As the weather gets cooler and the days get shorter, we start reaching to the back of our pantries and recipe boxes for the comforting foods of fall. Vegetables get roasted and thrown into soups, pumpkin starts appearing in every course of your meals, and indulgent recipes get another shot after the salads of summer have been retired for another year.
You might not have all the ingredients to make your favorite pumpkin pie yet, but when the craving for a comforting dessert kicks in, there’s a good chance you have the staples to make a perfect bread pudding. It’s basically classed up French toast with a simple custard, but the textures and warm flavors come together in an oh-so-satisfying way. Whether you prefer your bread pudding to be completely smooth or with a few toasty bits on top, we’re pretty sure bread pudding is the underrated dish of the fall season.
Though you’re more likely to see bread pudding on a restaurant dessert menu than in a friend’s kitchen, there’s no reason you can’t make it on your own. After all, the dish traces its roots back to centuries-old kitchens in Europe, where thrifty domestic cooks found ways to recycle their stale bread in delicious ways. It’s since found a stateside home in New Orleans, which has claimed the dish as one of its own.
Sweet bread puddings take center stage when it’s time for dessert, but other versions can be perfect for brunch — or even an entire meal. With that in mind, we’ve collected several recipes to serve as your baking inspiration.
1. Classic Bread Pudding
We might as well start at the beginning. If you’ve never made bread pudding before, or perhaps even tried it, this version from The Kitchn is the place to start. The recipe covers the basics, from choosing the right bread to whipping up the simple custard base that binds everything together. The end product is a bread pudding with a silky custard bottom, with toasted bites on top. If you’d prefer all one texture, all you need to do is flatten out the bread cubes as they absorb the custard.
- 1 (16- to 20-ounce) loaf of bread or brioche, cubed
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- 5 cups whole milk, or a blend of milk and cream
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Optional extras: ½ cup raisins or other dried fruit, ½ cup toasted nuts, 1 chopped apple or other fresh fruit, zest of one lemon, zest of one orange
Directions: Remove the crust from the bread, if desired; leave it on for a more rustic loaf. Slice the bread into bite-sized cubes or tear it into pieces with your hands. Warm the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer over a baking sheet. Toast for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking, until the cubes feel dry and hard, but are still very pale. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
Rub the baking dish with butter, then arrange the cubes inside. Gently shake the dish and pat the cubes down so they settle into place. If you’re using any extra ingredients, scatter these over top, then use a spoon to gently poke and stir them into the bread cubes so that some of them go into the middle, but they don’t all fall to the bottom of the dish.
Whisk together the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon (if using), and salt in a mixing bowl. Pour slowly and evenly over the top of the bread cubes, making sure it gets into all the nooks and crannies. The cream should come to just below the top of the bread, with edges and corners poking out the top. You may have a little cream leftover.
Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. This gives the bread time to absorb the custard. If you’d like the traditional very flat top with no crunchy bits, press the top of pudding a few times as it soaks or weigh it down with something heavy so that all the bread cubes get pushed into the custard.
Place an oven rack in the middle position, and preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Uncover the bread pudding and place it in the oven. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. It’s done when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean and the tips of the bread on top are beginning to toast. If the crust seems like it’s getting dark before the custard is done, tent the dish loosely with foil.
Transfer the pudding to a wire cooling rack and let stand at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a sauce or drizzled with icing. Leftovers will keep for 5 days and are good cold, room temperature, or warmed.
2. Bread Pudding with Warm Bourbon Sauce
Traditional sweet bread puddings are hardly complete without a sauce to go over the top. Remaining true to its New Orleans heritage, many of those sauces include a shot or two of alcohol — namely bourbon. This recipe from Epicurious hits all those notes and more. The recipe uses cinnamon raisin bread as its base, meaning the raisins will already be incorporated from top to bottom. Pecans on top add another textural component, and the buttery, bourbon-spiked sauce speaks for itself.
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup whipping cream
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 4 cups day-old cinnamon-raisin bread with crusts, cut into ½-inch pieces
- ½ cup pecans, toasted, chopped
For the bourbon sauce
- ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- Pinch of salt
Directions: Butter an 8-inch square baking dish. Whisk first six ingredients in medium bowl. Place bread and pecans in prepared dish. Pour milk mixture over and let stand 5 minutes. Push down bread into custard. Refrigerate 2 hours, pushing bread into custard occasionally.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place bread pudding in large metal baking pan to create a water bath. Add enough boiling water to baking pan to come 1 inch up sides of dish with bread pudding. Bake until pudding is puffed and golden brown on top, approximately 50 minutes.
While the pudding is baking, prepare the sauce. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in remaining ingredients. Simmer until thickened, whisking often, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
Remove dish with bread pudding from water and cool slightly. Cut into squares. Serve bread pudding warm with sauce.
3. Apple Bread Pudding
Apples get turned into cobblers, crisps, and pies — and now bread pudding can get added to the list. In this recipe from Food & Wine, contributed by chef Gail Simmons, apples are cooked down in butter, sugar, and brandy, then tossed with cubes of brioche and soaked in custard before baking. The flavors are so well balanced already that there’s no need for sauce — though topping with whipped cream is highly encouraged.
- 1 pound brioche, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup Calvados or other brandy
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 3 cups milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- Whipped cream or crème fraîche, for serving
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the brioche on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until lightly golden and dry.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter; reserve 3 tablespoons of the melted butter in a small bowl. Add the apples and ¼ cup of the sugar to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are golden and softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon. Remove from the heat and add the Calvados. Return the skillet to the heat and cook until the sauce is syrupy, about 1 minute.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and the remaining ¾ cup of sugar. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the custard (save the vanilla bean for another use). Add the brioche and apples and toss until evenly coated. Let stand for 5 minutes to allow the brioche to absorb the custard.
Brush an 8-by-11-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the reserved melted butter. Add the bread pudding and drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter on top. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden. Let the bread pudding cool slightly, then serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche.
4. Savory Bread Pudding
Though classic bread puddings tend to be sweet, there’s nothing that says a custardy bread bake can’t extend to savory flavors as well. It’s kind of like getting your stuffing ahead of Thanksgiving. Plus, if you like, you can probably make an entire meal out of this recipe from Food52. When the editors at Food52 tested this recipe, they found the baking time to be almost half of what is recommended. Keep an eye on it, and know that it’s done when the center springs back when poked.
- 3 cups diced bread
- 4 large eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup whole milk
- 4 ounces chevre (goat cheese), finely crumbled
- 3 ounces prosciutto, diced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 2 shallots, minced
- 4 cremini mushrooms, sliced
- Cracked pepper, to taste
- ¼ cup shredded Gruyère or Parmesan
Directions: Toast bread cubes in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or so, stirring halfway through.
In a bowl, mix together eggs, milk, and cream until thoroughly blended. In a 9-by-9 square baking pan, toss together bread cubes, prosciutto, shallot, mushrooms, thyme, and pepper. Gently stir in chevre.
Pour egg mixture over bread cubes. If desired, garnish with shredded cheese.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into center reads above 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Dulce de Leche
It doesn’t get more fall-flavored than this recipe from Martha Stewart. Pumpkin gets whisked into the custard mixture, then tossed with bread before baking. Pecans top the pan, followed by a drizzle of dulce de leche — the creamy caramel-like sauce popular in South America. You can make some yourself, or pick up a bottle at the store to save some time. Either way, its a truly indulgent dessert that switches things up from a traditional pie. Best yet, it can be made up to two days in advance and reheated for serving.
- Unsalted butter, room temperature, for dish
- 1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin purée
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup light-brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon anise seed, roughly chopped
- 10 ounces day-old bread, such as brioche or sourdough, cut into ½-inch slices or 1-inch cubes
- ½ cup pecans, roughly chopped
- 1 cup homemade dulce de leche, or store-bought, warmed
Optional homemade dulce de leche
- 6 cups whole milk
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
Directions: If you are making the dulce de leche, prepare that first. In a medium saucepan, bring milk, sugar, and salt to a simmer over medium. Remove from heat and whisk in baking soda.
Return to a simmer and cook over low, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam, until sauce is deep golden brown and lightly coats a spoon, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl.
To make the bread pudding, start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, milk, cream, eggs, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, and anise seed. Arrange bread in dish. Pour custard over bread and top with pecans.
Bake until custard is set, 45 minutes. Let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled with dulce de leche.
6. Chocolate-Walnut Bread Pudding with Coffee-Kahlua Cream Sauce
Nothing goes together quite like coffee and chocolate. This bread pudding incorporates both, along with a kick of Kahlua in the sauce to bring everything together. Serve it for dessert, or as an indulgent brunch dish. The chocolate will melt into the French bread, with walnuts in each bite for a bit of crunch. For those with a serious sweet tooth, this dish from Better Homes and Gardens will deliver.
- 6 cups dried French bread cubes
- 1 ¼ cups semisweet chocolate pieces
- 1cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 cups milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 recipe coffee-Kahlua cream sauce
For the coffee-Kahlua sauce
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- ½ cup whipping cream
- ¼ cup freshly brewed strong coffee
- ¼ cup coffee liqueur or water
Directions: For dried bread cubes, cut bread into ½-inch cubes. Spread cubes in a shallow baking pan. Bake in a 300-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until dried, stirring twice; cool.
Raise oven temperature to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Spread bread cubes in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces and walnuts.
In a large bowl combine eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread mixture. Using the back of a large spoon, gently press down on bread mixture to moisten.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. If necessary to prevent overbrowning, cover loosely with foil for the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking. Cool slightly. Serve warm with Coffee-Kahlua Cream Sauce.
For the sauce, stir together sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add cream, coffee, and liqueur. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Drizzle sauce over bread pudding.
7. Apple, Chard, and Pancetta Bread Pudding
This bread pudding recipe from Bird & Cleaver is another variation of a savory version, complete with fall flavors like apples and fresh chard. Pancetta adds to the smoky, salty flavors, complete with white cheddar thrown into the mix as well. If you happen to have a cast iron skillet that’s big enough to hold the entire mixture, you can use it for the entire process. Otherwise, you’ll use a skillet to cook the pancetta and wilt the chard, transferring to a casserole dish for baking.
- 1 regular-sized baguette, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 2 cups chard leaves cut into chiffonade
- ¾ to 1 cup diced pancetta
- 6 ounces good quality white cheddar
- 1 gala apple thinly sliced, cored and halved
- 8 eggs
- 2 ½ cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the inside of a casserole dish.
Over medium heat, brown pancetta until crisp and fat has rendered, then remove to a paper towel. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of fat, then add chard to the pan and cook, stirring, until just wilted. Remove from the pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, mustard, and teaspoon of salt. Whisk to combine.
Add half of bread cubes to prepared casserole, then top with half of chard, pancetta, and cheese. Repeat once more, then pour custard over top. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. Top with apple slices, then transfer to oven and bake on the middle rack for 45 to 55 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes, then serve.
8. Orange-Chocolate Bread Pudding
Oranges and chocolate go together extremely well, and this recipe from Midwest Living proves it. Just a little bit of orange peel added to the custard mixture is enough to give the hint of citrus in this otherwise decadent recipe. You’ll melt the bittersweet chocolate and milk together, whisking with eggs and other custard ingredients before pouring over the cubed bread.
- 8 cups French or Italian bread cubes (1-inch cubes)
- 4 cups milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 8 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Whipped cream (optional)
Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 2 ½- to 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Place bread cubes in prepared baking dish, spreading evenly. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, and chocolate. Cook over medium heat until the chocolate melts, whisking frequently. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, orange peel, vanilla, and salt. Gradually whisk in the chocolate mixture. Pour mixture over bread in the baking dish. Press lightly with back of spoon to be sure all bread cubes are moistened.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until evenly puffed and set. Cool for 30 minutes; serve warm. If desired, serve with whipped cream.
9. Slow Cooker Bread Pudding
Though definitely unique, this version of bread pudding from Dessert for Two uses a water bath in a slower cooker to make the dessert. The blogger describes it as a hands-off way to prepare the dish. The plus-side of using ramekins is you’ll have individual desserts all ready to go. Though the slow cooker doesn’t give you the toasted bites on top, the author suggests sprinkling with sugar and browning with a kitchen torch, similar to the process of making the top of crème brûlée.
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cubes fresh bread cubes (the blogger suggests challah)
Directions: In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cream, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon until sugar is mostly dissolved and cinnamon is distributed. Add bread and mix to combine, then divide between two greased ramekins.
In the bottom of a slow cooker, place two rings of foil for the ramekins to sit on, then carefully set ramekins on top. Pour about 3 cups of hot tap water around the ramekins, being careful to avoid splashing.
Cook on low for 2 to 3 hours, testing after 2 hours for doneness. Remove the lid from the slow cooker, and let cool briefly. For a crunchy topping, sprinkle each with a teaspoon of sugar. Caramelize under the broiler or using a kitchen torch. Serve.