Southern Comfort Food, Mexican Style –Creamy Bread Pudding
By Neva Gurrusquieta
I’m a Carolina girl accustomed to having beaches within driving range and the lack of humidity in Queretaro is wreaking havoc with my sinuses. We’ve been planning to move to Merida, Yucatan for over a year. This is a thousand mile move, never easy no matter where you live, but everything just kind of fell into place for us over the last thirty days, a job for hubby, a project contract for me, the house, the mover, everything.
I thought moving across Mexico would be complicated, but things have gone really smoothly – so far. We used Yucatan Transition Services for practically everything. Casey was searching for houses for us, and I was searching as well. When there was a listing worth looking at, she was my eyes and ears. We finally found what we thought would be impossible to find, and in spite of other interested parties, she was able to secure the house for us! So, I’ve been packing boxes like crazy so that we can leave next week! I’ve been so focused in fact that I forgot about writing my blog post!
But good news! I can magically turn this post about moving into a blog about Southern food!
One of the happiest outcomes of cleaning out the fridge and freezer is using up all the old bread to make this delicious, creamy smooth bread pudding, baked in a cast iron skillet if you have one. My mother taught me this recipe, and I recall her mother making this same sweetness. The only difference is that mama used vanilla, and grandma used almond flavoring. They are both delicious.
When I pulled out all my leftover bread that I had stashed in the freezer for a month or so, I had bolillos, waffles, pancakes, sliced bread, and pan de muerto. You’ll need about five or six cups of bread crumbs (not cubes) and ¾ cup your favorite kind of sugar or equivalent, a little more if you like it pretty sweet, one can of evaporated milk and an equal amount of water, three eggs, and flavoring of your choice. You can use whole milk, almond milk, or any other milk substitute you like as long as you don’t use sweetened condensed milk. No leavening agents, oils, or salt are needed.
The first step is making bread crumbs out of all leftover, dried out bread. Do this by hand or use a food processor or blender if you like, or even buy them already made. Just be sure there are no added herbs or spices or salt. Put the crumbs into a large stainless steel or glass bowl.
Next, pour the milk and water into a large measuring cup and stir in the sugar until completely dissolved. Pour the mix over the crumbs and stir until thoroughly mixed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The longer the mixture soaks, the smoother and creamier it will be. With just a 30 minute soak, you will have a coarser texture, still delightful, so if you’re short of time or fridge space, just do a short soak on the counter.
After your crumbs have soaked up all the lovely milk and sugar, remove the bowl from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. If the mixture seems stiff, add more milk, ¼ cup at a time until you reach the consistency of a thick porridge.
Meanwhile, prepare your pans. One 10” cast iron skillet is sufficient for this recipe, or a dark, heavy bundt pan if you don’t have cast iron. Darker, heavier pans will give you a crispier crust than glass, which contrasts beautifully with the creamy interior. Lather up your pan with your ointment of choice; I used manteca (lard)this time, another small step in cleaning out the pantry.
Preheat your oven to 425F/220C. While waiting, add ½ teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract to the crumb mixture and stir well. Taste to check for sweetness and flavoring. If more flavoring is needed, add only one or two drops at a time until your desired intensity, if more sweetness, add by the tablespoon. Whip the eggs until they are a pale yellow and thoroughly incorporate into the crumb mixture until no streaks remain.
Pour into your prepared pan and place in your preheated oven, uncovered, on a middle or upper rack. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until a butter knife inserted into the center comes out almost clean.
What helps to make this dish so creamy is the steam that is generated during the baking process. This also means you need to have a cooling rack and silicone spatula at the ready when you take it out of the oven. When you bake a cake, you allow it to sit in the pan for a few minutes before turning it out onto your cooling rack. Don’t do that with this dish or you’ll wind up with a soggy crust.
A lot of steam builds up in this custardy dish. Immediately after you remove the pan from the oven, make a slit in the center with a butter knife, and gently push it open to allow steam to escape from the bottom. Then quickly run a silicone spatula around the sides, place a cooling rack over the pan, and flip to turn it out. This treat is delicious hot from the oven, but I also love it at room temperature the next morning with my coffee. Enjoy!
**My apologies for not having pictures of the final product. Moving brain, I guess.
Next post from my new kitchen in our new home in Merida! Sneak peak: