The recipe below is a great example of how leftover bread can easily be transformed into dessert. It's possible to customize this dish, so you can add fresh or dried fruit or spice combinations like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cardamom. If served with a fresh fruit compote, this makes a wonderful brunch dish. If you prefer a more decadent outcome, add a handful of chocolate chips before baking.

Bread And Its Roots

Bread pudding dates back to ancient times. It developed out of necessity, in an era when food was scarce and leftover, stale bread was hard to find. A bit of warm liquid and sugar could always be added to the last heel of bread in the house if it became too stiff to chew.

The bread pudding was first developed in Europe around the beginning of the 11th and 12th centuries, and Britain had enjoyed it since the 13th century when most kitchens had large bowls called pudding basins to collect stale bread scraps. That era's bread pudding wasn't nearly as luxurious as the kind we enjoy today. As opposed to the custardy mix of cream and eggs, stale bread would often be soaked in hot water and squeezed dry before being mixed with sugar and spices. Pudding was brought to America by early settlers, but because wheat was not readily available, they often thickened the mixture with cornmeal rather than bread. There are many variations of bread pudding around the world. Served in Mexico, capirotada is a bread pudding layered with cheese and covered in a syrup made from piloncillo, brown sugar. The Egyptians make Om Ali from puff pastry, milk or cream, raisins, and almonds. In the Middle East, there's Eish es Serny, a dessert made from dried bread (rusks) simmered in sugar and honey syrup, flavoured with rosewater, and coloured with caramel. In India, a dish known as shahi tukda is made from bread, ghee, saffron, sugar, rosewater, and almonds.

Evolution Of Bread

From the days of the pudding basin, bread pudding has come a long way. Today, it is often made from fresh bread, such as brioche, challah, panettone, or croissants, drastically differing from its austere origins. With a bourbon-based sweet sauce and vanilla ice cream, New Orleans-style bread pudding is topped with nuts (typically pecans, walnuts, or raisins). The traditional recipe for bread pudding begins with a custard consisting of whisked eggs whisked with milk or cream and thickened over low heat. Sliced bread can be used; cubed bread can be used. If possible, start with stale or fairly dry bread to allow the custard to absorb as much as possible. As the top layer bakes, it gets slightly crispy, while the interior soaks up the rich, creamy, warm, custardy goodness.

Ingredients

    Three tablespoons butter

    Half a cup plus six tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

    Three barely ripe bananas, sliced 1/4 inch thick

    Six eggs

    One cup of heavy cream

    Half a cup of milk

    Half a teaspoon of cinnamon

    One teaspoon of vanilla extract

    two tablespoons bourbon

    Pinch of ground nutmeg

    One-fourth teaspoon of sea salt

    Three-fourth cup chopped dark chocolate

    Six plain croissants, cubed

    Six cups of challah bread, cubed

Steps

    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

    Melt butter and six tablespoons sugar in a large skillet over medium heat until bubbly and starting to brown. Stir in banana slices and cook for about 5 minutes or until caramelized.

    In a large bowl, mix eggs, milk, heavy cream, remaining sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, bourbon, nutmeg and sea salt together. Add bananas, chocolate and chopped bread.

    Pour mixture into an 8-by-8 baking dish, and cook in a bain-marie (water bath) for about an hour or until golden brown and bubbly. The bread pudding should have a nice caramelized crust and a moist (not wet or dry) interior.