I have always loved bread pudding, but I’ve found a new twist on an old favorite: bourbon bread pudding, meet poached pears.
So first off, I’ll be honest: when I made poached pears, I didn’t do it for just that. Sorry pears, I was using you–just a rebound dessert, an in between sweet to get me to something better. Forgive me.
With that heavy confession off my chest, I had high hopes for this dessert, but even with high expectations, I was still pretty impressed with the result. Everybody loves bread pudding (just agree), but bread pudding by itself can be one of those desserts that is kind of…predictable? The poached pears really brought something new and exciting to a familiar favorite of mine. The pudding itself was tasty and moist, with a sweet hint of bourbon and the wonderful flavor of fresh vanilla (beans are so much better than extract). This was enlivened by the poached pears that were also cooked into the pudding for a really lively, fruity flavor which is somehow, just what you’d expect from the golden color when you lay out a slice. The pears also gave the pudding extra moisture, not in a way that made it soggy (phew!), but just offered a nice burst of flavor in your mouth (all of that delicious poaching syrup….mmmm). The result wouldn’t be the same if you used raw pears–poached pears bring a wonderful tenderness and a lot of extra flavor cooked into them (if you’ve ever had poached pears, you know exactly what I mean). This is also my entry in this month’s edition (Puddings!) of Sugar High Friday.
Seeing how I served this as the grand finale to my Thanksgiving dinner this year, I wanted to dress it up to look a bit fancier than just a slice of bread pudding. Since I still had some leftover caramel sauce from my persimmon custard, I opted to use that to candy some toasted hazelnuts for an appearance and flavor that would just provide an interesting contrast, and it really couldn’t have paired any better (and a further pairing: a flight of tawny port). I then laid a thin slice of a poached pear across each piece of bread pudding and drizzled a little bit of the poaching sauce on the plate. Every plate came back licked clean–the perfect way to end a meal!
- 1 crusty baguette
- 5 poached pears (you only need 4, but I used one for garnish)
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup finely granulated (white) sugar
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 1 tsp bourbon
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- Optional toppings (that you really should do):
The first step is to poach the pears, letting them cool off in the refrigerator in their own syrup. I poached five rather than four, using four in the recipe and the fifth to slice up as a garnish (and it obviously pairs really well as far as garnishes go, so I’d recommend it–you’re already doing all of the work, what’s one more pear?).
Cut the bread into small pieces of roughly equal size (figure 1/4-1/2 inch cubes or so). Then, place all of these bread pieces evenly in a buttered baking pan.
Now, in a medium sized bowl, beat the eggs. Once well beaten, add in the milk, cream, sugar, cinnamon, and bourbon (and have a nip of some bourbon yourself for your troubles). Slit the half of a vanilla bean and scrape the insides into the cream mixture and then whisk everything together well. Pour the wet mixture into the bread baking pan and somewhat gently squish the bread a bit so that all of it is in the wet mixture.
Now, take four of the poached pears and coarsely chop them up (I just pulsed them with a mixer–don’t puree them, then they’ll bleed out all of the poaching syrup). Spread this coarse pear mixture on top of your soaking bread pudding evenly and mush things together (gently) a little more.
At this point, you want to wait for about an hour so that the bread can sop up some of that wet mixture. Some time while you’re waiting, preheat the oven to 350?F, and once time is up, put the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.
Now, while the bread pudding is cooking in the oven, spread the hazelnuts out on a cookie sheet. Place this in the oven for 10 minutes to toast them, then roll them over, and toast them for another 10 minutes (so you get all sides). Once removed, let them cool for five minutes, and then if they have their papery coating on them still, do your best to rub off the paper stuff. I found taking a handful of nuts and rubbing them between my hands (quickly, like you’re trying to start a fire) got a lot off pretty easily, but don’t worry about being perfect.
Anyways, at this point, like I’d mentioned, I wanted some sort of candy coating on the nuts. I had leftover caramel sauce , so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to use it. If you don’t have caramel sauce handy (or don’t feel like making it), I think melting down some milk chocolate would work wonderfully as well (and requires very little effort–maybe even consider a ganache over a double boiler…mmm…). So whatever you’re using (caramel, chocolate–something sweet that will coat the nuts), warm it up a bit in a saucepan, toss the toasted nuts around in it, and take off the heat so that it can cool off a little.
So now, I’ll assume that the 45 minutes are up on the bread pudding, so verify that its done baking by poking the center with a knife–it should come out fairly clean.
Allow it to cool off for about 20 minutes. Knife the edges to ensure it doesn’t cling to the baking pan, slice out a square, and plate it right away (warm bread pudding is good bread pudding). Once plated, grab a large spoonful of candied nuts and plop them on top of your slice. If you have a garnishing pear, cut off a clean slice and lay it across your bread pudding. Drizzle a little of the pear poaching syrup around the plate in some stylish way for your final flourish and enjoy!