In my mind a traditional dessert seemed like the best way to wrap up this series of Irish travel narratives. However, when I think about sweets what stands out are chocolate treats from the corner shop. Don’t get me wrong I love to indulge in something crafted by Cadbury’s but it just isn’t a dessert. After glancing through my recipes for the past few weeks I found my answer in Galway.
There was something about the density of the brown bread I made a couple of weeks ago that cried out to be turned into a bread pudding. Bread pudding is one of my favorite restaurant desserts but I have never tried to make it myself. In my mind, a great bread pudding is creamy on the bottom with a little bit of a crust on top and there should be some sweet sauce and perhaps a little cream served on top. I assumed all of these components were much more complicated than my limited skills could achieve. I was also skeptical that I could make a light version as complex as those served in restaurants. But the bread called to me. It sang a siren song from its container on top of the fridge. So I screwed up my courage and started to research.
I compared at least a half-dozen recipes before starting and a few more in between batches. I experimented with several baking dishes and an array of milk products. After several attempts, the final version came out moist with a slight crust, and richly flavored. It features a whiff of whiskey, cardamom, and orange zest. It is just sweet enough to be a substantial dessert but not so sweet that it couldn’t be a meal unto itself; I know – I ate it for lunch yesterday. It is warm and comforting straight out of the oven but grows richer after a day or two in the fridge. The best simple cream sauce was about 2 tablespoons of low fat vanilla ice cream melted over the top of a warm slice of pudding. My favorite “side dish” for the bread pudding is pear slices sautéed with cinnamon then turned into a sauce with a bit of water and a splash of whiskey.
I have not tried this recipe with a commercially baked bread but when (not if) I do I will report back with the results. It does take a small amount of planning ahead to make a bread pudding, but each step is incredibly simple to execute. Now that I can make a light version at home our family will be enjoying this rich treat more often. I will probably still splurge on a super decadent bread pudding once or twice a year, when someone else can do the dishes.
Whiskied Brown Bread Pudding
With a little planning ahead, a home-made bread pudding is a simple dessert that looks like you spent far longer baking than you did. This recipe uses light ingredients that deliver big on flavor while cutting fat and calories. Notes of sweet and smoky whiskey are accented by bright orange zest and grounded by deep warm spices. Serve warm with a small scoop of low fat vanilla ice cream or sautéed pears. For even more whiskey goodness, pair with a Hot Whiskey. Makes 6 servings
- 3 cups of torn Brown Bread pieces and left out to dry overnight.
- 1 oz whiskey
- 2 TB raisins
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 – 1 1/4 cups low fat buttermilk
- 1/4 – 1/2 cups fat free milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- a pinch of salt
- 1/2 tsp orange zest
- 1 TB dark brown sugar
- 1 TB Smart Balance 67%
- The Night Before: Tear 4 freshly baked Brown Bread muffins or the equivalent of a loaf into 1 inch pieces. Leave the pieces in a dish uncovered overnight. If using several days old bread it may not need to sit as long.
- Several Hours in Advance: Soak raisins in whiskey for an hour or more to rehydrate.
- Spray a 3 quart baking dish with butter spray. Higher sides worked better.
- Arrange the bread pieces evenly in the dish and spoon soaked raisins and remaining whiskey over the bread.
- In a medium bowl lightly beat the egg. Add milks, vanilla, and spices. Whisking gently to combine.
- Sprinkle orange zest and a tiny pinch of salt over the bread.
- Pour buttermilk mixture over the bread pieces. The liquid should be level with or above the bread.
- Allow the bread to soak for 30 minutes. Smoosh the bread down into the liquid a few times while it soaks. If the liquid level drops below the top add a few tablespoons of milk to raise it back up.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
- Cream together Smart Balance and sugar. Crumble sugar mixture over the pudding and place in the heated oven.
- Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Pudding is done when it has a toasty crust and slightly spongy texture when lightly pressed. There should be no visible liquid.
Sautéed Pears are a naturally sweet and lightly syrupy way to dress up Whiskied Brown Bread Pudding. They can also be the star of their own show when served over yogurt or low fat ice cream. This method should make as many servings as needed. I typically make two at a time. For more servings increase the spices by 1/4 tsp and add more to taste.
- 1/2 pear per serving
For two servings:
- Pick a pear that is firm but just beginning to soften. The firmer the pear the better it holds up to cooking but the softer it is the sweeter it will be when the sugars start to caramelize.
- Remove the seeds and fibrous stem then slice the long way into about 1/8 of an inch segments. Cut the segments in half or thirds to make thin chunks.
- Heat a good non-stick skillet to medium high heat and add the pear slices.
- Gently stir them as they begin to brown. Add about 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of nutmeg. Continue to stir.
- When the slices are getting a nice golden color add 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup of water and 1 TB of whiskey*. Continue to stir and let the liquid reduce by 1/2 or more depending on how syrupy you like your sauce.
- Serve warm.
*For an extra layer of boozy decadence – soak 1/2 a bourbon vanilla bean (like the ones pictured from the fine folks at Marx Foods) in the whiskey for the pears. Leave it for 15 – 30 minutes and then add the bean with the whiskey. Remove the pod before serving.