Chefs sometimes have a problem throwing food away. As far back as ancient Egypt, cooks were salvaging leftover loaves by turning them into dessert. These days, bread pudding — a spongy treat often bound together with an eggy cream sauce, dotted with fruits or other sweet morsels, and baked golden — is less about recycling and more about reinvention. “It’s incredibly versatile,” says Maris Justusson, the pastry chef at Againn. “I’ve done tons of flavors, from eggnog to chocolate-peanut butter to banana.” With so many options, bread pudding is one dessert that doesn’t get stale.
Napoleon Bistro & Lounge
The brioche bread pudding ($8) at this Frenchified Adams Morgan brasserie is speckled with bourbon-soaked raisins and drizzled with a rummy, creamy zabaglione custard sauce. Executive chef Yomi Faniyi starts with golden cubes of brioche loaf, which he drenches with eggs, milk, heavy cream and vanilla. After baking this base, he pours on the zabaglione, which he fires with a blowtorch to give it a golden crème brûlée-styled crust. A flurry of powdered sugar, a sprig of mint and a few fresh berries finish off the plate. “It’s a very tasteful, winterish dessert,” says Faniyi, “a nice way to warm the belly on a cold day.”
Napoleon Bistro & Lounge, 1847 Columbia Road NW; 202-299-9630. (Woodley Park)
You don’t expect to find bread pudding on the menu at a pan-Asian sushi restaurant, but that’s kind of the point. “We wanted to steer clear of green tea and mochi [sweetened rice cake],” says culinary director Avinesh Rana. The orange bread pudding ($8) does incorporate the sweet white miso (finely ground fermented grains), though, which ties together traditions from around the world. Sitting on a sliver of bamboo leaf, the citrus-infused, croissant-based dessert is complemented by a dollop of rum raisin ice cream and a slender swipe of miso caramel sauce.
Sei, 444 7th St. NW; 202-783-7007. (Archives)
Corporate executive chef Demetrio Zavala loves to experiment with bread pudding at this American eatery, switching up the flavors every season. For his latest version ($8), he’s using Hubbard squash and a mélange of warming spices such as clove, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. “It’s like pumpkin pie in a bread pudding,” he says. The brioche-based sweet comes as a trio of rectangular sticks, which can be dipped into a pumpkin puree-infused crème anglaise or a scoop of homemade eggnog ice cream.
Lincoln, 1110 Vermont Ave. NW; 202-386-9200. (Farragut North)
When seasonal fresh fruit is in short supply, Justusson turns to her cupboard at this English gastropub for inspiration. Working with dried ingredients, she created a cranberry-almond brioche bread pudding topped off with a scoop of homemade milk chocolate ice cream and drenched with amIs’t aretto crème anglaise ($8). To boost the nutty notes, she swirls marzipan-like almond paste into the spongy pudding. You can amplify the almond even further by ordering a glass of amaretto on the side. “People look to bread pudding when they want something comforting,” says Justusson. “When they see that on the menu, they think, ‘Yes! That will make me feel great at the end of the meal.’”
Againn, 1099 New York Ave. NW; 202-639-9830. (McPherson Square)
Savor the Flavor: Bread Pudding on the Side
Elephant & Castle
Along with a pint of Guinness and football on the telly, Yorkshire pudding is a U.K. pub standard. This version is stuffed with roast beef and onions; topped with gravy; and served with mashed potatoes ($13, Saturdays and Sundays only).
Elephant Castle, 900 19 St. NW; 202-296-2575. (Farragut West)
This savory bread pudding isn’t an excuse to use up stale loaves. Crispy speck (smoked, cured ham) and cheddar cheese and herb-infused custard make this brunch-only option a gourmet side ($10).
Cork, 1720 14th St. NW; 202-265-2675. (U Street)
The Southern-styled creamy corn pudding ($6) gets sweetened with a dash of brown sugar and kicked up with a splash of bourbon. A glass of bourbon on the side is optional but recommended.
B. Smith’s, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE; 202-289-6188. (Union Station)