Sugar High Friday #3: Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Here in New York it’s been pretty dreary all week, varying degrees of cold and rainy, and when it gets like this all I want to do is hole up with something warm and filling. So far I’ve made Mushroom Barley Soup and oatmeal, baked challah and chocolate cappucino wafers (which I’ll post about another time). And last night, the third night of Hanukkah, I made latkes. When S and I sat down to eat them, we took one look at the heaping platter of golden potato pancakes and agreed that there would definitely be leftovers. Umm, no. We had a big salad with them, in a lame effort to balance it out, but less than an hour after we sat down that platter was empty. I’m pretty sure we had about six each. The funny thing is, as gluttonous as we were, we both still had plenty of room for dessert. And thanks to all of you and Zarah Maria at Food & Thoughts, this month’s host of Sugar High Friday, dessert was Pumpkin Bread Pudding.

I say thanks to all of you because you’re the ones who selected this delicious treat for me. When I couldn’t decide among four finalists, I left it up to you to make the final choice, and bread pudding was the winner, hands down. I’ve never made a bread pudding before, but I’ve been a great fan since a trip to New Orleans some fifteen years ago. Now, this pumpkin variety is certainly not the traditional version with French bread and raisins and a bourbon hard sauce, but it turned out to be pretty special in its own right. It’s luscious and creamy, though the crusty challah holds its texture without breaking down into mush. The spices—cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice—add a wonderful layer of warmth and mystery, and make the kitchen smell heavenly while it’s baking. And the pumpkin flavor shines through. It’s definitely reminiscent of its famous pie cousin, but the bready texture and lack of pie crust make it an entirely different eating event. Even with maple syrup as a sauce, it’s not too sweet. And it’s pretty damn easy to make, too—this would be great for a dinner party, since you can mix the whole thing together and stick it in the fridge up to four hours before baking it. That’s exactly what I did—assembled everything in the afternoon, and then popped it in the oven while we were gorging on potato pancakes. By the time it was baked and cool enough to serve, we’d recovered from our latke-coma and were anxious to try it.

My favorite part of this recipe: it’s so reminiscent of an exceptionally-good French toast that we had the leftovers for breakfast this morning! Oh, and I forgot to mention that it’s actually not too calorific—the original recipe is from Cooking Light, and I’ve adjusted it to make it even lighter and more flavorful. Each serving is well under 300 calories.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

1 ½ cups 1% milk

½ cup sugar

2 t. pumpkin pie spice*

2 whole eggs, plus 2 egg whites

1 15-oz can pumpkin [not pumpkin pie filling!]

5 cups cubed challah (½-inch cubes)

Cooking spray

½ cup maple syrup, warmed

¼ cup chopped pecans, toasted

Coat an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add bread, tossing gently to coat. Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Chill at least 30 minutes, and up to 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350.

Place dish in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan; add hot water to pan to a depth of 1 inch. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Serve warm, with about 1 tablespoon warmed maple and 1 ½ teaspoons pecans on each piece.

* Rather than buying commercially-combined pumpkin pie spice, I made my own mix with 2 t. each of cinnamon and ginger, 1 t. of freshly grated nutmeg, and ¼ t. of allspice, then used 2 t. of that mixture in the recipe.