Our family's traditional holiday dinner is roast beef with all the trimmings served late in the day on a candlelit table, a once-a-year, festive feast.
But, in truth, my favorite meal of the season is breakfast. Everyone is home, no pressing events threaten to interrupt our wintry calm. Plus, there are no expectations around what to serve (i.e., Aunt Ruth's creamed onions). Breakfast is the cook's choice. For me, it's bread pudding, easy to prepare, satisfying and just naughty enough to feel like a treat.
I landed on the idea one harried morning while making French toast. My brother showed up (unannounced), then one of our sons with several friends in tow. I had to stretch breakfast from two servings (just my husband and me) to 10 hungry men.
Instead of trying to sizzle and flip individual slices of drippy bread, I whisked up more batter, tossed in torn hunks of a sandwich loaf, and turned the whole mess into a casserole dish. It baked up to be eggy and sweet. We cut it up in big hunks; some of us doused it with syrup, others piled on jam, and I had more time to hang out and sip coffee.
I've learned that it's best to assemble the dish the night before so the bread has time to soak in all the eggy goodness and the flavors marry.
The pudding bakes up to be light and moist, slightly jiggly in the center, with a deep golden crust. Its cinnamon scent wafts through the house, drawing sleepy heads into the kitchen and setting a comforting tone for the rest of the day.
Plus, having something warm, delicious and ready to go on a busy holiday morning is, for any cook, a gift in itself.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
Breakfast Bread Pudding
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: A fabulous breakfast dish, less messy than French toast, this is best assembled the night before, refrigerated and then baked off the next morning. Leftovers, if there are any, can be fried off the next day. Serve in big hunks or torn pieces with cranberry jam or maple syrup (or both). From Beth Dooley.
• 1 tbsp. butter for greasing the baking dish
• 1/2 loaf unsliced bread cut into 1-in. squares, about 5 c.
• 2 c. whole milk
• 3 eggs
• 1/2 c. maple sugar or cane sugar
• 2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1/2 c. dried cranberries or raisins, optional
• Maple syrup or jam for serving, optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 2-quart baking dish with the butter.
Put the bread cubes into a large bowl. Beat together the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and then stir in the dried fruit, if using. Pour this over the bread and gently toss together. Turn the mixture into the baking dish and allow to sit for about 10 minutes to absorb the liquid or cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight. Before baking, remove from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake until the edges of the pudding are firm but the inside is still soft and moist, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil until the top is crusty brown, another 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and serve with syrup or jam, if desired.