Savory bread pudding perfect for holiday brunch

Diane Rossen Worthington, Tribune Media ServicesBread pudding, or stratas, as they are sometimes called, are perfect for breakfast, brunch or lunch. Since they must be made ahead before baking, these Originally Published December 20, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 19, 2012 at 10:54 a.m.
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Bread pudding, or stratas, as they are sometimes called, are perfect for breakfast, brunch or lunch. Since they must be made ahead before baking, these really are a cook’s best friend. Served in soufflé dishes, in individual ramekins, or in shallow baking dishes, bread puddings are difficult to resist because of their old-fashioned quality.

The holidays are usually so packed with various activities that a dish like this is one secret to being a relaxed host. The colors of this bread pudding, with mahogany-red crisp bacon, red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes contrasting with the bright green spinach leaves, make it the perfect choice for a festive Christmas or New Year’s brunch.

Don’t forget to start this a day ahead to dry out the bread cubes. Try to find olive-studded ciabatta bread for extra flavor. If your kids are picky eaters, you can leave out the peppers and tomatoes with an equally delicious result, a kind of special bacon and cheese sandwich. I like to serve this with a winter fruit salad platter.

Keep these tips in mind when making any bread pudding:

• Use good-quality bread like challah or brioche.

• Make sure to dry it out so the bread can absorb the custard. You can do this by putting it out on the counter overnight or in a 250-degree oven for half an hour.

• Allow time for the custard to absorb into the bread before it goes into the oven. Allow it to sit until you can feel that a cube is soaked through to the center.

The clever cook could do the following:

• Substitute smoked Gouda for 1 cup of Cheddar cheese.

• Substitute sausage for the bacon.

• Substitute challah, egg bread or French bread for the ciabatta.

• Add sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions instead of the peppers or sun-dried tomatoes.

• Serve this at room temperature.

Savory Bread Pudding With Bacon, Peppers and Sun-dried Tomatoes

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

1 (14-ounce) olive ciabatta, crusts removed, cut into cubes

1/2 pound apple wood-smoked bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces

3/4 cup jarred roasted peppers, rinsed and drained, chopped

2 cups spinach leaves

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping

6 eggs

4 cups milk or half-and-half

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Place bread cubes on a baking sheet and let dry out overnight.
  2. Cook the bacon pieces in a large skillet on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, turning once to evenly brown and crisp. Remove to paper towels and drain. Reserve.
  3. Place the bread cubes in a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spoon over the bacon, peppers and spinach leaves evenly. Sprinkle on 2 cups of the shredded cheese. With a large spoon, mix the ingredients around until they are evenly distributed.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk to blend well. Carefully pour the custard over the bread evenly. Press the bread into the custard. Sprinkle the top with the 1/4 cup cheddar cheese. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight.
  5. When ready to bake: Remove the pudding from the refrigerator an hour before. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until slightly puffed, set and browned on the top. (If the center is still underdone, push down the bread to let the custard absorb into the bread. Bake a few more minutes.) Let rest for a few minutes; then cut into squares and serve. This can be served slightly warmed or even at room temperature.

Advance preparation: May be prepared up to 1 day ahead through step 4, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking.

Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 20 cookbooks, including her most recent, Seriously Simple Parties (Chronicle Books, 2012), and is also a James Beard award-winning radio-show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.

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