A not-so-stale tale of bourbon bread pudding
September is National Bourbon Heritage Month – yes, it’s a thing! – and a celebration of this auspicious occasion is the perfect time to have your cake, and eat it, too.
Of course when we say cake, what we mean is pudding. Bourbon bread pudding. Ooey, gooey, warm and chewy – a mouthwatering mélange of bread soaked in milk with butter, raisins and other goodies and topped with a sauce that is soused; that is to say, sauce that has been sweetened with sugar and zipped up with a couple/few fingers of fine Kentucky bourbon.
“Food historians generally attribute the origin of basic bread pudding to frugal cooks who did not want to waste stale bread.” So say the historians at the FoodTimeline Library, who also toss in this rather scandalous tidbit: “In the 19th century, recipes for bread pudding were often included in cookbooks under the heading, ‘Invalid cookery.’”
Invalid? A splash or three of fine Kentucky bourbon begs to differ.
Interestingly, pudding goes back to ancient times and beyond and was actually more of a sausage than the sweet, creamy dessert concoction we modern-day gourmands consider to be pudding. According to the FoodTimeline Library, the dessert variety is actually more closely associated with custard.
It’s a complex history for such a simple food, one that meanders into ancient Roman times, where the focaria(kitchen-maid or cook) whipped up egg-based dishes both savory and sweet, and flits into the Middle Ages when custard was eaten alone or as filling in pies, tarts and pastries.
Bread pudding itself actually follows bread’s timeline even further back to prehistoric times. But bourbon bread pudding? That’s a much more modern twist – but leave it to Kentucky cooks to step up to the culinary plate by taking a dish founded on the principle of waste not/want not and bourbonizing it, creating a classic comfort food in the process – and one that is soft and doughy and fragrant with spices.
In Shelbyville, Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce, a variation of the dish that originated at the New Orleans Bon Ton Café and a popular dessert served during Mardi Gras, is always on the menu at Wakefield-Scearce Galleries’ Red Lion restaurant. And it can be enjoyed in a building that traces its own history back in time – not quite to the Middle Ages, but to 1825 and a school founded to educate “gentleladies” in reading, writing and the social graces as well as the study of the sciences.
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Can’t make it to the restaurant? Remember this: Wherever there is a loaf of stale bread and a bottle of Kentucky bourbon (and this being the Birthplace of Bourbon, we’re pretty much awash in the spirit), there is an opportunity to make and enjoy this decadent dessert.
Hungry for more info? Make your own bread pudding by following this recipe, found on the Kentucky Dept. of Travel’s website at www.kentuckytourism.com/bread-pudding-with-bourbon-sauceand from the book, Derby Entertaining Traditional Kentucky Recipes.
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
1 cup raisins 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/8 teaspoon salt 2 cups milk 2 tablespoons butter 3 eggs 3/4 cup brown sugar 4 slices bread
For Bourbon Sauce:
1 beaten egg 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup butter 3 tablespoons water
Bourbon to taste
In top of double-boiler over hot water add brown sugar. Butter bread slices, dice into cubes and sprinkle over sugar. Add raisins. Beat eggs with milk; stir in vanilla and salt. Pour over bread but do not stir. Cook over simmering water for 1 hour.
To make sauce, combine butter, sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat until sugar dissolves. Beat together egg and sugar mixture, adding small amounts of mixture at a time. Return egg mixture to hot saucepan, stirring constantly. Add bourbon to taste and serve over warm bread pudding. Serves 4.
*Learn more about bread pudding with a visit to FoodTimeline Library (www.foodtimeline.org, www.foodtimeline.org/foodpuddings.html#bread), a resource comprising thousands of books, hundreds of 20th century USA food company brochures and dozens of vintage magazines (Good Housekeeping, American Cookery, Ladies Home Journal, etc.), as well as providing access to historic magazine, newspaper and academic databases.