Let’s talk desserts. As in classic New Orleans desserts. Two in particular: Creole Bread Pudding and King Cake. Both have storied histories, are deeply rooted in New Orleans tradition and are equally delicious. Creole Bread Pudding is what I consider an everyday, homey dessert prepared by thrifty New Orleans cooks and restaurant chefs who have plenty of day-old French bread on hand. The stale bread is given new life when soaked in a creamy, cinnamon-infused custardy bath. The pudding is then baked plain or embellished with raisins, nuts, canned fruit salad or even chocolate. It’s usually served warm smothered in a spirited sauce. King Cake, on the other hand, is a special occasion pastry commercially prepared during the Carnival Season (January 6 through Mardi Gras Day, which this year is on February 21). It’s a yeasty coffee cake of sorts frosted and decorated with carnival colored sugar sprinkles. Check out my post from last year, if you’re interested in the customs surrounding the King Cake. This highly symbolic danish is rarely prepared in home kitchens. Locals turn instead to their favorite bakeries for their annual fix.
Now let’s talk King Cake Bread Pudding–my marriage of these two classics. Destined to make food history (at least with my family) and deeply rooted in decadence. This dessert is full of pagentry, excitement and excess. Much like Mardi Gras itself. It’s lusciously tender with a colorfully creamy and slightly crunchy coating and a knock-your-socks-off, bourbon-infused sauce (if I must say so myself). The entire recipe can be prepared in one large dish (a 15x11x2 should do it) or in several smaller dishes or ramekins. Because it makes so much, I usually bake a bunch of smaller portions and share them with friends and neighbors. That’s the true carnival spirit. Hope you catch it. Happy Mardi Gras!
King Cake Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce Recipe
1 small king cake, cubed (8-10 cups) and plastic baby discarded
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups half-n-half
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Purple, green and gold (yellow) sugar sprinkles*
Whiskey Sauce, see recipe
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter a large baking dish. Place king cake in prepared dish; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, butter and sugar; beat on low until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time. Add condensed milk, half-n-half, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Pour mixture over king cake. Soak at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until cake has absorbed most of the liquid, about 30 minutes. Place baking dish is a large roasting pan. Create a water bath by filling roasting pan with enough hot water to reach halfway up sides of baking dish. Bake, uncovered, until toothpick tester comes out clean and top begins to brown, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Meanwhile, make a glaze by combining powdered sugar, milk and lemon juice in a large bowl; whisk until smooth. Set aside. When bread pudding is done, carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Top with glaze and decorate with sugar sprinkles. Serve warm with Whiskey Sauce. Serves 8-10.
*If you have trouble finding sugar sprinkles at the grocery store, you can order them online from baking sites like Wilton or make your own by whisking together one cup of granulated sugar and one teaspoon of purple, green or gold (yellow) food coloring.
Whiskey Sauce Recipe
1 stick butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup bourbon
Melt butter in the top of a double boiler set over hot, but not boiling, water (or in a Pyrex bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water). In a separate bowl, beat sugar and egg together; add to melted butter, whisking vigorously to prevent egg from curdling. Cook, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved and egg is cooked, 3-4 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and whisk in bourbon. Makes about 1 cup.