As we walked in the door at 11 at night, exhausted after a long day spent waiting in airports and on planes, she would immediately lead us to the kitchen, where the fridge would be bulging full of all our favorite desserts: red fruit jello for my brother, lemon sponge for my Dad, apple crisp for my Mom, and a big quart glass pan of bread pudding for me. Three bean salad, pepper cabbage, pork and sauerkraut or maybe potatoes and sausage would supplement the sweets table. It wasn't until we had "sat down for a little bite" that we would climb the narrow stairs to our beds, our stomachs reminding us with each step that we were definitely back in Pennsylvania Dutch country.
After she passed away I didn't eat bread pudding at all for some years, until one fall when I finally fetched the recipe, written on a 3 by 5 card, out of her little wooden recipe box and made it myself. I took that card with me to college and when I finally got my own apartment I would make it now and then, usually in the autumn, and hoard the dish away, eating one serving every day until it was gone.
During this time I finally came to accept that there were other styles of bread pudding out there that I could enjoy. A trip to New Orleans, where I sampled some liquored up cousins of my grandma's recipe, contributed to this change. Tea-totaler that she was, I doubt she would have approved, but they managed to sneak their way onto my short list of bread puddings that I would actually eat. But my grandma's is still my favorite. It is a great basic bread pudding recipe, which lends itself to experimentation. But promise me you will try the original before you go tossing in exotic ingredients like lemon zest and maple syrup.
My Grandma Laura's Bread Pudding
Using eggbeaters instead of eggs and about 5 slices of bread at roughly 160 calories a slice, this pudding is about 382 calories per cup. If you use richer bread, it will be higher. If you use a milk other than 1%, it will be higher. Basically this is a pretty rich dessert anyway you cut it, so just try not to eat it all at once.
1 quart ( 4 cups) milk (I use 1% milk, but if you want a richer pudding, you can even use half and half)
1/3 cup molasses (I use dark molasses but you can use light if you prefer. You could also substitute honey or maple syrup or agave syrup if you want to deviate from the original recipe)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
4 eggs (or one cup eggbeaters or egg whites)
3 cups dry bread cubes ( some kind of fluffy white bread will give you the lightest result, but feel free to experiment)
1/3 cup raisins (feel free to use more if you like-if you want to deviate from the original you can use other dried fruits or omit them)
1. In a medium saucepan, scald the milk, then stir in the molasses, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and butter until blended. A whisk is good for this.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs or eggbeaters slightly. Gradually pour hot milk mixture over the eggs, whisking rapidly. Turn bread and raisins into a buttered 2 quart glass baking dish. Pour milk mixture over and let stand for 10-15 minutes. Stir, place dish in a pan of hot water, and bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven until knife comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. I decided to bake some of the pudding in two of my new ramekins-they were done in about 25-30 minutes. This one isn't burnt, it was just made with brown bread and blackstrap molasses:
Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if you like. I like this pudding best cold or at room temperature. You can keep it in the fridge for at least a week and it just gets better tasting with time. I recently made the pudding with some left over molasses brown bread and added extra ginger to make it into a sort of gingerbread bread pudding, which is why it is so dark coloured in the photos you see here. Despite the changes, the original flavours still held strong, and every bite takes me back to a 1950s green linoleum lined kitchen presided over by my favorite chef. Thanks for the recipe Grandma!