This classic bread pudding recipe bakes up a big batch to share. Cubes of brioche soak in a sweet spiced cream, then bake in a water bath to create a smooth custard texture. Serve with a generous drizzle of homemade bourbon sauce.
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My first bite of bread pudding was in New Orleans at Commander’s Palace. When the warm plate hit the table, I could immediately smell the spices and hints of oaky whisky in the sticky glaze. Let’s just say they set the bar pretty high, but I’m happy to report that I closely recreated the experience at home.
The good news is that the recipe includes simple ingredients; bread, eggs, cream, sugar, and spices. You will need to prepare and bake the custard base with care to deliver a smooth and creamy texture. I use a water bath to gently cook the egg filling, to nail the right consistency. Don’t worry, the technique is easy, and I’ll show you my step-by-step method.
What is bread pudding?
Bread pudding typically uses day-old bread and turns it into a warm baked custard dessert. The bread soaks in an egg and cream mixture with spices or other mix-ins like fruit or chocolate. It gently bakes to yield a velvety, souffle-like texture. You can make it in a large casserole pan or small ramekins for individual portions to serve multiple guests.
For this recipe, you will need a 1 pound loaf of bread. I prefer to use brioche, a slightly sweet egg bread with a dense crumb structure for more chew and decadence. Challah is a good substitute. French bread is another great option and will have a lighter texture since it’s a lean yeast dough.
Dry the bread
To mimic using day-old or stale bread, cut the loaf into 1-inch pieces, then bake them in a 300-degree oven. This process will gently dry excess moisture on the surface, similar to making croutons. The dryness allows the sweet custard to absorb into the crumb for maximum flavor. This method also prevents the bread from instantly getting too soggy, and losing its structure.
Tempering the custard
Bread pudding is a type of baked custard, so to ensure a velvety texture, you need to heat the eggs with the dairy and sugar gently. This process also helps to fully dissolve the sugar granules before it bakes for even dispersion.
Tempering the cool eggs with warm liquid creates a smooth consistency during cooking and prevents the proteins from turning into lumpy curds. The cream mixture heats to 120-degrees for gentle warming.
Soak the bread
To ensure that the bread absorbs the custard all the way to the center, let it soak until hydrated and soft. This process takes about 30 minutes. Don’t skip this step, or the pudding will taste dry in parts instead of infusing together into smooth and creamy slices.
Bake in a water bath
If you place the bread pudding on the oven rack, the direct heat will make the edges overly dry and the middle too custardy. To create an even consistency throughout, bake the dessert set inside a water bath. To make one, just put the casserole dish inside a large roasting pan and pour in hot water until it reaches halfway up the sides.
The steam generated in the oven will gently cook the egg mixture, and prevent hot spots. The result is a decadent souffle-like texture. This technique is also used for egg-based desserts like cheesecake to prevent cracking and retaining moisture.
Make a bourbon sauce
To make a traditional bread pudding sauce, whip up a quick bourbon-infused glaze. I like to add brown sugar because the molasses compliments the flavor of the barrel-aged whiskey. Melted butter, sugar, and eggs gently heat together until the proteins thicken and coat a spoon. It’s essential to keep the butter and sugar mixture below 135ºF (57ºC) before adding in the egg.
The egg will coagulate at temperatures of 144ºF (62.2C) and above, so it’s good to provide a buffer. Once it’s mixed with the sugars and butter, it will prevent curds from forming as it cooks and thickens. The alcohol and vanilla are added at the very end, which keeps it bold and intense. A little bit of salt enhances the caramel flavors in the sauce. Make sure to add it warm on top of the pudding.
Ways to switch up the recipe
- Add seasonal fruits like blueberries and peach or mashed bananas
- Sprinkle in chocolate chips or mix in melted bittersweet chocolate
- Add in other spices like cardamom, mace, allspice, or ginger
Storing and freezing
Completely cool the bread pudding, then store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Individual pieces can be tightly wrapped in plastic and stored in a resealable bag in the freezer for up to one month. Defrost before reheating.
What to serve this with
- Caramel sauce
- Whipped cream
- Melted chocolate
- Chopped nuts like pecans, walnuts, or almonds
- Slices for fresh fruit like bananas or strawberries
How to check for doneness
The bread pudding is ready when the center sets and is no longer jiggly. The temperature should be about 170 to 175ºF (77 to 80ºC) when tested with an instant-read thermometer. Too high, and it will taste too rubbery, and the egg proteins will have firmed up more and lose moisture. Let it cool at room temperature for about an hour so it’s easier to slice. Meanwhile, I prepare the bourbon sauce.
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- 16 ounces brioche bread, or Fench loaf
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs
- 4 large yolks
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup raisins, (optional)
- hot water, as needed for the water bath
- powdered sugar, as needed for dusting (optional)
Bourbon Sauce (makes about 1 ¼ cups)
- ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon bourbon whiskey, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- Set the oven rack to the center position and heat to 300ºF (149ºC).
- Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes, about 9 to 10 cups worth. Spread on a large sheet pan or two smaller pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring halfway through toasting. The bread should be lightly golden and dry on the surface. Cool on the tray for 10 minutes. It will become crisper.
- Grease a 3-quart or 9×13 baking dish with 1 tablespoon softened butter. Add the dried bread in an even layer. Set aside. Increase the oven temperature to 350ºF (177ºC).
- In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan bring milk, cream, and granulated sugar to a low simmer over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, do not heat over 120ºF (49ºC), about 4 to 5 minutes. The milk should be warm and not hot when touched. Turn off the heat and stir in vanilla. Remove the pan from heat and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, and salt. Very slowly, pour a ½ cup of the warm cream mixture into the eggs, whisking continuously. Add in another ½ cup, whisking between each addition until a total of 2 cups have been added. This is the tempered egg mixture.
- While whisking the milk mixture, pour the tempered eggs into the saucepan and whisk to thoroughly incorporate. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins. Whisk to combine.
- Pour the custard mixture over the bread, stir a few times to gently coat and allow to sit and absorb most of the liquid for 30 minutes. If needed, push any exposed bread down into the custard with a spoon.
- Place the baking dish in a large roasting pan. Slowly pour enough hot water into the roasting pan's side to create a hot water bath, about halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Carefully transfer to the oven. Bake until the pudding appears set in the center and the temperature reaches 170 to 175ºF (77 to 80ºC), about 60 to 75 minutes.
- Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and then remove the casserole dish from the roasting pan. Allow the pudding to cool for 60 minutes before serving, so it’s easier to cut.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, stirring occasionally, do not let it simmer. Whisk in the granulated sugar and brown sugar, make sure the mixture does not get above 135ºF (57ºC). Add the egg and quickly whisk to combine. Continuously stir and cook until it thickens enough to coat a spoon and reaches 155 to 160ºF (68 to 71ºC), about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Stir in the bourbon, vanilla, and salt. Taste and add more bourbon if desired, 1 teaspoon at a time. Strain the sauce if needed to remove any lumps. The sauce will thicken more as it cools down.
- Dust the bread pudding with powdered sugar and drizzle with warm bourbon sauce.
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