The holiday season is encroaching and my preparedness is….a work in progress. One thing I know I’m good for is a twist on the classics at holiday meals. To the absolute horror of my unfailingly traditional family (see: one year mémère’s stuffing wasn’t in attendance and tears quickly struck the tablecloth), I’ve always approached the basic Thanksgiving script with an irreverent hand. I think turkey is a sad version of chicken, mashed potatoes are the texture of shoepaste, nobody can be bothered to take the time required for a perfect pan gravy (pro tip: it takes exactly the amount of time your bird should rest), pumpkin pie is more utilitarian than delicious, etc., etc., I always want something slightly different. Can we roast the potatoes in rendered fat with rosemary and thyme instead? Can we stuff some sage and butter under the skins of chickens and brown root vegetables underneath them before making the gravy? What about not pumpkin pie?
Luckily, my father is hosting this year and knows better than to refuse any of my suggestions, but I suspect he does so because he knows I’m not doing the whole meal (and mémère’s stuffing has been delegated to an aunt). Regardless, whether you’re a “hasselback squash with maple chili glaze” kind of eater or a “lasagna as a side” kind of eater (um….welcome to NJ, I guess…? Not my idea, hunties), my family and myself will have you covered through the coma.
The dish I am most amped on making this year is my bread pudding. I’m not sure how bread pudding went out of style, but I love it. It’s warm and cakey, smooth and custardy, sweet and rich, malleable to almost any flavor (I adore tarragon-gruyere bread pudding for brunch), and ugly no matter what you do so fussing over any aspect of it is a fruitless endeavor – a departure from any of my other dishes. My family, having spent a chunk of their childhood in England, is also down for it.
I came up with this recipe during my first “fall” in California, when I missed crisp air and smoldering foliage somethin’ fierce. It’s great on it’s own, even better with vanilla iced cream (cinnamon or nutmeg if you can find it), and if you have the time to be a true hero, the ever-loving-best with cardamom cajeta. It also pares well with the rest of the bottle of bourbon you bought to make it; one finger if your family is cool, two fingers if they’re a pain in your ass, three fingers if they’re the best damn homies around.
Bourbon Poached Pear Bread Pudding
Yield 6-8 Servings
For the bourbon poached pears
1 semi-ripe pear, 1/2" dice
For the bread pudding
1/2 brioche loaf, cut into 1" cubes
2 eggs, beaten
2c whole milk
1/3c maple syrup
1tsp vanilla extract
1tsp nutmeg, divided into two halves
pinch of salt
1tbsp butter or cooking spray
1c heavy whipping cream
- Preheat the oven to 350. Spread the brioche cubes out onto a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them for 10 minutes, or until they're golden brown and crunchy.
- In a small sauce pot, combine the water, bourbon and sugar and bring to a boil. Once you no longer smell alcohol boiling off, add the pears and turn the heat to low. Allow them to poach until they're al dente - you want them to be a bit harder than the texture of a ripe pear - about 7 minutes. Strain and set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and 1/2 of the nutmeg. Add the toasted brioche and poached pear, gently tossing to coat. Set aside to allow the bread to soak up the wet ingredients for 5-10 minutes.
- Butter or spray a 9x11 baking dish. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and bake for 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean from the middle. (if you want to add the halved pears to the lewk, make sure to smear butter on their cut faces before putting the pudding into the oven).
- While the pudding rests for 2-3 minutes, whisk the heavy whipping cream and remaining nutmeg into a soft whip. Serve family style or plated, with a drizzle of caramel (or cajeta if you's a hero) on top.
** All of this can be done separately and stored up to 2 days in advance, simply combine it all when the time comes and plunk it in the oven!