It’s hard to say where my bread-pudding-makes-everything-better mentality began, but for fairness sake, I must give courtesy to the English isle where I first met this decadent gustatory form.
My most recent visit to London and her surrounding villages some four years ago reestablished my understanding of comfort food and, essentially, how to eat in comfort. England’s pubs represent the pinnacle of leisure from their playful trophy titles – like the Slow and Easy and the Cat and Custard Pot – to the overstuffed fireside leather and the rustic dishes that just make a thick pint of Guinness or tart cider that much more fulfilling.
This past weekend, I visited countryside England’s home away from home located conveniently in Athens’ energetic 5 Points. Among their extensive drafts by the pint and traditional Englishman plates, like Bangers and Mash and the cute Bubble & Squeak, nestle several must-have desserts necessary in filling oneself to thy brim. Among the few sweets I sampled, or more realistically gorged down, stood a traditional British Bread Pudding guilty of spoiling every needy or wanton cell in my body. Candied fruit sunk into a plush of puffed up, custard-ridden bread as if they grew in place without vines. Need I comment on the sinful splash of molten rum that left my taste buds drunk and stumbling after bite one? Atop Mount Savor stood a mound of French vanilla bean ice cream so lovely I’d liken it to an angel’s snowball. This ice cream mound appeared dense and rich but tasted a simple sweet with a body of airiness, the perfect balance to its dense predecessor. To finish, a thick, buttery caramel sauce oozed over politely. With the kind help of our very cultured server, I paired the decadent edible art form with a frothy pint of Wexford Irish Cream Ale, inherently a dessert in itself. I confidently likened this ale to the taste twin of an “Irish Car Bomb”. If you’re unfamiliar (which most cultured people probably are), an ICB is a popular expression of strength often tested by college students, naturally. It calls for a pint of Guinness, “bombed” by a combined shot of ¾ Jameson and ¼ Baileys Irish Cream. Wexford is a tasty, almost-chocolate-milk-like ale, but needless to say, I probably couldn’t get more than one down without scaring my sweet tooth. As the English say, Cheers!
Over the past year and a half, I transformed from what might be thought of as a bread pudding seeker or huntswoman to a special-operations bread pudding originator. I affirm this revolution not to toot my own horn, but to recognize the dessert-gone-casserole that so frequently strongholds my gustatory experimentation. While I’m still the first to order this custard-meets-bread off most any menu, I’ve learned what ingredients to leave and which to admit. Careful to approach the dessert impartially, my line-of-attack begins neither from a place of bread nor a place of pudding, but rather a meticulous balance of each. I am always so humbled how ooey goons manage to balance crusty and flakey in such a mutual appreciation. A wide array of ingredients have walked the plank into my many versions of this makeshift recipe. Confidently speaking, I hold tight that chocolate or caramel chips are always an intelligent replacement of raisins or currents, especially among my flavorful crowd of eaters. Of all the versions that have puffed up in my awfully out-of-date oven, one takes the cake, so to speak, and remains a crowd favorite – Almighty Cinnamon Crunch Bread Pudding. A rustic Big City Bread French loaf inhales a thick vanilla custard and hides mounds of cinnamon sugar in between each layer. After baked in a water bath, the sinful form is smothered in condensed-milk-gone-caramel-sauce, cooled, and dowsed in homemade cream cheese icing. Each time I take my first bite, I cry.