Creole Bread Pudding and Whiskey Sauce, the classic dessert for Christmas dinner in New Orleans
By Krisitine Froeba, Gentilly Messenger
Family recipes that date back several generations are being pulled from well-worn recipe files and put back into play for the holidays. One of the favorites is New Orleans Creole bread pudding and whiskey sauce.
We’re a city that holds an unflinchingly tight grip on our family traditions and history. With Louisiana’s unique food culture and some family roots going back 300 years, that history includes old Creole recipes that have been passed down for well over a century.
We already know that our tablescape differs from the other 49 states on any given day. But on the holidays, our fare is markedly different from the rest of the nation. Pie may be the dessert of choice on most holiday tables. But in New Orleans, those pies are often joined with large dishes of unabashedly carb-laden, decadent Creole Bread Pudding served with generous lashings of rich buttery whiskey sauce.
Bread pudding recipes have been recorded in New Orleans cookbooks since at least 1885. In “La Cuisine Creole,” a compilation by Lafcadio Hearn, the sugar was added to the pudding by taste. However, in some 19th-century versions, the sugar was reserved for the sauce’s topping and not incorporated into the dessert itself. That’s the version found in “Creole Cookery,” originally published in 1885 and republished by the Hermann-Grima House in 2005.
In my house, the Leidenheimer’s French bread loaves arrived this morning. But they must wait another day because, as with Pain Perdu, only stale bread will suffice. La mie, the white part of the loaf under la croute, or crust, will then reach the point where it can give the pudding its proper heft.
Our family’s Creole Bread Pudding recipe is below; the ingredients are up for loose interpretation. Additions and substitutions can make a decadent pudding more sumptuous.
Any fruit can be substituted. Chopped dates, walnuts and fresh peaches are also appropriate additions. The oldest of Creole recipes call for currants.
It’s never too early to add spirits to a jar of dried fruit to allow the fruit to macerate. I prefer at least a day to plump my dark raisin, golden raisin and, sometimes, dried currant mixture in bourbon.
Finishing that sauce requires a healthy pour. The better the spirit, the better the flavor. Instead of bourbon, you might prefer an Irish whiskey or even a dark rum. I’ve had luck with a small-batch, dark spiced dram rum in the past.
I’ve added the remaining liquor from the raisins and currant jar directly to the egg mixture — the more, the merrier. I’ve also gone rogue and added a teaspoon of cinnamon. And I’ve substituted heavy cream for half of the milk and brown sugar for a third of the sugar requirement.
I’ve successfully used an unsliced loaf of Whole Foods Seeduction bread, or a boule of rye can be added to this recipe with success. However, this is not the place for sliced white sandwich bread. If you cannot obtain New Orleans French bread, use French baguettes and soak the torn bread pieces in the egg and milk mixture for an hour until it softens the outer crust.
Variations of the following family recipe have been served for the holidays in New Orleans for centuries.
The sauce is served warm in a gravy boat, to be poured over warm pudding at the table. A modern twist is to serve the pudding with vanilla ice cream or heavy whipping cream.
New Orleans Creole Bread Pudding
1 quart fresh whole milk (or 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of heavy cream or half and half)
3 cups sifted fine cane sugar (or 2 cups cane sugar and 1 cup brown sugar)
2 teaspoons purest vanilla extract
1 ½ sticks butter, melted
2 apples, peeled, cored and large diced
1 cup seedless raisins soaked in bourbon or Amaretto overnight
1 cup of any additional fruit (if desired)
1/2 cup of dried currants (an old Louisiana tradition)
8 whole fresh eggs
1 large loaf of day-old French bread
1/2 stick of butter (to coat dish and cut into slivers to top pudding before baking)
Begin with a large deep mixing bowl. Add the milk, sugar, vanilla, melted butter and fruits.
Whisk the eggs separately, then add to the milk mixture.
Tear the bread apart in 1- to 2-inch pieces. Toss the bread into the milk and egg mixture until well coated, then soak to saturate for 30 minutes.
Use butter to grease a large baking dish or brownie pan, dotting the remainder of the butter on top of the pudding before baking.
Bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes until the pudding is fluffy and golden on top.
Creole Whiskey Sauce
1 cup fresh butter (2 sticks)
2 cups sifted cane sugar
1/4 cup bourbon (or your spirit of choice)
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar and the whiskey, blending until melted and smooth.
Beat the egg in a separate bowl and then slowly add a bit of the hot butter and whiskey mixture to the egg, whisking as you go. Temper the mixture by gradually stirring about a quarter of the hot mixture into the eggs.
Add the egg mixture to the rest of the whiskey mixture and return to the stove. Cook for one minute on very low heat. Pour into a gravy boat and serve warm.
Kristine Froeba is a fourth-generation Uptown girl whose varied background includes food and travel writing, celebrity ghost writing, public relations, social media management, fundraising, preservationist, reluctant tabloid hack and litigation specialist. She describes herself as part foodie, part writer, part historian, historic renovation zealot and full-time dabbler.