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14 Delicious Ways To Upgrade Bread Pudding

bread pudding with rhubarb
bread pudding with rhubarb - Bartosz Luczak/Getty Images

Bread pudding is arguably one of the simplest and most satisfying desserts out there. A straightforward combination of bread and custard, baked in the oven until plump and caramelized, bread pudding has been around in some form since the 11th century when the bread was typically combined with water, sugar, and spices. Custard began to be incorporated later, and the delicacy was then shipped from England to the United States, where it still thrives today.

One of the biggest selling points for making bread pudding is how easy it is to throw together — with a few easy-to-find ingredients, you can have a delicious dessert in no time. That hasn't stopped people from getting creative, though. As it has such an uncomplicated base, bread pudding can be jazzed up in almost countless different ways, from using different types of bread to give its flavor an extra boost, to including certain ingredients to provide it with new textures and tastes. Bread pudding doesn't have to be made in the oven, either, with alternate cooking styles helping to speed things up. We've gathered all the upgrades you need right here. ‌

Read more: Cake Hacks Every Baker Will Wish They Knew Sooner

Add A Dash Of Booze

glass of whiskey
glass of whiskey - Maksym93/Shutterstock

Alcohol can provide a flavor boost to both savory and sweet dishes, where it works to release flavor molecules and break down fats to create new sensory experiences. In bread pudding, it's a natural fit. Throwing a few tablespoons of whiskey in your dessert to make a bourbon bread pudding can give your dish an added smokiness that offsets the sweetness and dairy flavors in the dish. Bourbon, and other types of whiskey, can also often provide a spicy note that works well with additional flavorings like nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, and allspice.

Whiskey isn't the only alcohol that can add depth to bread pudding, though. Rum is also a natural fit for the dessert. Dark rum has some of the smokiness and spice of whiskey, but it also has a caramelized, slightly nutty edge that brings bread pudding to life and deepens its sweet elements. Spiced rum, meanwhile, amps up the spiciness (as you might expect). Amaretto and Kahlua can also add extra elements to bread pudding, with their respective almond and coffee flavors. It's best to avoid using light liquors like vodka or gin, though, as they tend to get lost in the dessert and give more of a harsh alcoholic flavor.

‌Throw In A Sweeter Bread

classic brioche rolls
classic brioche rolls - Stocknshares/Getty Images

There are lots of different types of bread that work with bread pudding, and part of the beauty of the dessert is that you can make it with a standard white loaf. That style of bread may not give the best flavor, however. If you want to amp up your bread pudding, starting with sweeter bread can help to provide it with a richer flavor from the inside out, so that your custard doesn't have to do all of the heavy lifting.

Brioche is excellent for bread pudding, thanks to its sweetness and light, flaky consistency. Its lightly golden color also gives it a slight edge of caramel which fills out the flavor of your dessert nicely. What's more, it can also come infused with other flavors, like chocolate, which can give your dish even more of an indulgent kick. When using brioche, just keep in mind that it can be quite sweet, and so you may find that reducing the sugar content in your custard can help so that the dessert doesn't become too tooth-achingly sugary. Importantly, it can also be somewhat softer than regular bread, so it's recommended that you let your brioche go slightly stale or toast it beforehand. This can help to beef up its structural strength and stop it ‌from going mushy during the cooking process.

Experiment With Dried Fruit

bread pudding with raisins
bread pudding with raisins - Claire Fraser Photography/Shutterstock

Dried fruit and bread pudding go hand-in-hand, and plenty of recipes include raisins. Although these help to give it additional sweetness and provide pleasant pops of a different texture, there's no reason at all to stop there. Loads of different types of dried fruit can be put into bread pudding, and fortune favors the adventurous.

Sweet, sticky dates are our top choice. To quote Jessica Ellington, owner and executive pastry chef at Sweet Bee, "Dates are naturally sweet and dried dates, which are used for this recipe, are even sweeter. They've been used as a dessert or to sweeten foods for thousands of years and offer a unique flavor that is not easily recognized" (via Forbes). Although you can chop up dates into smaller pieces and throw them in, Ellington prefers to blitz her dates in a food processor and add them to her custard, where their toffee-like flavor can shine. Other dried fruits like prunes and cherries can also be a fantastic choice, with prunes giving a light maltiness and cherries providing a tartness. For a more sour bite, you can even use dried cranberries, which can contrast the mellow dairy notes brilliantly.

Use Ice Cream Instead Of Custard

vanilla ice cream in ramekin
vanilla ice cream in ramekin - Kaorinne/Getty Images

Bread pudding is one of the easiest desserts to master, but there's one part that puts novice chefs on edge: The custard. Making homemade custard is a high-wire act of heating cream, milk, and egg yolks together until it's thickened but not boiling. Tip your temperature just a little too high, or leave your mixture alone for too long, and it will start to curdle, going lumpy and becoming unusable.

To avoid this and simultaneously add bucketloads of flavor, ice cream is your best friend. Buy a quality vanilla ice cream and microwave it in small bursts until it's melted. You then simply have to whisk in an egg and any additional flavorings (with extra sugar if you wish), and thin it out slightly with some water, before pouring it over your bread and baking as normal. The ice cream does all of the heavy lifting flavor-wise and when you mix in an egg, it essentially becomes an instant custard. This means that you don't have to worry about making sure your custard is flavored correctly. If you have any ice cream left over, you can also scoop it out and serve it on the side of your pudding.

Some Citrus Zest Will Cut Through The Dairy

grating lemon zest with microplane
grating lemon zest with microplane - 4kodiak/Getty Images

There's no denying that bread pudding is pretty dense. The dessert's two main elements, bread and custard, are both thick and fairly gentle-tasting, despite the custard's sweetness. Although this is comforting, it can also risk making your bread pudding taste just too one-note, and slightly too heavy on creamy flavors.

The solution to this is both simple and quick: A smattering of citrus zest. Orange, lemon, and lime zests provide a huge boost and serve two functions flavor-wise, the first being to add an additional element, and the second being to intensify all the other flavors in your food. Because you're using the zest, not the juice, there's also way less acidity added, and you don't risk your bread pudding becoming too wet.

To use citrus zest, you'll need a super-sharp knife or a Microplane grater. The latter is useful as it makes your zest way easier to distribute through your dessert. When zesting, remember that you don't want to grate down too far. The essential oils that provide flavor are contained in the colorful part of your chosen fruit, whereas the white pith underneath will do nothing but make your bread pudding bitter.

Throw In A Handful Of Nuts

bread pudding with slivered almonds
bread pudding with slivered almonds - Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

Crunch doesn't tend to feature much in bread pudding, but in our opinion, it's hugely underrated. Crunch can go a long way to combat the inherent chewiness of the dish. Although you can develop some crunch through the cooking process, by developing a browned crust on the top of your bread pieces, doing this is a risky business as bread burns quickly, and you could have a blackened pudding on your hands.

By using nuts, though, you add next-level crunch throughout your dish while also giving it extra flavor. Virtually any type of nut can be used in bread pudding, with pecans a particularly good choice, especially when combined with some brown sugar to make a pecan pie/bread pudding crossover. Chopped hazelnuts are also a great choice, particularly in bread puddings that incorporate chocolate. For slight notes of sweetness, try throwing in some slivered almonds, which can be boosted even further with a splash of amaretto. Whatever nuts you use, just make sure that they're chopped small enough that they don't become distracting when you bite into your pudding.

Make Personal Portions In The Air Fryer

bread pudding in bowl
bread pudding in bowl - Petr Kazilek/Getty Images

If you're hankering for bread pudding, it can seem like a real ordeal to make a huge tray of it just to satisfy your cravings. Luckily, one must-have kitchen appliance comes to the rescue, with your air fryer the perfect vessel to make personal portions. The dual combination of super-convection and a smaller cooking space makes air fryers way speedier than a regular oven, and you won't have to stress about what you'll do with the leftovers.

As an added benefit, when you're making air fryer bread pudding, you won't even need to make the custard fully — you can just mix the ingredients with your bread. Combine your custard ingredients (and maybe some melted chocolate) with bread cubes and then pour everything into some greased ramekins. Throw them in your air fryer, and cook at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for around 15 minutes. When you've finished, the inside should be cooked through and lacking any gooeyness, and the surface should be firm, browned, and ever-so-slight crispy. To check whether your bread pudding is cooked, stick a toothpick or skewer into its center. If it has any egg residue on it when you pull it out, it'll need a little more time.

Jazz Up Wheat Bread For A Fiber-Rich Dessert

sliced wheat bread
sliced wheat bread - Fcafotodigital/Getty Images

Bread pudding hardly reaches salad levels of nutrition, but there are still tweaks you can make to give it a nutrient boost. One way is by using whole wheat bread instead of a standard white loaf. This quick hack is a great way to add additional fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your dish, with whole wheat bread being made from the entire wheat grain instead of being refined, thereby boosting its nutrient content. As an added bonus, this can give your dessert different flavor dimensions. Wheat bread is noticeably more nutty than regular white bread, and if you're using other nutty ingredients like brown sugar (or, well, chopped nuts), this can all coalesce beautifully in the dessert to make a pudding that's got way more depth.

Like regular bread, it's useful to use slightly toasted whole wheat bread or pieces that have gone a little stale, so that they maintain their structure better in the pudding. Brushing them with some clarified butter before adding your custard can make them taste even more luxurious, and amp up the dairy flavors in your dessert. Be careful with the bread you choose, though: Some whole wheat breads can be particularly dark, and may introduce slightly bitter tastes into the dish.

Spoon In Some Pumpkin Puree

bowl of pumpkin puree
bowl of pumpkin puree - Alena_Kos/Shutterstock

While we're generally of the opinion that you shouldn't deviate too far from the central flavors in bread pudding with any additions, pumpkin puree is one unexpected ingredient you need to try. Pumpkin puree is a staple in many baking recipes as an alternative to fats or other moisture-providing ingredients. When added to bread pudding, it mainly helps to combat dryness, but it can also provide a light sweetness.

Pumpkin puree also makes your dessert taste distinctly autumnal and can be used to make, in effect, a combination of pumpkin pie and bread pudding that's out of this world. The pumpkin puree simply needs to be mixed into your custard before you pour it over your bread. If you haven't used it before, we recommend just adding a few tablespoons at first, taste-testing to see what effect it has before you spoon in more. Remember also, that pumpkin puree does have a high water content, and some pumpkin purees can be pretty thin. The last thing you want to do is water down your custard too much and then be unable to reduce it down sufficiently, which will then just make your bread overly moist and ruin its integrity.

Add A Touch Of Cocoa Powder

cocoa pods, cocoa, and chocolate
cocoa pods, cocoa, and chocolate - Carlosgaw/Getty Images

If you want to give your bread pudding some serious depth, cocoa powder is the way to go. Cocoa powder gives food the concentrated essence of chocolate, providing all of the sweet treat's complexity without any of the additional ingredients. Coming in several different varieties, with natural cocoa powder tending to be the most intensely flavored (although this is also different to raw cacao), it provides any food you add it to with a deep, strong, slightly bitter taste. This taste then transforms into a chocolatey richness once combined with sugars and fats.

In bread pudding, cocoa powder can be used in several different ways, but arguably the best is to stir it into your custard, where the sugar and fat content will mesh with it to give your pudding a real lusciousness. If you're already using chocolate in your bread pudding, adding the powder is also a great way to beef up its flavor and give it extra layers. Remember that cocoa powder can be pretty strong, and if you add too much of it, your pudding will become somewhat chalky-tasting, so less is more when it comes to this magical ingredient.

Crumble On A Crunchy Topping

bread pudding with crunchy topping
bread pudding with crunchy topping - Cavan Images/Getty Images

Soft textures are the name of the game with bread pudding. Sometimes, though, that pillowiness can be a bit one-note, leaving you begging for alternate consistencies. That's where adding a crunchy topping comes in. Although some bread puddings develop a good crunch as the top layer of bread toasts, helping it out with the addition of a crumble-like topping will give your dish serious dynamism.

Crunch can be added in several different ways, from using rolled oats to nuts to a classic crumble topping of sugar, flour, and butter. However, if you want to keep your crunch in the family, we'd recommend using breadcrumbs. Whip up some sweet, spiced breadcrumbs by mixing some regular or panko breadcrumbs with sugar and cinnamon. Then, all you have to do is scatter it over your bread pudding and bake. If your pudding is particularly wet before you bake it, you might want to do this toward the end of its cooking process, once the custard and soaked bread have had time to firm up slightly, so that your topping doesn't take on moisture and sink into the dessert.

Add Fresh Fruit

bowl of cubed apples
bowl of cubed apples - victorhugosilvafotografo/Shutterstock

Because bread pudding is so heavy on dairy flavors, it can leave the dessert feeling a little too rich sometimes. Fresh fruit can combat this effectively. This can give your bread pudding a zingy, bright flavor that complements the sweet dairy notes, and certain fruits like berries or apples can add a touch of tartness. Depending on the fruit you use, you can also give your dessert some nice textural counterpoints and some fresh, juicy crunch.

Adding fresh fruit is as simple as mixing it into your bread and custard combination before baking it all together. You can also choose to customize your bread pudding with flavors that reinforce your chosen fruit. If you're adding apples to your bread pudding, for instance, using a touch of apple juice in your custard will help them stand out, and not get lost in the bread. Given that some fruits are quite high in moisture, you may want to account for this by adding slightly less custard, or making a thicker version, as they tend to release water while they cook and may make your pudding too liquid-heavy. If you prefer to keep your fruit separate, simply slicing some up and serving it on the side of your pudding can serve as a nice palate cleanser between mouthfuls.

Use Dinner Rolls To Make Breakfast Bread Pudding

dinner rolls on wooden table
dinner rolls on wooden table - Richlegg/Getty Images

If you've been making bread pudding with slices of bread this whole time, consider this easy but effective change. Regular white dinner rolls upgrade your dessert no end, thanks to their chunky shape. Because dinner rolls are so plump, they give your bread pudding way more bite and volume, and stop the custard from overwhelming it. This also gives your pudding a visual appeal, giving it more rivets and corners to brown gently in the oven and making the whole dish seem more bountiful — hey, we eat with our eyes first, folks!

Dinner rolls are also way more customizable than slices in terms of shape, and this opens up some exciting, speedier variations on bread pudding. Breakfast bread pudding can be made by cubing up some dinner rolls, combining them with eggs and milk, and then baking the concoction in separate ramekins. Each cube of bread becomes soaked with the mixture and turns into bitesize chunks of dairy-soaked goodness. You can use virtually any type of roll for bread pudding, too, including ones flavored with cinnamon or chocolate, and crustier versions can also give you more bite and resistance.

Combine It With Another Dessert

baked alaska dessert
baked alaska dessert - Rebeccafondren/Getty Images

Bread pudding is a tried-and-tested classic, and what better way to improve on that than by combining it with another timeless dish? Bread pudding is enormously versatile, and this lends it to taking on the flavors of other popular desserts like pecan pie, pumpkin pie, or banana bread. Usually, these variations are simple to make and involve little more than adding in a few extra ingredients, and they can be a great way to use up old bread while still delivering something seasonal or appropriate to your meal.

To go all out, though, try a bread pudding baked Alaska. This one-of-a-kind dessert is a labor of love and is achieved by first baking a bread pudding, then scooping out its center and filling it with ice cream. This combination is then covered in a freshly whipped meringue before the whole thing is baked in the oven until the meringue is crisp and browned. Finally, the whole thing is covered in a rich chocolate sauce and some gingersnap pieces. The dessert is a textural sensation and combines a dazzling amount of flavors into a meal finisher you'll never forget. Needing some advanced kitchen skills, though, making this dessert isn't for the faint-hearted.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.