Sunday, February 22, 2004

Anything can be used as bread pudding filling

By Barbara Yost
The Arizona Republic

What are uses for stale bread? You can either feed it to pigeons or make bread pudding.

Is there really a choice?

Bread pudding is the melting pot of desserts. You can throw in anything lying around the kitchen.

Reed Groban, now executive chef at an Arizona resort, remembers his frugal Ohio grandmother - now in her late 80s and still cooking - making bread pudding with fruit cocktail. This is the same grandmother who once made scrambled eggs with chocolate milk when no other milk was available and created a family tradition.

The term "comfort food" probably has been overused, but it fits bread pudding perfectly. The dish has been around forever, it seems, perhaps descended from English steamed puddings, Groban says.

Most bread puddings are baked in a water bath to create steam, but some don't go into the oven.

Matt Long, chef and restaurant owner, prepares a semisweet chocolate, slivered almond and apple pudding that incorporates bread into a bubbling sauce without baking. To make it special, the pudding is topped with a version of creme brulee.

"It's a little different from the normal bread pudding," Long says. "People seem to enjoy it a lot."

The beauty of bread pudding is its versatility. Jennifer Sedig, pastry instructor at the Art Institute of Phoenix, says it can be served warm or cold, though at this time of year warm desserts are especially satisfying. Almost any filling can be used: white, dark or milk chocolate; fresh fruits such as berries or bananas; raisins; nuts. The bread also can vary: white, brioche, croissants, sliced Danish or cinnamon rolls, even muffins. All of the bread flavors will meld with the filling and custard.

"Anything can go into bread pudding that can absorb the liquid," Sedig says. Traditional bread pudding is made simply with bread, milk and raisins, and served with lemon or hard sauce. That's common back East, says the Pittsburgh native.

Groban calls Western chefs "adventuresome" in their bread-pudding concoctions. A longtime favorite among his diners is the Blackberry Cinnamon Bread Pudding that chef Veronika Augustina Luko of Mesa, Ariz. created years ago to please her husband, Steve, who had eaten a similar dish as a high school boy. Made from French bread, studded with fat berries and topped with sabayon sauce and whipped cream, it's so popular that it accounted for $135,000 in her restaurant's sales in 2002.

Luko's recipe has repeatedly been requested by Bon Appetit magazine, but she's keeping her formula top secret.

Chocolate Almond Bread Pudding

1/4 ounce (about 1 tablespoon) raw slivered almonds

1/4 ounce (about 1 tablespoon) diced apple (any type)

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 ounce (about 1 tablespoon finely chopped) semisweet chocolate

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

21/2 ounces (about 1 cup) cubed French bread

In a saute pan on medium heat, toast almonds until golden brown. Add apple and saute 20 to 30 seconds, stirring continuously. Add cream, chocolate and cinnamon; reduce until chocolate has melted and cream is back to a heavy consistency. Reduce heat to low and fold in bread, mixing until bread absorbs all the sauce. Remove from heat and serve. Makes 2 servings.

Fusion Restaurant and Lounge, Scottsdale, Ariz.

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