My mother was a fantastic cook- not the C.I.A. trained chef kind, but an old fashioned, traditional home cook. Her mother once owned a bakery with her sister when they were young marrieds and years later, during my childhood, my grandmother lived with us for half the year. We never knew what delight would greet us when we walked into the kitchen-something different every day. Often homemade noodles (hanging over kitchen cabinet doors to dry) which she would boil briefly and then fry in butter with some shallots and Swiss cheese; another day we would find her scrumptious potato pancakes waiting for our lunch; the kitchen was always warm with the heavenly fragrance of whatever treat she had cooking: long johns, breads of all kinds, jams, cakes and pies to die for- the list goes on and on.
So my mother came by her cooking abilities naturally and she was inventive to boot, so when I got around to writing a family cookbook, I used many of her recipes. Those that were not hers were either her mother's or recipes from the many talented cooks she had as good friends, or gleaned from magazines and cookbooks (of which she had an enormous collection) as well as a result of the cooking classes she constantly took. But even then, she would alter the recipes in some way to make them even better.
Mother had been making bread pudding for years- the kind everyone made back then; it was delicious and it was comfort food. So simple to throw together: torn bread, a mixture of eggs, milk and vanilla poured over it and baked. We loved it. Poured cream all over it.
In the 80's, Mother read a book by Nora Ephron called Heartburn; somewhere in the book there was a recipe for bread pudding that intrigued her. Nora Ephron referred to it as caramelized mush. My sister and I were with her at the time and after hearing her read aloud the ingredients, we talked her into making it that very day. Ambrosia! How can I describe it best? It is a heavenly, fattening, gooey/crunchy bread pudding. We have never made any other kind of bread pudding since. Haven't even been tempted. It's so rich it really needs nothing on top (but we pour cream on it anyway) and it is impossible to stop opening the oven and breaking off the crunchy pieces on top while it is still baking. And it's actually good cold! Now that I'm drooling just thinking about it, here's the photo and recipe. Don't ever say I didn't do you a favor!
Ingredients:2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand)
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 loaf good bread, torn in chunks (I use challah)
1 cup raisins
6 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vanilla
Method:With an electric mixer in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well mixed and add the eggs one at a time. Add the milk with the mixer on low then add all the remaining ingredients except the bread. Remove from the mixer and and then dump in the torn bread. Mix briefly and carefully.
Pour into a large buttered casserole. Bake in a 350° oven for 2 hours.
Stir thoroughly from bottom to top, including the sides, after the first hour.
Serve with cream, although it is rich enough to eat all by itself- the cream actually breaks up the sweetness.
This is really rich so serves perhaps 8-10.