Summer Bread Pudding
A great recipe to use the fruits of summer. I chose a few fruits to put in the mixture, but it can be as varied or not according to your tastes. Everything from apples and berries to even tropical fruits like pineapple and mango can be used, singly or in combinations to get the greatest flavor treat. Fresh fruit is best for this recipe; it's bang is worth every buck. If you grow your own produce, that makes it even better.
Summer Bread Pudding
3/4 to 1 lb of fresh, hulled, ripe strawberries
6 oz fresh blackberries
1 ripe yellow peach, skinned
1 peeled green apple (the tart kind)
1/2 cup of clover honey, or more, to taste
2 loaves slightly stale French bread, decrusted and cut into large cubes
Half quart of whole milk
1/2 cup clover honey
Rinse all your fruit with cool running water before using. You never know what kind of stuff may be lurking on your juicy, yummy produce, even if it's from your own garden.
In the largest bowl you can find (I use a giant stainless steel one I have, it's my favorite for large batches of anything), put all your cubed up bread*. I find it easy to slice the bread into half inch thick slices, and then take stacks of three or four and cut them into four sections. Bite sized isn't too much of a worry here, as it's all going to be mushed together into one dish and sliced later after baking (you must remember that the custard has to soak through the pieces though).
Once you've got your bread prepared and in the bowl, add your fruit. Chop the peach, the apple and the strawberries into little pieces and toss them in with the whole blackberries and the honey**. Don't shake too much of the moisture from rinsing the fruit off, and don't waste the juice! It'll help to get the bread soft. Once you have done that, here's the fun part: throw down your knife, roll up your sleeves, (wash your hands!) and start mushing everything together with your fingers***. Make sure you squish everything good, to extract the juice from the fruit. This is a great job to give to the kids if they are bored; it's an excellent way to keep them out from under your feet (and out of the fridge!) as you work, and gives them a chance to get some kitchen experience in. It should feel slightly soggy to the touch. Add a little milk or some apple juice if the mixture is especially dry. Then, press the whole mixture into a large glass baking dish. Let that sit while you make the custard.
Nine eggs is a lot, you say, but not if you want a nice custard for a pudding this size. Using the bowl the bread had been in (you don't even have to rinse it) crack the eggs into it and pick out the shell pieces that fall in, if any. Add the rest of the honey, and whisk well, until the yolks and whites are well blended together, before adding the milk. Whisk until it's nice and smooth, and then slowly pour the custard over the bread mixture in the dish. Use a fork to poke about and get the custard to soak all the way through (that is key). We don't want egg-y or airy pockets in our pudding. Then, cover and refrigerate the whole dish for a few hours, so that the bread has a chance to soak up all that custard and get soft.
When the time comes, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176 degrees C). You have two choices now: find an even bigger dish than the one your pudding is in to create a hot water bath, or just put it in the oven as it is. I have a big roasting pan that I use for the water bath method, but you do what works best for you.
Baking times vary according to the efficiency of your oven, so I go by this time honored method: when I think the pudding is close to being done, I take a long skewer, or a sharp knife, and poke the center of the pudding. If it comes out clean, it's done. If it's gooey, or you think it needs more time, go ahead and give it the extra time, but beware of burning your pudding. That's a sad ending for all that work. I know some people are worried about raw or undercooked egg, but look at it in this light: your pudding is going to take at least an hour, depending upon it's size, in a 350 degree oven. Nothing lives at that temperature for that long.
Your pudding should be golden brown and a little crispy on top when it's done. Let it cool for a little while before cutting it, to allow it to set some, and either eat it alone, or serve it with sweet cream, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream, or with more fresh fruit.
*Don't have stale bread at home? Ask at your local bakery, they usually give discounts on day old bread, and it's a good way to come away with a lot of the stuff. Ask for baguettes, or batards, as they are easiest to slice due to their uniform shape, but round loaves will also work. French bread is generally a good choice, as it won't break down as easily as softer breads would, but if you care to experiment with a smoother, softer texture for your pudding, try white or wheat breads as well. Variety is the spice of life, after all. :D
**Sugar can be used in place of the honey, but the flavor will be slightly different. I enjoy using honey as a more natural replacement for granulated sugar. Clover honey has a good even flavor, but you may try other honeys, such as lavender or wildflower. Just remember that some honeys can be very strong tasting, and beware of bee allergies: some people who are allergic to bees may have reactions to honey. On the upside, if you are allergic to pollen, the honey of the local bees may help to alleviate some of the symptoms if consumed regularly.
***If you have problems with your hands, such as CTS (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), either work within your range of ability, or try using a food processor to blend the fruit some, and then mixing it in with the bread using a motion that works best for you.