This is a fabulous and flexible dessert created by pastry chef Terri Horn. The fruit can be changed with the seasons.
Here, chef Ris Lacoste added Poire Williams, a pear-flavored liqueur, to the custard, but that is optional. She uses extra-large eggs to create enough custard for a creme Anglaise sauce. (Creme Anglaise is traditionally made with egg yolks and not whole egg, and is heated to thicken from a warm state. When the chef heats this remaining custard for a sauce, from a not-so-warm state, the eggs often curdle. No problem: She purees the warmed custard in a blender, where it becomes smooth, frothy and light.)
You will need a dozen 4- to 6-ounce ramekins, or you can use large-muffin tins with deep wells.
Make Ahead: The puddings can be assembled and baked, cooled and kept at room temperature in their ramekins. The custard can be made 1 day in advance and refrigerated. It may happen that there is no remaining custard to make a creme Anglaise sauce (directions below); this could be due to the dryness of the bread or how much the ramekins will hold. It is more important that the puddings are well saturated than having custard left over for sauce. If that happens, make a separate small batch of creme Anglaise sauce or serve the puddings just with the sweetened whipped cream.
- 1 20-ounce loaf challah or brioche, cut into 3/4-inch cubes; makes 12 cups (may substitute brioche)
- 3 Bosc pears, 2 1/2 of them peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks; makes 3 cups (1/2 pear wrapped thightly in plastic wrap to prevent oxidation, reserved for garnish)
- 12 ounces white chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (1/2 cup reserved for garnish)
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped
- 9 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 scant cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons pear-flavored liqueur, such as Poire William (optional)
- 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar, for garnish and for sprinkling (optional)
- 12 sprigs mint, for garnish (optional)
Have ready a 2-inch roasting pan large enough to place twelve 4- to 6-ounce ramekins inside, with space around each one for even cooking. (Two small baking dishes may be substituted.). Use a floured baking spray to coat the inside of the ramekins.
Fill each ramekin halfway with the bread cubes. Use all the pear chunks to create a layer on top of the bread cubes, pressing them down. Use all but 1 cup of the remaining bread cubes to overstuff the ramekins as a third layer. Reserve (freeze) any remaining bread cubes for another use.
Stud each pudding with a proportionate amount of white chocolate chunks.
Combine the cream, vanilla bean and scraped seeds in a medium saucepan; bring just to the point of scalding over medium or medium-high heat. Watch closely so it does not boil over.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and (granulated) sugar together in a large bowl.
Remove the cream from the heat. Discard the vanilla bean (or rinse, dry and save for another use). Whisk a little of the cream into the egg-sugar mixture to equalize the temperature of the eggs, then slowly whisk in the remaining cream to form a custard. For best results strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any bits of curdled egg. Add the pear-flavored liqueur, if using.
Transfer the custard into a vessel with a spout; a squeeze bottle or baster may be used as well. Fill each ramekin to the top with the custard, poking holes to make sure to get to the bottom of the ramekins. Let the unbaked puddings rest for 30 minutes to absorb the first round of custard.
About 15 minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil a kettle of water for the roasting pan water bath (bain marie).
Top off each pudding with a bit more custard so the ramekins are filled; the puddings will be glistening and may overflow slightly. This is okay. Reserve any remaining custard (at room temperature) to make sauce.
Place the roasting pan on the middle rack and fill with boiling water so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 20 minutes, then carefully turn the pan front to back. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the puddings are puffed, set and golden brown.
Let them rest in the water-filled roasting pan until just cool enough to handle.
(At this point, the ramekins can be removed from the water bath and cooled to room temperature before covering and refrigerating for up to 1 day. To serve, run a knife around the inside edge of each pudding and invert to unmold. Place the unmolded puddings, browned side up, on a baking sheet. If they are not still warm when ready to serve, place them in a 350-degree oven until just warmed through.)
Just before serving, combine the remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream and the confectioners' sugar in the bowl of stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat for a few minutes until soft peaks form. Unwrap, then cut the remaining pear into 24 very thin slices.
Heat any remaining custard in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until warmed throug and slightly thickened to form a sauce. (If the eggs curdle, transfer the custard to a blender and puree until smooth.)
Just before serving, combine the remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream and the confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat for a few minutes until soft peaks form. Cut the remaining 1/2 pear into 24 very thin slices.
Place a warm pudding on each plate. Spoon some of the creme Anglaise around the puddings. Garnish the plate with a dollop of the sweetened whipped cream, studding it with 2 fanned pear slices and a sprig of mint, if desired. Dust the tops of the puddings with confectioners' sugar, if desired.
Adapted by chef Ris Lacoste.
Tested by Ris Lacoste.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.