The food described in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is, for the most part really gross. This is to show how families with financial difficulties need to get by sometimes. *Side note, my wonderful mother-in-law was telling me about when times were tough for them when the boys were small and she described some of their “get us through until payday” meals, which included what they called broiled cheese (essentially an open-faced grilled cheese made in the toaster oven) and, most memorably, pond scum (still not quite sure what this is all about, but my husband informs me it included hot dogs and a wok).*
When it came to decide what kind of treat I wanted to make for book club, I had to think it over, black coffee with condensed milk? Canned meats? Lard on toast? The most appetizing the Smith described up to the point when I ran out of time for book club, was bread pudding!
Now, former steeper Angela makes one hell of a bread pudding. It’s glorious and she creates this decadent rum sauce . . . it’s amazing, really. I’ll have to find out if she’ll let me share her recipe. I decided to adapt one that I found online at Mikey’s in my Kitchen. The things that drew me to this recipe was the . . . well . . . the basicness of it. There are no raisins or nuts (which is a shame) because I wanted to replicate what I imagined Katie had to work with . . . essentially stale bread and some eggs. I bought two fairly large Italian loaves and decided that instead of cutting them all nice and cubed, I would just rip out their insides. In hindsight, I should have left some of the crust in . . . but I didn’t.
If you don’t have stale bread, you have to stale it yourself. I left the bread out overnight, but it didn’t get to quite the right level of hardness so I tried to extend the drying out in the oven. I lost my patience and I do think that the bread pudding suffered for it. It probably also doesn’t help that I was so concerned about getting good coverage with the liquid ingredients that I think I over mixed . . . so yeah, don’t make those mistakes!
So, now that I’ve made this all sound terribly unappetizing, let me tell you, the cinnamon/vanilla sauce I made was this dish’s saving grace! It was delicious and amazing and I was thrilled to have leftovers that I then served with chocolate ice cream. Amazing.
The pudding itself the steepers and I agreed we could take or leave, but that sauce . . . man . . . my mouth is awaterin’ just thinking about it.
Plain Ol’ Bread Pudding
About 4 c dried or stale white bread, crust-free & cubed (or in my case hand ripped). I also didn’t measure exactly 4 cups. I eyed it to fit my 9 X 13 casserole dish.
2 c milk (I ended up using a combination of heavy cream and skim, which was lovely)
2 eggs, beaten lightly
¼ c melted butter (always unsalted for baking)
½ c granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Cinnamon Vanilla Sauce
½ c (1 stick) unsalted
½ c granulated sugar
½ c packed light brown sugar
½ c whipping cream
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Make sure your bread is stale, either by leaving out overnight in a single layer on a cookie sheet or by baking for about 15 minutes in a 300 degree oven.
- Grease 9 X 13 casserole dish and set aside.
- Combine milk, eggs, melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, & vanilla.
- Pour wet mixture over dried bread cubes and let soak for about 5 minutes.
- Pour into greased dish and bake for about 45-50 minutes, or until golden brown and slightly puffy looking.
For Cinnamon Vanilla Sauce:
- Combine all ingredients, save vanilla, and bring to a rolling boil.
- Remove from heat and mix in vanilla. (The mixture will bubble up, this is normal and cool . . . it’s SCIENCE!) Stir to calm bubbles down.
- Pour over bread pudding and serve.
My Cinnamon Vanilla Sauce did separate after sitting for a while. I just had to stir it up or shake it to reconstitute when I wanted to reuse it.
So, dear friends, I may not make this bread pudding again, but I will most assuredly be making the sauce again! Delicious! I think Francie would’ve approved!
Also, sorry, my readers, I simply can’t remember what tea I served. I’m terribly embarrassed. I’ll update you on that later . . . if I remember.