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Correction to This Article
- In the Jan. 16 Food section, the recipe for Loaf of Bread Pudding incorrectly called for the custard to be poured into a prepared baking dish. The custard should remain in its deep, flat-bottomed pan to soak the loaf of brioche. The corrected recipe appears at http://www.washingtonpost.com/recipes.

On the Whole, a Better Bread Pudding

The bread pudding loaf that is first served as dessert at night can be French toast the next morning -- provided there are leftovers.
The bread pudding loaf that is first served as dessert at night can be French toast the next morning -- provided there are leftovers. ( Photo by Renee Comet/Styled by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
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By Edward Schneider
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I've never met a bread pudding I didn't like, and I've run into more than a few in my time. Standouts: Paul Prudhomme's spicy, pecan-studded (but admittedly dense) version, baked in a bread pan. An ultra-eggy, ultra-elegant bread-and-butter pudding served at London's Dorchester Hotel back when the dollar was still a contender in the foreign-exchange arena. Gaston LenĂ´tre's recipe in "LenĂ´tre's Desserts and Pastries" (Barron's, 1977), in which the bread is cut into triangles whose corners get buttery-crisp in the oven.

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After all, with eggs, milk, cream and decent bread in play, what could be wrong? Still, a new twist is always welcome, especially when it is easy to assemble, looks fabulous at the dinner table and, flavorwise, can go toe-to-toe with any other bread pudding you've tasted. It also doesn't hurt that, if there are any leftovers (ha!), they can be turned into the next morning's French toast.

Perhaps because of the availability of delicious one-pound loaves of buttery brioche -- almost by definition the best of bread for desserts of all kinds -- I've been tinkering with bread puddings for a while, cutting (or tearing) the loaf into pieces of different sizes or into very thin slices (and layering with loose preserves made from our local summer berries). But pondering a menu for a dinner party, with cloth napkins and all, I got to thinking that it would be fun, and kind of elegant, not to cut it up at all: to adapt typical bread pudding ingredients and technique to what I quickly came to call Loaf-of-Bread Pudding, and to add some unexpected flavors and seasonal accompaniments.

The flavorings evoke a vacation in southwestern France (Gascony, to be exact), where many desserts have a haunting aroma that comes from a combination of orange-flower water and Armagnac (the local brandy, once thought coarse in comparison with cognac but now highly sought after). To say that this aroma is unusual is not to say that it takes getting used to; the appeal is immediate.

The whole loaf, trimmed of most of its crust to allow the custard to penetrate to its core, goes into the oven to bake gently in a bain-marie, or water bath. The completed pudding can be presented to your guests before being cut into slices and served with caramelized winter fruit: apples, pears, raisins and currants scented with the same Armagnac that went into the custard.

Partly because the fruit is not mixed with the bread and custard and partly because of the delicacy of the brioche, this variation on a classic is unexpectedly light. Also, because it can be cut into neat slices, the leftovers, if any, can be browned, either with a smear of butter in a nonstick skillet or, believe it or not, in the toaster. Then they can be served as Armagnac-scented French toast, either with the warmed winter fruit mixture or with warm maple syrup.

Edward Schneider is an editor and translator in New York.

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