The first bread pudding I ever had (or at least remember) was in a hotel restaurant on Harbor Island in San Diego. I savored it while perched upon a swivel barstool at the diner-style counter at the tender age of six. It was an inauspicious introduction to bread pudding, to be sure. The fact that I recall the chewy bread, slight cinnamon hint, and creamy vanilla custard bursting with sweet raisins has more to do with maternal restriction of my food intake than with the quality of the pudding. Anything with bread, or whole milk, or, gasp! cream, was a rare treat for me. Obviously it made a big impression, served, as it was, in a clear sundae glass, with dark raisins peeking out from the pale pudding. I’m almost certain it had a naughty cap of overly sweetened whipped cream, as well.
Childhood memories notwithstanding, bread pudding has generally let me down with a dull thump. I’ve had my heart broken by gorgeous, disappointing specimens in bustling city bakeries that looked as though they should know better. I’ve made many a bread pudding, attempting to recreate the delight of a young girl, always striving for something that exists only in my memory. Even if I ate the exact same thing today, I’m sure I’d find it insipid.
I’m tossing all that out now. This entirely adult pudding didn’t need to satisfy my inner child. The cardamom, aniseed, fennel seed, dried orange peel, and molasses in the Swedish rye, mixed with the tart-sweet dried cranberries, catapults bread pudding to new heights. Move over little girl; there’s a new momma in town, and she knows how to play. Care to join me?
Swedish Rye (Limpa) Bread Pudding
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% milk*
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups stale Swedish rye bread cubes
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tiny bits
coarse sugar (optional)
*You can also use a combination of milk and cream if you are feeling decadent. I’d caution against non-fat or 1% milk because it will make the pudding watery.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, sugar, egg, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon. Place bread cubes in a small buttered baking dish (I used an 8 ½ x 8 ½ rectangular casserole dish), and sprinkle with the dried cranberries. Pour the milk mixture over the bread and let sit for 10 minutes, occasionally pushing the bread cubes down into the liquid. Dot the top of the pudding with the butter bits, and sprinkle with coarse sugar. You don’t need much sugar here; it’s mainly for looks and texture – a slight crunch. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm, at room temperature, or right from the refrigerator. Refrigerate any leftovers, should you even have any!