Savory Leek and Herb Bread Pudding
I have a tendency to spend significant amounts of time in bookstores leafing through cookbooks I know I won’t leave with. Call it aspirational thumbing. Actually don’t, that sounds dirty. And filth has no place in my holy reverence for books. I love spending time with the cookbooks themselves: turning their pages, examining their photographs and illustrations, feeling their weight on my lap. But at the end of that time I have difficulty justifying the price of most cookbooks, considering the fact that the internet holds such a plethora of recipes free for the taking. So, inevitably, I leave empty handed and feeling a bit guilty for fondling so many books without giving one a good home at the end of it all.
One of my favorites to thumb through is Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. His cookbook is so visually appealing – every photograph a delight, and his comfort food recipes are always calling out from the pages; “cook me,” they say “I’ll make your apartment smell amazing and will fill your belly with delight.” What, cookbooks don’t talk to you as you devour them? Well, Keller’s cookbook talks to me. And what it’s been saying lately is “just try one of my recipes, take it for a test drive. If you like what you taste, come on back and take me home for good.” Yeah, recently this cookbook has taken on the tone of a used car salesman. So, I found one of his recipes online and though I felt a bit guilty about cooking it without paying for it, I took the cookbook up on it’s imagined offer of a test drive to placate my conscience.
I made a few adaptations to this savory bread pudding – mainly because I had a lot of herbs from my garden after trimming them back for the winter. So this became more herby than I think was originally intended, but to great success. They did not overwhelm. I also opted to cook the leeks using my confit method, since I’ve never gone wrong doing so. And since I doubled the amount of leeks called for (have you figured out yet that I’m obsessed with this particular allium?), I figured a very slow cook that significantly reduced their yield post cooking would ensure that they didn’t physically overcome the dish. The result was as decedant as I had imagined – a perfect introduction to winter comfort cooking. And perhaps good enough to push me over the edge to buy Ad Hoc At Home… I’ll keep you posted.
Savory Leek and Herb Bread Pudding (Adapted from Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller)
4 cups 1/2-inch-thick sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
2 Tbs water
1/2 tsp salt
12 cups 1-inch-cubed crustless brioche, pullman or challah loaf
1.5 Tbs finely chopped chives
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp fresh sage, minced
6 cups whole milk (or 3 cups whole milk, 3 cups heavy cream or half and half)
1.5 cup shredded Comté or Emmenthaler
Salt and Pepper
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the middle position. Grease a 9×13 baking dish.
Then, prepare your leek confit… Heat butter in a dutch oven (or other heavy bottomed pot/pan with a lid) on medium low. When the butter has melted, add the leeks, water and 1/2 tsp salt – stir to coat, turn heat to low and cover. Cook covered for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. If after 25 minutes you take the lid off and it’s too liquidy, cook uncovered another minute or two to evaporate the remaining juices.
While your leeks are cooking, spread your bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through and flipping over the cubes. Remove from the oven when the bread is dry and golden brown. Transfer to a large bowl and leave the oven on.
Once finished cooking, add leeks to the bread and toss well, then add your chives, rosemary, sage and thyme.
In a medium bowl, whisk your eggs, then whisk in the milk, cream or half and half if using, and salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle a 1/2 cup of the cheese in the bottom of your baking dish, then cover with half of your bread/leek/herb mixture. Repeat – sprinkle another 1/2 cup of cheese and top with your remaining bread mixture. Then, pour 3/4 of your milk/egg mixture on top and press gently on the bread so it soaks in the milk. Allow to rest and soak undisturbed for 15 minutes.
Finally, pour over your remaining milk/egg mix (note: some of the soaked cubes of bread should protrude). Sprinkle the remaining cup cheese on top and grind a bit of pepper over the whole dish.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling. Allow to cool and set up a bit before serving warm.