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Mushroom Bread Pudding With Spring Peas and Ham

May 13, 2011

I grew up on my Gram’s bread pudding. Soft Italian sandwich bread unevenly torn by her chubby, wrinkled hands. Custard the color of orange sherbet that she allowed me to whisk when she wasn’t feeling hurried. A few shakes of raisins from the red box with the pretty lady on it. A heavy sprinkle of cinnamon. My Gram died many years ago, but I can still recall the casual, deliberate way in which she went about preparing her bread pudding.

Gram’s pudding was perfect every time. She never consulted a recipe, counted slices of bread, or measured any of the ingredients. Like Gram, my bread puddings are made without a recipe. But the similarities end there. Maybe it’s my affinity for trying new things or simply the fact that I could never replicate Gram’s bread pudding no matter how hard I tried, but my puddings are never the same. They’re sometimes sweet, but most often savory like the one pictured here. For me bread pudding is a blank canvas woven with egg custard and bread that has passed its prime. (I start pondering the second act of a loaf as soon as the crust loses its crispiness.) It’s a perfect muse for my “use it or lose it” philosophy, which applies not only to stale bread, but to anything in the fridge that’s in danger of spoiling. (You can read more about my militant devotion to limiting food waste here at ExpendableEdibles.com.) To my canvas I might add the last lonely slices of prosciutto, leftover oven roasted cauliflower, sad looking mushrooms that wouldn’t fit on Friday night’s pizza. Our cold-weather favorite was loaded with chunks of roasted winter squash and dried sage from our garden. In the spring I turn to early peas, mushrooms, and asparagus punctuated with fresh chives and parsley. And when I’m in the mood for something sweet, I often reach for my own red box of raisins with the pretty lady on the front and fondly think of Gram.


Bread pudding is a great way to break your dependency on recipes and develop your intuition as a cook. Here are some guidelines that will help:

Bread: any kind, crusts on, crusts off, stale, toasted, pumpernickel, brioche, whole grain
Milk, half and half, cream: Use ½ cup of milk for each egg. What you use depends on how naughty you’re feeling and what you have on hand. Cream-laden custard will deliver a pudding with a consistency reminiscent of crème brûlée.
Eggs: the fresher, the better.
Add-ins: as much or as little as you like
Seasoning: fresh herbs, grated nutmeg, a sprinkle of dried thyme, lemon zest, pesto, salt
Cheese: any kind, mix it into the custard and/or sprinkle it over the top.

More Tips

  1. If you like a crispy top (like the one pictured above), keep the custard line slightly below the filling. Alternately, you can cover everything with custard. If you pour your prepared custard over the dish and too much of the bread and add-ins are exposed, simply whisk together another egg and a ½-cup of milk and pour it on.
  2. Be mindful of how salty your cheese and add-ins are. If you’re using pancetta and parmesan, you’ll likely need to add very little salt.

If you insist on following a recipe, here you go:

Mushroom Bread Pudding With Spring Peas and Ham

Ingredients

    6-7 cups bread cubes (I used a combination of French and pumpernickel breads.)
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 shallot, thinly sliced
    2 Portobello mushroom caps, cut into 3/4″ pieces
    4 oz. button mushrooms, quartered
    3 ounces smoked ham, cut into 1/2″ cubes
    1/2 cup green peas
    fresh thyme leaves
    7-8 eggs
    4-5 cups milk
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
    3/4 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
    2 ounces chèvre, crumbled
    salt

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Toast bread cubes for 10-15 minutes. You want them to be dry, but not browned.
  3. Lightly coat the inside of a 9×13 baking dish with olive oil or butter.
  4. While the bread is toasting, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  5. Add the shallots and mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms begin to soften.
  6. Remove from heat. Add the ham, peas, thyme, and bread cubes and spoon into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the crumbled chèvre on top.
  7. Whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 cup of grated Gruyère. Pour the custard over the bread and chèvre. (Remember to hold back on the custard if you like a crunchy top on your bread pudding.) Sprinkle the top with the remaining grated cheese.
  8. Refrigerate the pudding for 20 minutes or longer so the bread soaks up some of the custard.
  9. Bake for one hour, until the top is nicely browned, and it bounces back when you poke it.
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