While visiting friends in the city by the bay, the conversation invariably turned to food cuz they’re my friends and we share the same
vices interests. We had been tantalized by the upcoming opening of a shop devoted to bread puddings, tens of desserty bread puddings with nary a savory one in sight. “How can this be?” I railed. “Bread pudding is not just for the sweet of tooth!” [shakes fist.] To which my friends responded, “Bread pudding can be savory??” You see, we have a baguette addiction in our household. We love the tender, chewy, almost TMJ-inducing innards and the crusty, gum-spearing outside that pair so beautifully with just about anything you want to throw at it. Cheese? Bring it on. Deli meats? Pshaw. Soaked in an eggy batter, sautéed and then dribbled with syrup or jam? Yes, please! So how else could crusty starch, eggs, dairy products, and the flavor of your choice be anything but a match made in heaven? Right, so back to my baguette addiction…. There may be a bit of gluttony involved and there’s only so many times you can eat French toast and panini so bread pudding it is 🙂
The nice thing about savory bread puddings is that they’re actually more versatile than their sweet cousins although I must say that a pumpkin bread pudding is waiting in the wings to celebrate, um, Monday? Right, savory bread pudding. Savory bread puddings are a delicious and easy way to make breakfast/brunch for a large-ish group of people, taste great for dinner or as a side dish and even make a nice leftover lunch bento. Once you have the basic egg to bread to milk ratio (I like to think of it as a slimmer, less eggy quiche with bread) you can mix up the savory or unsavory (hehe, can’t help myself) ingredients to suit your mood. I like the contrast of the crunchy baguette made just that much crispier by coating it in a soupçon of butter (it really browns well when baked), the smoky maple-ly bacon and naturally sweet crab, and zesty herbs which help to cut through some of the richness of the custard. If you can’t get crab or aren’t a fan, you can also substitute 6-8 oz of smoked salmon. You’ll probably have to add another workout after inhaling this baby but my philosophy is I exercise so I can eat what a want… in moderation.
Hints cuz, yes, there’ll be a pop-quiz later: 😉
1) Why do I need “crusty bread?” Isn’t stale bread hard enough? Um, nope. Country style breads like baguettes, pugliese, or ciabatta not only have a nice firm crust but also a springy holey loaf that soaks up that delicious eggy custard while still having enough texture that it won’t turn into mush.
2) Why toss the bread in butter if it’s going to get soaked in custard? Brilliant question, grasshopper 😉 The melted butter coats the pieces of bread and the edges that are sticking out of the custard get crisped up while baking giving you a nice crunchy texture to go with your velvety custard-soaked bread chunks.
3) Could you make this with low-fat milk? Um, yeah but it will give you a firm (Dare I say rubbery?) texture, not a smooth, velvety, custardy one. While I’m always conscious about the amount of fat in my food and whether or not I really that much XX; however, custard is a colloid or more specifically a gel. Eh? I like to think of it in terms of categories and subcategories. Colloid is to gel like dog is to poodle. All poodles are dogs but not all dogs are poodles. An emulsion, like mayonnaise is another type of colloid. So what is a colloid and why does it need a certain amount of fat? A colloid is basically a state where substance A is suspended inside another substance, B, but still retains its inherent physical characteristics so that it is not dissolved or absorbed into B. Steam is a colloid of water molecules that have enough heat or energy that they’ve become suspended in air but have not become air or an air mixture. All you need to do is cool the steam and the water droplets fall out of suspension, colloid gone. A counter example to show what isn’t a colloid but can sound like one would be mixing sugar and water. This is in fact a solution because the sugar is dissolved into the water allowing them to act as one substance, in this case a syrup. Ugh, my head hurts, what does this have to do with low-fat bread pudding? Well, by heating the eggs the proteins in the eggs denature or unwind which then allows them to form a 3D cross-linking matrix which is called thickening in culinary terms or gelling. What the milk products (custard is classically made with cream, half and half, or whole milk) do is give you that velvety texture so low-fat or non-fat milk can result it a hard, jello-like custard. This is because the fat makes it harder for the egg proteins to gel giving a softer, smoother consistency. For those of you who don’t have a splitting headache or want to read up more about the chemistry behind cooking, check out Your Mother Was a Chemist: Science in the Kitchen, a really cool site breaking down the basic chemistry of cooking and food.
4) What if I can’t find Old Bay seasoning? Some people substitute creole seasoning because both are used with seafood but the flavors are pretty different. You can make your own or you could just use 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp sweet paprika, 1/2 tsp celery salt, a pinch of allspice and crumble in 1/2 of a bay leaf as those are the most predominant flavors.
2 strips bacon
2 tsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp Dijon or other coarse ground mustard
Mix together maple syrup and mustard in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat cook bacon till browned but not crisp, it should still be floppy.
Remove bacon from heat and then brush maple glaze over both sides. Return to skillet and cook on med-lo heat until crisp. Because of the sugar content, this can burn very easily so stare adoringingly at the bacon while it crisps. Absolutely no computations for rocket fuel or multitasking please 😀 Set bacon aside on a plate to cool and blot with a paper towel. Don’t drain on a paper towel as the bacon is sticky, unless you want more fiber/paper towel with your bacon. 🙂
Dungeness Crab Bread Pudding
3 c crusty bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (I used baguette!)
1 1/2 tbsp butter, melted
4 large eggs
2 c whole milk
6-8 oz lump crab meat (basically meat from one crab–if using pre-shelled crab, gently pick through the crab to make sure shell shards aren’t present), I used local Dungeness crab
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tbsp fresh (1 tsp dried) chives, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh (1 tsp dried) parsley, finely chopped
1/2 + 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 strips maple-glazed bacon, diced
1 oz Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
1 oz shredded parmesan
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×9 inch baking dish or 9-inch cast iron skillet and set aside.
Toss bread and butter together in a large bowl. Pour out in an even layer into baking pan and set aside.
Toss together crab, lemon juice, 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning, and paprika in a small bowl. Set aside.
Whisk together eggs, milk, chives, parsley, remaining 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning, and ground pepper till combined. Fold in cheeses, bacon and crab meat. Pour egg mixture over bread into baking pan. Bake for 25-40 minutes till golden and custard jiggles in the middle when the edge of pan is tapped or no liquid seeps up when the top is lightly pressed with a fork. With a cast iron skillet and convection it takes me ~30 minutes. Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side dish.