This makes a fine breakfast as is or topped with some pure maple syrup. It also makes a beautiful dessert, again, as is, or if your feeling fancy, topped with maple syrup and a bit of vanilla bean ice cream and maybe a few chopped almonds. Or, as an alternative, just adorned with some gorgeous seasonal fruit. Actually if you baked this with seasonal fruit inside, it would be sensational. Fruit like raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, apricots or peaches would be especially nice. As you can see, this recipe is quite flexible.
The citrus is a welcome addition and it's what makes this stand out from other bread puddings. I actually just used the juice and left out the zest because I have a husband who doesn't particularly appreciate it (he hates the orange rolls I put out every Christmas morning, but loves the cinnamon ones). When he tasted this he could tell there was citrus (the juice) in it, because you could definitely taste it. It lent more of a subtle, nectar like sweetness and in no way overpowered the pudding. It didn't scream orange. It whispered it. He liked it for a change.
The taste is subtle but full and well rounded. Bread and butter pudding is a perfect name for this because that's exactly what it tastes like if you could close your eyes and imagine it. Crusty top and a silky middle. You can't go wrong.
Bread and Butter Pudding
adapted from Good To The Grain, by Kim Boyce
Butter for the dish
1 French or Sourdough baguette (8 cups)
3 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
Zest and juice of 2 oranges (no more than 1/2 cup juice)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup currants (optional)
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, finely cubed
Slice the baguette in half length wise and then into long strips, and lastly into small pieces about u1 inch in size. You should have about 8 cups of bread. Spread the bread onto a baking sheet. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Place the baking sheet in the oven and turn the oven to 350 degrees. (The bread needs time to toast so it doesn't turn to mush while baking in the custard). Toast for about 12 minutes while the oven is warming up, until the bread is mostly dry and crunchy. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, combine the eggs, milk, and cream in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly combined-a whisk works just fine here, but if you have an immersion blender, use that for a quick, smooth blend. Strain the custard into a large bowl. Add the orange zest, juice, sugar, nutmeg, salt, currants, and butter, and stir to combine. Once the bread is cool, add it to the custard. let the bread and custard soak for 10 minutes, stirring a few times so that the custard is absorbed evenly.
Butter a deep10-inch baking dish or dutch oven and pour the bread and custard into it. Arrange the bread that sits above the custard in a rustic fashion, spooning the currants that have fallen tot he bottom of the bowl across the top and into the pockets that form on the top.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours. After about 1 hour, the tips of the bread will be quite dark, just shy of burning, while the custard will not yet be set. To keep the bread from burning, lay a piece of aluminum foil loosely over the top of the pudding dish. Bake until the pudding has puffed up. (mine needed to bake, still covered, for 15 minutes longer because the center was too wobbly to be done after 1 1/2 hours) Allow it to cool in its pan on top of the stove.
The pudding is best served warm or at room temperature the same day it was made. Any leftovers can be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated for 3 days.
I mentioned earlier that I had omitted the orange zest but I didn't tell you that I also left out the currants. They both would have been lovely, but the zest would have made the pudding more orange forward which was something I didn't want. Also, my husband is sort of a bread pudding purist. That means no raisins, which I translated as no currants either. That's fine by me. He was pleased, as was I, so please feel free to adapt to your own tastes.