdered sugar with a stand mixer or hand mixer set at medium-high. Add lemon juice and zest and beat together. Spoon over bread pudding servings and top with whipped cream.