My maternal grandmother, Della, wasn’t much of a cook. Forever dieting, she invested far more time into maintaining her dress size than she did perfecting her brisket recipe. However, when pressed into kitchen service, there were a few dishes that she could make tolerably well. She knew how to cook a pot of oatmeal so that it was thick and creamy, had long ago mastered the art of broiling a steak and made the best bread pudding around.
Bread pudding was a staple during Della’s childhood. After being orphaned, she and her siblings were raised by an aunt and uncle. The pressures of feeding three growing children meant that food had to be inexpensive and filling. Stale bread cooked in custard and sweetened with dried fruit checked both boxes and tasted good to boot.
Throughout her later years, bread pudding was the one thing that my grandmother just couldn’t resist. Any time my grandparents would eat out and it was on the menu, my grandfather would order it as his dessert. When it arrived, he’d nudge the dish my grandmother’s way. She’d insist that she was entirely satisfied with black coffee and then proceed to eat half the serving in small bites.
During my childhood, Della would mix up a batch of bread pudding whenever she came to visit. She was a messy cook, leaving a trail of custard drips from one end of the kitchen to the other, but in our house, the dog was happy to mop up after her. Once the pudding had baked and settled, she’d scoop generous portions for my sister and me and watch with pleasure as we ate. Later, she’d sneak into the kitchen, quietly lift the foil that covered the baking dish and taste her creation. Repeatedly.
I inherited Della’s love of bread pudding but not her need to hide my dessert consumption from the world. This last weekend, I celebrated a birthday and I made myself both a rhubarb cake and a pan of Burnt Orange Bread Pudding to celebrate (I shared both with friends and family). However, as far as I’m concerned, you don’t need a celebratory event to justify this bread pudding. Any cozy Saturday or Sunday morning is just fine. And that’s why it’s just perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start whisking your custard, here are a few things you should know:
— This recipe makes a very generous amount of bread pudding. You can easily cut the recipe in half if you’re not cooking for a crowd.
— Brioche makes a most-indulgent bread pudding. However, you can also use odds and ends of a loaf of sandwich bread, or even a few leftover hotdog buns. What’s most important is that you let it sit out and get nice and stale.
— The instructions indicate that you need to strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve before adding the citrus zest. This is so you can remove any funky egg fibers. However, once the eggs are cooked, you really won’t notice them, so it’s your call as to whether you want to dirty a strainer or not.
— If burnt oranges seem like too much work to you, skip ‘em. No one will know.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, called Food in Jars: Canning in Small Batches Year Round, has just been published.