I had some old baguette and the last few inches of a loaf of homemade bread that were just on the far side of fresh, and not quite good enough for salvage in the toaster. I cut it up into cubes with the intention of making Barbara Kingsolver's asparagus and morel bread pudding (which I think came by way of Deborah Madison). Alas, no asparagus presented itself, so the bread went into the freezer.
This past weekend, I had settled in for an afternoon of cooking and wanted to whip up something to finish off our lazy dinner. I had bought some new season rhubarb and found myself with an extra box of early strawberries that I needed to use. I wasn't really in the mood to make pie or short crust, and had slightly exhausted myself on crumbles this winter, but then remembered my bread cubes in the freezer. I thought that a golden and puffy bread pudding, faintly scented with vanilla but grounded with a hint of ginger, would be the perfect showcase for these ruby-hued harbingers of spring.
What I hadn't quite taken into account was that, at that point, my bread cubes were really, really stale. I whipped up my milk and cream mixture (I should have used Steph Chows'recipe!) and put the bread in to soak. 30 minutes later, the liquid was gone and the bread was still rather hard. So more milk went in. 15 minutes later, yet more milk. I have never seen anything retain so much liquid, with the possible exception of my swollen feet after a trans-atlantic flight.
Nevertheless, it all came out pretty well in the end. I baked it with some brown sugar and almonds sprinkled on top, and drizzled just the last few drops of cream over before serving. The rhubarb and strawberries held their own individual shapes and flavors, and my bread, gorged with dairy, held it all together. Lesson learned: use frozen, stale bread cubes for bread crumbs unless you want to buy stock in dairy farms.
Strawberry and rhubarb bread pudding.
Day-old bread, cut into cubes, approx. 3 cups
1/2 C. half & half or single cream 1/2 - 1 C. low-fat milk -- add more or use less milk depending on how dry the bread is. It should be quite moist by the time it is baked.
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 T. finely chopped crystalized ginger
1 1/2 C. rhubarb, sliced into 1 inch segments
1 1/2 C. strawberries -- left whole if small, or halved if larger, stems removed
1/4 C. slivered almonds
4 T. brown sugar
1 T. flour
Whisk eggs, cream, milk, vanilla, and ginger together. Mix with bread in a large bowl and cover, letting the liquid absorb for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Chop rhubarb and mix with the flour and 2 T. brown sugar. Cut up strawberries, mix with rhubarb, then stir through bread mixture. If there is a large amount of liquid left in the bread soaking bowl, pour off before mixing with the fruit.
Spread mixture into a 9x9 in. non-stick metal pan, or lightly grease a glass or ceramic dish. Strew almonds over the top, and then sprinkle with the remaining 2 T. brown sugar.
Bake at 350 until the bread is puffed and the rhubarb is cooked through.