EASTER HAS ENDED, and the food coma is starting to wear off, finally. After copious portions of lamb and lemony roasted potatoes, after way too many eggs and koulouria and slices of tsoureki, the Greek Easter bread . . . You notice that there’s still quite a bit of everything left over. What to do with it all? Lamb and potatoes will get your family through another dinnertime; one less meal to plan. You already have my suggestion for leftover Easter eggs. The koulouria keep for a week or more, no problem. But what about those slices of tsoureki that have already begun to lose their moisture? Let them go bone dry, I tell you. You won’t regret it.
In our house, we do one of three things with dried bread: my son will take it to the park and feed the birds; my husband occasionally gets inspired to make “pain perdu,” the French french toast (which I have never warmed to; this is one of the few subjects over which I fall into complete, blind patriotism: American is better); and me? I make bread pudding.
I have been trying to remember the first time I ate a bread pudding, or the first time I made one. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment. Bread puddings were not something that ever turned up on the dining tables of my youth. I am not sure, but don’t think, that either of my parents has ever made one—at least not that I tasted. It was probably not the first, but I do remember having bread pudding at Commander’s Palace in pre-Katrina New Orleans. And I’m pretty sure that the first time I made one was thanks to a recipe by Lee Bailey, one of those old-fashioned Southern gentlemen of the kitchen. No doubt that bread pudding is common in the South, and I am now sufficiently curious about its culinary history to do some research. Later.
For now, I’ll just tell you that bread pudding, especially warm, is one of the great comforts of my days. And it is so versatile, so forgiving. Mix in any ingredients you like; try chocolate, figs, nuts, stone fruits in season. Use different types of bread, such as baguette, brioche, challah, whole wheat, rye, pound cake (chocolate or cornmeal are lovely). Make sweet or savory puddings. There are versions suitable for breakfast (no more sinful than “real” French toast), lunch, dinner, or dessert. It’s not the lightest form of food (understatement), but a good bread pudding is worth its weight in calories, if you ask me.
It’s also the perfect vehicle for leftover, dried-out slices of Easter bread.
The following recipe for bread pudding takes as its base my own tsoureki, which has been featured on Food News Journal’s “Best of the Blogs,” and which you can find here. If you don’t want to try my recipe, I won’t hold it against you: make another tsoureki or use a store-bought loaf, though neither is likely to be studded with golden raisins and candied orange peel. If you can’t find or don’t want to use tsoureki at all (but why not?!) then challah or brioche are the next best substitutes, since all these breads are eggy and somewhat sweet. The pity will be that you lose the subtle flavor of mastiha, a unique spice from the Greek island of Chios, which is what makes tsoureki what it is: a special, festive bread. Of course, I have a solution for that, too, as I’ve created a mastiha crème anglaise to go with the bread pudding (optional, but decadent).
Without further preamble, here’s the recipe. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope making it will help keep the springtime spirit of Easter and its accompanying feelings of renewal close to you for a bit longer.
Tsoureki Bread Pudding with Mastiha Crème Anglaise
This recipe provides an ideal way to use up whatever leftover tsoureki you may have from your Easter holiday, though I guarantee you won’t want to limit yourself to one time of the year for this comforting treat. I have used some of the stand-out ingredients in the tsoureki itself to enhance the bread pudding, notably candied orange peel and mastiha, which revs up an otherwise traditional (possibly boring) crème anglaise. These ingredients (along with the white chocolate) are optional, but certainly add a bit of extra flair and festivity. Although I have not done this yet, you would probably have as much success baking this as a single, large dish rather than in individual servings. However you serve it, you’re sure to hear requests for seconds, so plan accordingly. (Speaking of planning, while the active prep and bake time is minimal, you do need to start with tsoureki that is very dry. If need be, allow an extra day to dry out the tsoureki slices on a rack or a baking sheet.)
Yield: 4-6 Individual Servings (depends on ramekin size; I used 7-ounce ramekins and had enough for five overflowing portions)
For the bread pudding:
8-10 slices Tsoureki, completely dried out and cut into 1-inch cubes (you want around 6 cups bread cubes)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or use 1/2 teaspoon if you prefer less)
1 generous pinch ground cloves
1/4 cup diced candied orange peel (optional; there is some already in the tsoureki, if you’ve made my loaf)
1/2 cup white chocolate chunks (optional)
For the mastiha crème anglaise:
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-3 drops mastiha oil, or 1/2 teaspoon mastiha powder (see note for source)
2 large egg yolks
2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar (I used superfine, caster sugar, but regular is all right, too)
Prepare the bread pudding. Make sure the tsoureki is completely dry, cubed, and measured. In a small saucepan, melt the butter then let it cool. Crack two eggs into a large bowl, add the sugar and whisk until the yolks become thick and pale. Whisk in the cooled butter. Add milk, cream, vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, and continue to whisk, blending all ingredients together to form a custard. Add the bread cubes and mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula. You want to make sure all the cubes get coated on all sides with the custard, so don’t be shy pushing the bread around. Fold in the candied orange peel and white chocolate, if using. Let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease whatever sized ramekins you will be using.
When the oven is ready and the bread pudding has soaked, spoon an equal amount of bread into each of the ramekins and ladle any extra custard over the top. At this point, you may either put the individual puddings into the refrigerator to set for later that day or the next (this can be a great do-ahead preparation), or else bake them right away.
Set the ramekins on a baking tray, slide into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 20-25 minutes. The puddings should be golden brown on top, and a knife inserted into the center of a pudding should come out clean. The puddings should be nicely risen, may have some liquid bubbling slightly in the centers, and may also seem a little jiggly (but shouldn’t be much). When done, remove from the oven and transfer the ramekins to a wire rack to cool.
While the bread pudding is cooling, make the mastiha crème anglaise. Place the cream and mastiha together in a small saucepan and stir. Heat on low until the cream is just about simmering. Meanwhile, in a medium-size bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until light and thickened. When the cream is ready, pour a small amount into the eggs to temper them, whisking all the while. Gradually add more cream, still whisking, until all the cream is incorporated. Return the egg-cream mixture to the saucepan and return to low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the cream thickens and thickly coats the back of the spoon, 3-5 minutes. Strain the mixture into a bowl positioned in an ice bath to halt the cooking.
The bread pudding and cream can be served warm, room temperature, or cold. Pass the cream on the side to let guests spoon it on to their liking.
A Note on Mastiha:
Mastiha adds a mysterious, herbal aroma to baked goods, and it is traditionally used in Greek holiday baking at Easter and at Christmastime. It can be purchased in many forms: oil, powder, or “tears.” You can purchase mastiha, as well as prepared foods featuring this ingredient, from: MastihaShop at http://www.mastihashopny.com/