Cooking. croissant bread pudding.
A conversation, last week. One of our clients calls, and when business is done he says, Hey, when are you going to make me a whiskey bread pudding again? I laugh. (I use rum). Whenever you like. Ask the boss. He rings off. The rest of the afternoon passes, I tell my boss about the conversation. She hangs up to call him. Then the phone rings again. Lunch, next Tuesday. Make bread pudding, says the boss. We all do a victory dance around the lab, because everyone loves bread pudding. My bread pudding. This is due partly to the fact that, as my supervisor says, I have a generous hand with the booze.
I first had this at a friend’s house. It quickly became a favorite, a constant at every party. (If tiramisu was my dessert of the nineties, then bread pudding is my dessert of the noughties). By now I can make it with my eyes closed, and since I often make it in the early morning, half-awake before work, I practically do. The croissants soak up the luscious creamy custard, melding into one indistinguishable whole, and the raisins are like hidden secrets, layered between the croissants. It is served warm, a soft pudding below, a crisp golden crust on top. Sometimes we have it with ice cream, cold against the hot pudding, melting into a sauce. Great food is about contrast, cold-warm-crisp-creamy. And then there is the rum.
The recipe is from one of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. She suggests serving the pudding with rum-flavored whipped cream on the side. I say to hell with that and soak the raisins in rum overnight, if not longer. Dark Meyer's rum. About one cup altogether, perhaps more. To soften the impact of the alcohol I simmer the raisins in the rum until only a little syrupy liquid is left at the bottom of the saucepan, and then I add a little more fresh rum for just a bit of a kick. When I can find them, I use huge flame raisins, and K. said they are like giant rum bombs in the pudding.
I've made this so many times that I can do it all without thinking. I've made changes to it, in terms of ingredients (cutting back on the sugar, adding rum to the raisins) and method (I sandwich the raisins between each sliced croissant, instead of laying down the bottom halves of the croissants, sprinkling the raisins on top, and then placing the top layer over them). I always use croissants from Costco (because they fit perfectly in the baking dish, and they're cheap besides), and the biggest raisins I can find. If I'm making this for a lunch party, I mix up the custard the night before, stick it in the fridge overnight, leave the croissants on the counter to go stale. In the morning I slice and assemble the croissants and raisins in a deep oval baking dish, strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve, let it soak, and bake it, covered, for 45 minutes. It will finish baking (uncovered) while we eat our lunch and emerge puffy and beautiful from the oven, the tops of the croissants rising in a perfect, burnished golden dome.
This bread pudding is rather like a chain letter (but one you would hope to receive). A., who lives in Portland, made it for the other A., who demanded that J. make it for the next dinner, where I had it, and I in turn demanded the recipe so I could make it myself. J. and I have made it together many times, but I frequently make it for other friends, who in turn ask me for the recipe. I like to think that everyone I give the recipe to makes it for their friends, who then ask for the recipe and serve it to their friends...I imagine a vast and spreading network of people across the country, all eating the same croissant bread pudding stuffed with rum raisins. It is such a lovely thought.