I am making “Classic New Orleans Bread Pudding” as a sentimental tribute to all the Mardi Gras parades and festivities which have been cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Sad, but true — hard to social distance with these huge crowds and parades — and they have all been cancelled in the greater New Orleans area. Most restaurants in southern Louisiana offer a variation of Bread Pudding on their dessert menus — I view this as the quintessential New Orleans dessert. My favorite bread pudding recipe comes from well-known Cajun chef, Paul Prudhomme, and his Louisiana K-Paul’s restaurant. His recipe hits the spices just right — it is something special. I have adapted Prudhomme’s recipe slightly and am making it in honor of Mardi Gras this year. I will miss the fun and revelry!
Mardi Gras 2021
Mardi Gras day or “Fat Tuesday” this year is February 16. Although parades and balls begin much earlier than this date, this is the last day of partying, parades and revelry before the beginning of Lent or Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a religious holiday and, therefore, cannot be cancelled. It is easy to forget that Mardi Gras has a religious component. Over the years, the association of Mardi Gras activities with this largely Catholic holiday has faded. The main Mardi Gras events for the general public are the numerous and elaborate parades put on by organizations called krewes. The costumes, elaborate floats and throws are a spectical of their own — we enjoy the festive spirit and fun atmosphere of Mardi Gras and always try to go to a few of the parades. Here is a Krewe queen and her attendants from a parade in Metarie several years ago.
This year, due to the pandemic, the parades of Mardi Gras are cancelled. Social distancing just isn’t practical with these huge, outside events. Some of the krewes in the greater New Orleans area are planning “virtual events.” Many families are decorating the porches of their homes in Mardi Gras colors — purple, green and gold. So, we may have some fun and adventure after all — just in an entirely new way!
Classic New Orleans Bread Pudding Recipe
I’m actually not a fan of Bread Pudding and often find that this dessert is too sweet for my tastes. But Paul Prudhomme’s recipe — with cinnamon, nutmeg and pecans — is great. His recipe uses stale bread and muffins which are soaked and baked in a sweet, rich egg and milk custard. The spices and aromatic nuts in the recipe complement the bread custard and give this otherwise bland pudding a “spark.” The hallmark of Prudhomme’s recipe are the toppings — his bread pudding is served with both a lemon sauce and Chantilly Cream. Without the sauce and cream, the dessert is rather bland. But the sauce and whipped cream help balance the sweet bread pudding.
Paul Prudhomme’s Recipe
Prudhomme is the master of Cajun and Creole cuisine. He became a celebrity chef during the rise in populariity of Cajun cuisine in the 1980s and he did much to promote it around the world. His restaurant, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter of New Orleans, flourished until it closed this past May amid the Covid pandemic.
I discovered Prudhomme’s recipe for Bread Pudding when it was published in a Bon Appetit magazine during the 1980s. The dessert always received complements when I served it at catering events during my years in the food service industry. In addition to the Bon Appetit magazine, the recipe is available in Prudhomme’s cookbook, “Louisiana Kitchen,” and it can be found on internet sites. Over the years, I have adapted and tweaked the ingredients in the recipe and have simplified its preparation. So, here is my variation.
Making the Classic Bread Pudding Recipe
Here are the ingredients for my recipe variation — eggs, milk, butter, sugar, stale French bread and spices and pecans. Salt? Didn’t use it after all. Raisins? I don’t like them in this recipe.
There are several things which I always include in my recipe. First, I use New Orleans-style French bread. This bread is crusty with a porous texture and it soaks up the egg and milk custard without becoming too soggy. I have found that six to seven cups of loosely packed bread cubes fit easily into a 2-quart casserole dish. This is about a 5-ounce loaf of bread — or one of these twin loaves. It helps if the bread is stale, however, with this type of porous French bread it really isn’t necessary.
Next, I blend the eggs using an electric mixer until they are pail yellow and creamy. This can take from 3 to 5 minutes. This helps make a creamy and smooth custard. Then I add the sugar, milk, butter and spices. I find that 3 large eggs and 1-1/2 cup of milk is a good porportion to make a rich custard. The custard is sweet — using 1 cup sugar — but I have reduced it somewhat from Prudhomme’s’ recipe. This spices — cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla — make an aromatic concoction — don’t leave them out! And I always add toasted pecans — the nuts add flavor.
I pour the egg custard over the bread cubes in the casserole dish and gently toss to combine and coat the bread cubes. Then, I immediately bake the bread pudding before the bread cubes become soggy. Bake the custard on a lower temperature, 325 degrees. The bread pudding puffs up and then settles back down as it cools.
Lemon Sauce and Cream
The lemon sauce and Chantilly Cream help balance the sweet flavor of the pudding and I always include these in my dessert. The recipe for Chantilly Cream (whipping cream, sugar, vanilla extract, sour cream, brandy and Grand Marnier) can be found in Prudhomme’s cookbook and on internet sites. So, today I’ll substitute whipped topping. I do make my own lemon sauce (lemon juice, vanilla extract, sugar, water and cornstarch).
I like the bread pudding served warm. Place the bread pudding on a dessert dish and top with Lemon Sauce and whipped topping. If you are industrious, make Chantilly Cream. Garnish with lemon slices and a whole pecan. This is a great New Orleans dessert recipe. Delicious!
My rendition of Classic New Orelans-Style Bread Pudding won’t take the place of Mardi Gras. But it does remind me of many wonderful visits to this city. And then there is always next year for Mardi Gras festivities!
Classic New Orleans-Style Bread Pudding
- 1/2 cup pecan pieces
- 6 to 7 cups stale, porous French bread (about a 5 oz loaf French bread)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 Tbsp butter, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1-1/2 cup milk
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup water, divided
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Whipped Topping, defrosted
Whole pecan pieces, for garnish, if desired
Lemon wedges, for garnish, if desired
Method and Steps:
- Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Oil a 2-quart casserole dish.
- Place pecans on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven for approx 5 minutes until they begin to brown and become aromatic. Immediately transfer off baking sheet to cutting board. Chop large pieces of pecans. Set aside.
- Cut French bread, including crust, into 1/2 inch cubes. Place in oiled casserole dish. Set aside
- In medium-sized bowl of electric mixer, beat eggs on high speed until thick, pale yellow and frothy, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the sugar, melted butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg. Beat on medium speed until well bended, use spatula to help combine.
- Beat in milk and chopped pecans.
- Pour egg custard mixture over bread cubes in casserole dish. Toss to gently combine and coat all the bread cubes.
- Place in 325 degree oven, and bake for 40 minutes until brown and puffy.
- Remove from oven, let set for several minutes
- Cut into squares.
- To serve, place a bread pudding piece on each dessert dish. Top with Lemon Sauce and whipped topping. Garnish with whole pecan piece, if desired and lemon wedges.
LEMON SAUCE: Place lemon juice, 1/2 cup water and sugar in small sauce pan. Stir and bring to boil. Combine remaining 1/4 cup water and cornstarch in small bowl, stir to dissolve cornstarch. Remove lemon sauce from stove. Stir several spoonfuls into cornstarch. Then add all cornstarch/water into lemon sauce. Return to stove, bring to boil, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens and becomes clear. Remove from stove and stir in vanilla extract