Bringing a taste of New Orleans to the holiday season!
Now, I will be the first to tell you that I enjoyed Marie-Grace and Cécile's books quite a bit, and I definitely don't think the series should be overlooked just because American Girl picked a pretty obscure point in history to focus on. However, when it came to picking out what to feature with them for the holidays, I found myself shaking my fist in frustration that they didn't have a book focusing on how people in 1853 New Orleans celebrated Christmas. Meet Cécile starts at the end of the Christmas season, with Cécile and her mother taking down their Christmas tree and Cécile commenting on some of the things she looks forward to and enjoys during the holiday season, and Cécile's Gift ends in mid December, and there isn't much focus on what the two girls' families are doing to prepare for Christmas because they're all much more focused on finding ways to help people affected by the Yellow Fever epidemic. Obviously, this is a more important topic for the series itself, but when you compare it to the other girls having books that very clearly detail how their families celebrate winter holidays and traditions, it was sort of a bummer to not be able to immediately turn to the book or the collection and find lots and lots of inspiration there.
Obviously, that doesn't mean I gave up. After a lot of consideration, I decided to make a bread pudding for Marie-Grace, and a very different, equally tasty treat for Cécile, which you'll hopefully hear about tomorrow! I'd never even had bread pudding before making this recipe, and I was very pleasantly surprised by what we ended up with.
Bread pudding is a dish you'll probably see again on A Peek Into the Pantry. It's been a popular dessert at just about every point in American history because it's versatile and a way to have a sweet treat that serves lots of people that also helps cut down on food cost and waste. By using day old bread, you're not only saving money on the main ingredients, but also making sure that you're not wasting any food. I know for a fact that Kit's Cooking Studio has a recipe for it, and my grandma commented that her mother used to make bread pudding during the Second World War.
This particular version is Emeril Legasse's Classic New Orleans Bread Pudding, and I chose to feature it for a treat Marie-Grace and her father might have enjoyed at Christmas time because although the Gardners aren't as wealthy as the Reys, they do have a housekeeper because Dr. Gardner is often too busy with work to do things like make meals for Marie-Grace himself. As bread pudding is fairly simple to make, super tasty, and not too fancy, it's definitely something someone who isn't a professional chef could make, and would probably even be something Marie-Grace could do herself.
There's really only one way to start a New Orleans style bread pudding, and that is...
Day old French bread! You need about four cups of this, and the size loaf I got turned out to be basically exactly that amount.
Also, if you're confused about where to get day old French bread because your local bakery only sells it fresh, think about what day old bread actually is, and then come back to this recipe, haha.
Next comes making the custard batter - is that the right word for uncooked custard? I don't actually know. It's a pretty standard process. Eggs, sugar, and spices go in first. This recipe includes cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.
Next comes the bourbon. There was a lot of joking around about whether or not a nine year old kid should be allowed to make something or host a post with a recipe that included alcohol as a major ingredient, but I promise everyone handled the alcohol responsibly.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm really not a fan of alcohol. It's not that I'm morally opposed to its existence or judge people for drinking it, I'm just really not a fan of anything that tastes fermented, and that's pretty much all alcohol is. I've tried just about every variety under the sun in various different ways, and just really don't like any of it. I bring this up because - as someone who doesn't like alcohol - I'd like to assure people who aren't fans of bourbon that there's really more of a hint of it in here if you measure it out correctly. Definitely make sure you've got the measurement correct though, because this is a really strong alcohol and you don't want the whole thing to taste like it.
Once the bourbon's been added, you whisk the ingredients together before pouring in the half and half. Once that's added, mix it together, and you've got yourself a custard batter! Or mix. Or something.
I'd imagine you could omit the raisins entirely if you're not a fan, or use some other kind of dried fruit if you're more into that. I actually think this might taste fantastic with dried cherries or cranberries.
This mixture is supposed to sit for two hours. I checked on it twice, making sure to stir it and really get the batter all over the bread, and when I went to retrieve it after two hours, the bread had kind of gotten mushy and disintegrated looking.
There was a moment when I was worried we wouldn't have a pan the right size, but as it turns out, our nonstick meatloaf pan was the perfect size. Even though it's a nonstick, I still greased it with butter to make sure it wasn't going to get stuck on the side.
I didn't manage to grab a picture of this, but when I first pulled it out of the oven, the bread was poking about an inch out of the pan. It started to deflate pretty quickly, and I'm not really sure what caused it. This wasn't really a souffle - to my knowledge - so I don't think it could really collapse, but then again, what do I know? Like I said, this is literally the first time I'd ever made or even tasted bread pudding.
The middle was also a lot more squishy than the edges, and I wish it had been a little more evenly cooked. I liked the crispy parts at the edge, and it would have been nice if it had continued down to the middle of the pan, too.
Also, unrelatedly, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the awesome bow I made for Marie-Grace. I'm usually terrible at making pretty bows (and also doing doll hair!) so I am absurdly pleased with how this one came out:
Anyway, moving on, although the recipe on Food Network.com doesn't include the recipe for bourbon sauce that's advertised in the title and the recipe of the dish, it does include instructions for making an awesome whipped cream topping. It's pretty straight forward, although the original recipe called for an insane amount of heavy whipping cream, so I kind of just eyeballed the ingredients for the sake of time and sanity.
This was amazing, and really complimented the bread pudding. Honestly, I probably would have been happy with just eating an entire bowl of it myself without the pudding!
But I make an effort to try everything I make for this blog, and I have to admit, I was pretty curious about what bread pudding actually tasted like.
And it definitely looks great!
I have to admit, I really liked it! It's probably not something I'd order at a restaurant over say, a chocolate cake or something, but I enjoyed it, and it was a huge hit with my taste testers. The one complaint I had was that the raisins weren't really evenly distributed, and the bourbon wasn't really, either. Sometimes, you'd get a bite that was way too bourbon-y, and that just wasn't pleasant for me.
Overall tough, this was a pretty hassle free recipe that produced a tasty dessert. As long as you don't mind it needing to sit for a while before you can pop it in the oven, this is definitely a recipe I'd recommend giving a chance for yourself. Even though I made it as a seasonal dish, it's something that works year round, and is definitely worth the effort.
Enjoy! Make sure you have enough whipped cream to go around!