I have a housemate. He is named after a woman, is respectful, likes animals, works as a freelance artist, mentors kids in an after-school program, is an amateur boxer, owns a working VCR, doesn’t download any music on his phone, only plays CDs, writes songs, plays three different instruments, and is covered with tattoos, including a baby octopus on his left temple. He is also an expert whistler. I once overheard him seamlessly transition from the tune to “Leave it to Beaver,” to the Killers’ “Mr Brightside,” to The Devil Makes Three’s “Graveyard,” to Daft Punk’s “Television Rules the Nation,” while somehow managing to throw in some Girl Talk, and finish off with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” He’s all of 27.
We share a two-story house. He lives downstairs with a cat, while I live upstairs with two dogs. We share one room: the kitchen. In that kitchen, he has a cupboard that contains three things: a variety box of ramen noodles, a pack of whole wheat bread, and a family-size jar of peanut butter. My cupboard, well let’s be real, the rest of the kitchen is “my cupboard.” I won’t bore you with what that contains, but needless to say, I never see him in the kitchen. But he sees a lot of me, at least, via my food. This is our agreement: I prep it, I cook it, I photograph it, I eat a portion of it or share with friends, and then I place the remainder in the fridge, on the kitchen table, on the counter, in the oven, or on the stove, with a post-it note listing the name of the dish, and the main ingredients. Once I leave the kitchen to go write about it, he gets to eat it. Once I return to the kitchen, the dish is usually completely gone, or there might be a bit of it left wrapped in the fridge, which is invariably gone later. And without fail, there’s always a note written on the back of my original post-it, saying “Sooooo good, thank you.” That’s it; never more than that. No conversation, no questions, never any requests or critique, just “Sooooo good, thank you.”
Outside of these unseen food transactions, we do run into each other occasionally. And when we do, we talk about boxing, or how many eggs the chickens have been giving us, or his latest tattoo, or my latest trip or upcoming trips. Oddly enough, we never talk about food. And every once in a great while, we’ll have more meaningful conversation. Like the time when I told him about my great aunt who is living with Alzheimer’s, and how I have such a difficult time seeing her because she’s so, so far from the force of nature that she once was; a vibrant, know-it-all, single mom who raised five sons, all of whom each hold at least two post-graduate degrees, and who now can’t remember that her socks are not gloves and that they slide onto her feet, and not her hands. She always strokes my face lovingly and asks me my name. Every time. And he told me about the last care package he received from his grandma, which arrived the same day that she died of a sudden stroke. He didn’t open it for three months, and when he did he finally cried because she had sent him a picture of him at three years old sitting on her lap, a dream catcher, knitted socks and a beanie, and her bread pudding. The bread pudding was blue and moldy, and after he cried he cursed himself for not opening the box sooner because apparently grandma made really awesome bread pudding.
Recently, I was woken up from a nap by the sounds of Debussy’s Clair de Lune coming from downstairs and banging its way into my bedroom. I’m a sound sleeper but this was loud. Surprising because he never plays his CDs that loudly. He’s really good about that. I couldn’t go back to sleep, and I wouldn’t have wanted to, anyway. I mean, it was Debussy. Passionate, moving, otherworldly. So I closed my eyes, and listened. Towards the end of the piece, I remember thinking to myself, “I have to ask him to borrow that CD.” And then it happened. A wrong note. Huh?! And that was when I realized that it hadn’t been a CD after all. It was him. Playing Debussy on his keyboard. Beautifully. Well, at least until that wrong note. So I rolled over, grabbed my phone, and texted him, “Sooooo good, thank you.”Then I got up and made bread pudding.
brioche bread pudding
For the Bread Pudding (6-8 servings)
- 1/2 tablespoon (7 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 6 brioche slices, cut 1-inch (2.5 centimeters) thick
- 8 large eggs
- 1 cup (225 grams) sugar
- 4 cups (1 quart) whole milk
- 2 teaspoon (10 milliliters) vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (a dash of salt)
For the Caramel Sauce (makes 1-1/2 cups)
- 2/3 cup (160 milliliters) heavy cream
- 1/2 of one vanilla bean
- 1-1/4 cup (250 grams) sugar
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) water
- 1/4 tsp salt (a dash of salt)
- 2 tablespoon (30 milliliters) honey
- 3/4 teaspoon (4 milliliters) lemon juice
- 4 tablespoon (57 grams) unsalted butter
Making the Brioche Bread Pudding:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC. Butter a 9×5-inch glass loaf pan with the butter. Arrange the brioche slices on a baking sheet. Place in the oven until lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the milk, vanilla and salt and whisk until completely blended. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve, preferably a chinois if you have one.
Place the toasted bread slices in the prepared loaf pan, cutting the slices to fit as needed. Pour the custard evenly over the bread, filling the dish to the top. You may not be able to add all of the custard at this point. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, so that the bread can absorb the custard.
Just before baking, top off the dish with more of the leftover custard if the previous addition has been completely absorbed. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and bake the pudding for about 30 minutes. To test for doneness, uncover the dish, slip a knife into the center, and push the bread aside. If the custard is still very liquid, re-cover the dish and return the pudding to the oven for another 10 minutes. If only a little liquid remains, the pudding is ready to come out of the oven. The custard will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven and it will set up as it cools.
Let the pudding cool for about 10 minutes before serving. You can serve the bread pudding by slicing it and removing each slice with an offset spatula, or by scooping it out with a serving spoon.
Making the Caramel Sauce:
Pour the cream into a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the cream. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.
In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt and honey. Use a good-sized pan because the caramel will boil vigorously and the volume will increase dramatically as soon as the hot cream is added. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then allow the mixture to boil, without stirring, until it becomes amber colored. Watch the sugar mixture carefully as it cooks to avoid burning it. From the time the mixture started to boil, it took about 12 minutes to reach an amber color. Remove immediately from the heat.
The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have the cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice and let it cool for about 10 minutes.
Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add the chunks to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool.
In a medium saucepan, pour 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) of caramel and warm slowly under low heat. Once the caramel has achieved a liquid consistency, add the raspberries. Warm the fruit in the caramel. Top the bread budding with the warm fruit caramel mixture before serving.
Do not crowd the bread slices in the pan. When a bread pudding is dry, crowding is usually the cause.
Pour leftover caramel in an airtight container, such as a glass jar and store in the refrigerator. This will keep for up to a month.
You can also use other fruits, such as peaches or blueberries, to add to the caramel mixture.