Being here in Pontlevoy is great for my baking experiments: the minute I've baked something, I can find many willing mouths to "taste-test" what I've done. I took a recent detour from Maida to make this and this (sometimes only chocolate will do). Both recipes disappeared in a flash. Sad to say, I had a hand in both disappearances.
But this bread pudding--well, I got to taste it. But that's pretty much it.
Sami and I are the Duke and Duchess of Chambord. What does that mean? Well, the Abbey has been divided up into four "houses" à la Harry Potter, and our house is Chambord. We meet with our students once a week to plan events and meals and generally discuss what it's like to live in France. And since I'm the Duchess, there are baked goods involved.
This bread pudding turned out to be perfect for our first group meeting. When I looked at the recipe, with all that cream and all those egg yolks, I knew we'd need help eating it. But I was a bit concerned that dried apricots and raisins would be "yucky" for picky college students. Never fear. When I brought it in, the students declared our house to be the best. Then they scrambled to get bowls, plates, etc. from the kitchen. Within minutes, a contented silence had fallen over the room. One girl was almost in tears as she contemplated her empty bowl. But everyone (except for Claire) was too polite to go for seconds. No problem there, either--Sami and Claire had a delicious breakfast the next morning.
This recipe is just as Maida describes--the tart apricots set off the bland, creamy custard perfectly. The almond extract adds a nice touch. And I wish I could have eaten one more piece.
Here are the ingredients. Note the size of the bread slices. I had to check on the Internet that an average slice of American white bread is about 1 to 1-1/2 ounces. Then I weighed my bread (half bakery bread and half supermarket bread, because that's what I had on hand). It was a lot more than 10 slices! Also notice that I used some "whole cream" (30%) and some "light cream" (15%). It turned out fine.
Mmmm...stacks of buttered bread. Can you tell the difference between the bakery bread and the supermarket bread?
Mid-assembly. The apricots look so nice against the white bread.
Fresh from the oven. The very brown parts are the heels of the bread. Waste not, want not.
Here's the recipe, if you've got hungry mouths to feed. Maida says it serves 8, but by my count, it served about 16.
Apricot Bread Pudding
6 oz. (generous 1/2 cup) dried apricots
1/3 c. (1.7 oz.) raisins, dark or golden
10 slices (about 12 oz.) good white bread, somewhat stale
About 3 oz. (6 T.) butter
2 c. cream (you can probably mix cream and half and half. Or just use half and half)
2 c. milk (again, you can probably adjust the fat content to your preferences)
5 large eggs plus 4 egg yolks
2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar, plus more to sprinkle
Get out a 13x9-inch baking pan (butter it) and also a larger baking pan that you can use as a bain marie (water bath). Snip the dried apricots into thin strips with scissors, then put them in a smallish bowl with the raisins. Pour boiling water over them to almost cover, cover with a plate, and let sit and soak for 20 minutes or so. In the meantime, get out the bread and butter. Butter each slice of bread fairly generously, stack the slices up, and cut them in half. When your dried fruit looks nice and plump, drain off the water. Now get out your buttered baking dish. Put in a third of the bread slices, buttered side up. Sprinkle them with the dried fruit. Repeat with another third of the bread, the rest of the dried fruit, and the rest of the bread. Maida suggests that you make sure that the top bread is arranged attractively. Maybe you shouldn't put the bread heels on top.
Now make the custard: Pour the milk and cream into a 4-cup Pyrex measure or another microwave-safe vessel. Heat for about 2-3 minutes or until steaming. In the meantime, put your eggs and egg yolks (save your egg whites in case you need to make fluffy white frosting someday...) in a large bowl and whisk them to blend. Add the vanilla, almond, salt, and 1/2 cup sugar, and then gradually whisk in the hot milk/cream. Slowly and evenly pour this mixture over the bread. Then put a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap on top (I used parchment and the butter stuck to it) and push down the bread so that it all soaks up some custard. Let it sit at least 30 minutes; you could probably refrigerate this overnight and then bake it for a delightful breakfast.
Heat the oven to 325. Remove the paper/plastic from the pudding and sprinkle it with about 2 T. sugar. Put the baking dish in the larger pan. Put both in the oven and then VERY CAREFULLY pour hot/boiling water (I use my boiler for this) into the larger pan, avoiding the bread pudding. The water should be about an inch deep. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife comes out barely dry. Serve hot or warm (or cold for breakfast). Be prepared to defend your serving (or second serving).
Maida suggests this might be served with some warm apricot jam thinned with rum or bourbon, which I did not do but would probably be delightful. If you try this, tell me about it.