During a trip last summer to Lake Superior's south shore, I walked into Noreen Ovadia's bakery in Washburn, Wis., and immediately hit the strawberry Mother Lode. It was a fantastic bread pudding, rich and creamy and bursting with berries that had been plucked from the farms that stretch out on the hills high above the neighboring town of Bayfield.
I've daydreamed about that strawberry-fest on more than one occasion. In the intervening 12 months since my visit, Ovadia has expanded her business. Now Cafe Coco - Artisan Bakery & Good Eats is serving breakfast and lunch daily. "So far, we've managed to sell the Chequamegon Bay Area on falafel-lake trout Ruebens as well as frittatas and 'Really Swell French Toast with Banana Caramel Sauce,'" she said. Wow. I'm so booking a return trip.
Naturally, Ovadia continues to turn out seasonal bread puddings. "We only make our fruit bread puddings after first berry harvest, which is much later up here than in Minneapolis," she said. "Right now we're working through rhubarb bread pudding and after strawberries (mid-June at the earliest) and raspberries comes the all time best seller: blueberry-almond-white chocolate."
From there, the busy kitchen segues into fall flavors, including caramel-apple swirl, pumpkin, egg nog and spiced pecans. "And then in mid-January, we break out our stash of locally grown, frozen fruit and go back to strawberry, rhubarb and blueberry, which makes all of our local customers happy," Ovadia said.
If you find yourself in tiny Washburn (it's the lake town in between Bayfield and Ashland) here's a tip: "Most regular Coco customers loiter around waiting for the bread pudding to come out of the oven about 1 p.m.," said Ovadia. Duly noted.
COCO STRAWBERRY BREAD PUDDING
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. From Noreen Ovadia of Coco - Artisan Bakery & Good Eats in Washburn, Wis.
1/2 c. plus 2 tbsp. sugar
3 c. half and half
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 22-oz. loaf sourdough bread
For strawberry swirl:
1 lb. strawberries
3 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. corn starch
1 tbsp. water
2 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
To prepare custard: In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, half and half and vanilla extract. Slice bread, then tear slices in half. Add bread to custard (coating all bread with custard) and let mixture sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
To prepare strawberry swirl: Rinse, stem, hull and slice strawberries, cutting in halves for small berries, quarters for larger berries. In a saucepan over low heat, combine strawberries and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until juice from strawberries is released and berries are cooked but still hold their shape. In a small bowl, whisk together corn starch and water. When strawberry mixture comes to a boil, drizzle in corn starch mixture, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon custard mixture into a 9x9-inch baking pan. Spoon strawberry swirl over top of custard. Using a knife, cut swirl patterns into bread, allowing strawberry mixture to seep into bread. Cover with aluminum foil. Place pan in a larger 2” deep pan to create a water bath. Place pans in oven. Fill outer pan about 2/3 full with extremely hot tap water. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and continue baking until bread pudding is brown and puffs slightly, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, remove pan from water bath to a wire rack and cool at least 15 minutes.
To prepare icing: In bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, combine cream cheese and butter and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add powdered sugar until incorporated. Add vanilla extract and salt. Increase speed to medium and beat until icing is smooth. Transfer icing to a microwave-safe container and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute, until mixture is thin. Remove from oven, stir with spoon and drizzle icing over bread pudding. Serve immediately (and refrigerate any leftovers).