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franklin county times

Pudding, glorious pudding

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
October 13, 2004
As a kid I hated bread pudding. It always reminded me of a gruel-like dish a Dickensian orphanage would serve.
In 1968, my mother took me and my friend, Jay Pittman, to the Saturday matinee at the Hardy Street Cinema. We were hoping for a war movie or a Western, but the feature that day was the musical "Oliver!" and it forever changed my mind about bread pudding.
Somewhere, somehow, I made the connection that bread pudding and porridge were one and the same. Maybe it was the consistency, maybe it was the appearance. Whatever it was, I was subsequently scared that I would be thrown into a home for wayward boys forced to eat nothing but bread pudding if I ever developed a taste for it.
Immediately after the movie, I swore off porridge-like dishes for life. I also changed my proposed career path from being a future member of the Rolling Stones to becoming a full-time pickpocket.
The Artful Dodger was played by Jack Wild, star of my favorite Saturday morning show, "H.R. Pufnstuf." The life of a pickpocket held quite a romantic outlook for a 7-year-old as long as he wasn't forced to eat porridge.
On bread pudding night at the St. John house, I would picture myself as Oliver walking up to the head table where my mother sat. But instead of asking for more like Oliver, I would say "Here give this to him," nodding toward my older brother. My brother then would gladly snatch the bowl from my hands and dance around the room singing a rousing rendition of "Food, Glorious Food," dressed in leotards and ballet shoes, of course.
Then I would wake from the dream, still staring at my bowl of uneaten bread pudding, still being kicked by my brother under the table.
One of my pet peeves with bread pudding is that almost all recipes call for day-old or stale bread. I have never understood this. I realize that the origin of the dish was to allow medieval cooks and tight-fisted restaurants to dispense of stale bread, but if one doesn't have a loaf of soon-to-mold bread on hand, should one wait a few days until the bread becomes stale before making a batch of bread pudding?
At our restaurants we don't use stale bread. We do the same thing that you do with stale bread, throw it away. Freshly baked sourdough bread or croissants work best in bread pudding, and that's what we use.
Another of my gripes with bread pudding is that most recipes call for the bread to be cut into cubes. The problem here is that the bread tends to float to the top, the corners of the cubes stay dry, poke out of the finished product, and become burned.
Most recipes force the cook to continually force the bread back down into the liquid mixture until it has absorbed all of the liquid. This takes time, and a few cubes still end up floating to the top.
The trick to making a smooth and creamy bread pudding is to place the bread cubes, along with the liquid mixture, into an electric mixing bowl and mix it slowly. This process gently breaks down the bread and makes for a more uniform finished product. If fruit is added it should be done after the mixing process. Bread pudding prepared using this method develops a custard-like consistency.
Nowadays I like bread pudding. Also, every time I eat it, I get a mental picture of my older brother, the one who so often beat me up, flitting around our old breakfast room singing:
Fried, roasted or stewed.
Oh, food,
Wonderful food,
Marvelous food,
Glorious food"
Actually, my brother can't dance or carry a tune, and probably has never seen "Oliver!" on stage or film but a boy can dream, can't he?
Kids, aim high in your career choices. If you don't have what it takes to be a pickpocket or a member of the Rolling Stones, there's always the restaurant business.
1⁄2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 cup raisins
2 large loaves sourdough bread (crusts cut off and cut into cubes)
Cream butter and sugar; add eggs, heavy cream, vanilla and cinnamon. Place liquid ingredients and half of the bread into the bowl of an electric mixer and begin mixing on slowest speed.
As bread begins to break up add more bread to the bowl until the mixture becomes like a damp (not too wet) mush. Add raisins and place all into a greased casserole dish (in a water bath) and bake covered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean.
Jack Daniels sauce for bread pudding
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons Jack Daniels
Bring cream, sugar, cinnamon and butter to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Separately, dissolve the cornstarch and water. Add the cornstarch mixture to the hot sauce and cook until thickened. Remove from heat. Add the Jack Daniels.
Robert St. John is an author, chef, restaurateur and world-class eater. He is the author of "A Southern Palate," "Deep South Staples," and the upcoming book "Nobody's Poet."

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