Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pumpkin Bread Pudding Parfait

I spent the morning before Thanksgiving this year making two swings out to the airport, contented with the accompaniment of Mario Batali and Rick Bayless.  The conversation, as would be expected, centered on the holiday meal... the ins and outs of getting a great turkey on the table, new twists to traditional sides, etc. It was thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking. The fact that these masters of cooking traveled with me via satellite radio is but a minor detail.

The important point here is that I came away from this listening experience questioning whether I have been playing it too safe with my holiday meal. I had, over the years, come up with a set menu... a compilation of our favorites. And yet, after listening to the milieu of dishes being served up by the callers into this morning program,  I desperately wanted to join their ranks... throw something new into our treasured line-up.

Being one that leans more toward the savory than the sweet, I figured the dessert course was a safe place to mix things up and a bread pudding just seemed like a perfect way to reconfigure our traditional pumpkin pie. The primary flavor component remains true to the season, yet the versatility in plating allows for a more festive offering. Basically kicking pumpkin pie up a notch (or two).

While many bread puddings use breads like challah or brioche, I chose to go with a cinnamon-swirl bread from a local bakery. This bread has a similar density to that of the two more traditional choices, yet with the added benefit of a bit more flavor. Given that it wasn't day-old, as is fairly common in bread puddings, I cubed the bread, tossed it with a bit of melted butter, dusted it with a little more cinnamon and brown sugar (believing there is never enough of the "swirl" to go around), and toasted it in the oven for about 10 minutes before adding in all the other ingredients and popping the whole thing into the oven to bake.

The pudding can be cut into squares and plated with a simple dusting of powdered sugar... or elegantly stacked and then dusted. It can be placed on a puddle of cream anglaise (melted vanilla bean ice cream, in our case) and dolloped with some sweetened whipped cream.

Or, as shown here, cut into cubes and layered in a glass with sweetened whipped cream and candied walnuts. (Though this might look like a more decadent offering, it's truly just the same square of pudding, cut into cubes.)

Regardless of how it's presented, it's a great holiday treat... a perfect finish to a great dinner.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding Parfait
Roughly adapted from a 2007 Gourmet magazine recipe and a 2002 Martha Stewart recipe
8 to 10 servings

6 cups cubed Cinnamon-Swirl bread, from a good bakery (about 1" cubes)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1/4 cup, plus 1T, brown sugar
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
3 eggs, plus 1 yolk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease bottom and sides of a 9" x 13" baking dish. Add cubed bread to dish and toss with melted butter. Sprinkle bread cubes with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, until lightly toasted.

Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients (pumpkin puree, eggs, cream, milk, sugar, salt, ginger, allspice, vanilla, and remaining cinnamon and brown sugar). Mix well. Once cubed bread is lightly toasted, remove from oven. Pour pumpkin mix over bread and press down slightly to ensure all bread is coated/covered. Bake for 30 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature. Top with sweetened whipped cream, ice cream, or cream anglaise (melted vanilla bean ice cream swirled over top or puddled below), or cubed and layered as a parfait with sweetened whipped cream and candied walnuts.

Simple candied walnuts:

1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Pour sugar into a skillet placed over medium heat and slide skillet about just slightly to ensure an even layer in the pan. Refrain from stirring sugar initially. Let it slowly melt into an amber liquid, about 2 to 3 minutes, then use a spoon to stir in the last remaining bits of sugar. Pour walnut pieces into melted sugar, turn off flame or remove from heat, and quickly stir nuts to coat well. Immediately transfer nut mix to a large piece of foil. Holding sides of foil, gently roll mix from side to side to prevent sticking to foil. If you want to piece nuts apart, use the tines of two forks to divide. The nuts will cool and harden very quickly so note that you have maybe 30 seconds to 1 minute to coat nuts, transfer to foil and separate. Once cooled complete, chop for topping.

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