Sweet bread pudding is where leftover stale bread gets a second chance at greatness. It's possible you've only ever had this dish of warm, custard-soaked bread at fancy restaurants, but I firmly believe that bread pudding needs to be made more often at home. It is basically an upgraded French toast, after all — all the soft middles and all the crunchy edges in one fabulous, crowd-pleasing dish.
Bread pudding is a form of baked custard. A sweetened mixture of milk and eggs is poured over staled bread in a baking dish and the two are baked together until the bread is pudding-like — lush and creamy — and the top is golden and tender crisp. The best bread pudding is as simple as making a very good (and very easy) custard and pouring it over the right bread.
Brioche Is the Bread of Choice
For a truly outstanding bread pudding, brioche is the bread you want. This type of bread is rich and slightly sweet, and it will soak in that cream like a sponge. Beyond brioche, you can use just about any rich, sweet bread you have, from challah to leftover cinnamon rolls.
Regular white bread, French bread, or artisan country bread also makes a very good bread pudding. This is a good option for those times when we're not quite up for the over-the-top decadence of a brioche pudding. Just avoid using sourdough loaves or hearty whole-wheat loaves — the savory flavors in those loaves don't make them suited to a sweet bread pudding.
For Your Information
- This recipe uses a whole loaf of brioche, about 1 pound.
- Don't skip the cream in the recipe!
- The bread pudding bakes for 45 to 55 minutes or until the bread pudding reaches at least 160°F in the center and is golden-brown on top.
3 Tips for Bread Pudding Success
- Toast the bread cubes first. Even if your bread is a few days old, I still like to toast the cubes for a few minutes in the oven to make sure they're completely dry. It might seem counter-intuitive to dry out bread cubes when the next step is mixing them with milk and eggs, but drying them makes them better able to absorb the custard and gives the pudding a better texture.
- Let the bread soak up the custard. It's also important to let the dish sit for a while before baking to give the bread cubes time to fully absorb the custard. Give the dish at least an hour for this, but even better is making the pudding the night before, letting it chill overnight, and baking the pudding the next day.
- Bake until creamy but set. Unlike quick breads, a tester inserted in the bread pudding might still come out wet even when the custard is set — look for a golden-brown top and a center that jiggles but doesn't wiggle, and make sure an instant-read thermometer reads at least 160°F.
How To Make Sweet Bread Pudding
What You Need
1 (1-pound) loaf bread or brioche (12 to 14 cups of bread cubes)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups whole milk, or a blend of milk and cream
6 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Optional extras: 1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit, 1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts, 1 chopped apple or other fresh fruit, finely grated zest of 1 lemon or 1 orange
Serrated bread knife
2 rimmed baking sheets
9x13-inch baking dish
Aluminum foil or plastic wrap
- Heat the oven. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F.
- Slice the bread into cubes. Trim the crust from the bread if desired; leave it on for a more rustic loaf. Slice the bread into bite-sized cubes, or tear it into pieces with your hands.
- Toast the bread cubes. Divide the bread cubes among 2 rimmed baking sheets and spread into an even layer. Toast, stirring halfway through, until the cubes feel dry and hard, but are still very pale, 15 to 20 minutes total. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
- Transfer the cubes to the baking dish. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with the butter. Add the bread cubes and gently shake the dish and pat the cubes down so they settle into place. If you're using any extra ingredients like fruit or nuts, scatter these over top, then use a spoon to gently poke and stir them into the bread cubes so that some of them go into the middle but they don't all fall to the bottom of the dish.
- Mix the custard. Place the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon if using, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.
- Pour the custard over the bread. Slowly and evenly pour the custard over the top of the bread cubes, making sure it gets into all the nooks and crannies. The custard should come to just below the top of the bread, with edges and corners poking out the top. You may have a little custard leftover, but it's also okay if you don't.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Cover the dish with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. This gives the bread time to absorb the custard. If you'd like the traditional very flat top with no crunchy bits, press the top of pudding a few times as it soaks or weigh it down with something heavy so that all the bread cubes get pushed into the custard.
- Heat the oven to 325°F. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 325°F.
- Bake the pudding. Uncover the bread pudding and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean and the tips of the bread on top are beginning to toast, 45 to 55 minutes. If the top seems like it's getting dark before the custard is done, tent the dish loosely with aluminum foil.
- Cool briefly before serving. Transfer the baking dish on a wire cooling rack and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a sauce or drizzled with icing (see Recipe Notes).
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Serve cold, at room temperature, or warmed.
- Sauce your pudding! This pudding is extra good served with a sauce over top — especially a sauce with some rum or bourbon whisked in. Try a sweet and silky crème anglaise or this simple vanilla icing.
- Individual bread puddings: You can also prepare this pudding in individual ramekins. Divide the ingredients between as many ramekins as you have, filling them with custard mixture to just below the top. Chill and bake as normal, but start checking the puddings after about 20 minutes to gauge baking speed.