By Robert St. John
I really don’t know when it started, or who came up with the idea. It could have been me. Or it may have been one of our chefs. All I know is that when we roll out King Cake Bread Pudding around this time of year, it’s all we can do to keep up with the demand.
When we opened our New Orleans-themed restaurant, Crescent City Grill, more than 31 years ago, we opened with a classic New Orleans-style bread budding with raisins and cinnamon and a bourbon glaze on the dessert menu.
Around that time, I was eating at Dickie Brennan’s Palace Café on Canal in New Orleans— our two concepts opened within weeks of each other— and was served White Chocolate Bread Pudding. I loved it. I spoke to the chefs at Palace Café, and they covered the ingredients and procedure. I immediately came back to our restaurant and started working on our version.
Typically, I am not a fan of bread pudding. My problem with bread pudding is that restaurants use stale, day-old bread. We never had any stale day-old bread laying around that could be used in bread pudding. Another problem I have is that all bread pudding recipes tell you to weigh down the bread and press it into the custard mixture. But that almost always causes problems in that a stray piece of bread or two will pop up and get burned as the corner of a piece of bread is sticking out during baking.
When I got back to our kitchen and we started working on our version of White Chocolate Bread Pudding, we cut the crusts off a bunch of loaves of sourdough bread and put it in a cake mixer along with the custard mix. We used the paddle attachment and slowly pulverized the bread and custard. When we baked the final product, it came out with a consistency that was a cross between custard and bread pudding. Perfect.
To be honest I typically don’t care for custard either. But the result of this white chocolate bread pudding was amazing. Silky smooth and the sauce was simple— just white chocolate and heavy cream melted in a double boiler. It was a hit from day one, thanks Dickie.
White Chocolate Bread Pudding became one of the main recipes I demo’d as I was touring around the South in those days. I still demo it on occasion. I have served it at weddings, formal dinners, picnics and to groups as large as 2,000 from Midtown Manhattan to the Redwoods of California.
In the restaurant business recipes beget recipes.
King Cake Bread Pudding is the bastard child of White Chocolate Bread Pudding and king cake. Again, I don’t know what year we started serving it, or which chef came up with it. I don’t think it was me, but it might have been. I do know that we rolled it out during Mardi Gras sometime in the late 1990s and, from the moment we started serving it, we had trouble keeping up with the demand.
The recipe has been showcased in several publications, and a couple of my cookbooks. One of the last conversations my late friend Julia Reed and I ever had was an email chain that went back and forth as she wanted our recipe for King Cake Bread Pudding. I never followed up as to where, or if, she published it, but she— like so many others who have eaten it over the years— was a big fan.
By the time Julia got around to requesting the recipe we had stopped using king cake as the base bread for the recipe and were using unglazed yeast donuts which worked out better all the way around. I sent her the recipe using king cake. We still make it both ways depending on how big of a batch we are serving.
The internal marketing of a menu and feature offerings in a restaurant is occasionally mystifying. People go crazy for King Cake Bread Pudding when we run it as a feature this time of year. All throughout the year people talk about it and ask, “When are you bringing back the King Cake Bread Pudding?”
Last year I finally caved, and told my crew, “They keep asking for it, let’s put it on the dessert menu full time.” It was July. We could have put Limburger cheesecake on the dessert menu, and it would have sold better. It was baffling. Though it’s not the first time that has happened. Menu items have a place and time. Even though we can get Key limes year ‘round. We don’t sell Key lime pie in December. And even though there are some imported varieties of peaches available this time of year, we never put them on the menu. June is for peaches. The same goes for King Cake Bread Pudding. People want it this time of year and it’s flying out the door right now.
Laissez le bon temps rouler!
KING CAKE BREAD PUDDING
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar, divided
4 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 8-10” round cream cheese filled King Cake
Place the milk, cream and half of the sugar in a small sauce pot and place over medium heat. Bring this mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sugar from burning. While the milk mixture is heating, place the remaining sugar, egg yolks, whole eggs, vanilla and salt into a stainless steel mixing bowl. Using a wire whisk, beat the egg mixture until it become light yellow in color. Slowly begin adding the hot milk to the beaten eggs, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from cooking.
Scrape the excess sugar off of the top and cut the King Cake into two inch thick slices.
Pour half of the custard into a two-quart round Pyrex baking dish (nine-inch diameter).
Submerge the King cake slices into the custard. Pour the remaining custard over the top and cover the baking dish. Cover and refrigerate over night.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Remove the covering from the refrigerated bread pudding and gently press down the King Cake so that the custard completely covers the surface. Cover the bread pudding with a piece of parchment paper, and then cover the paper with a piece of aluminum foil.
In a roasting pan large enough to hold the Pyrex dish, place two inches of hot water. Place the Pyrex dish in the water and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and parchment paper and bake for 10 additional minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow the pudding to rest for one hour before serving.
Garnish with sugar that has been colored with purple, green, and gold food coloring and serve with Brandy Crème Anglaise
Yields 8-10 servings
Brandy Crème Anglaise
1 cup cream
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup brandy
3/4 cup sugar, divided
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a stainless steel pot bring the cream, half and half, brandy, half of the sugar and to vanilla a simmer. While it is heating, combine the yolks and remaining sugar in a mixing bowl and whip until pale yellow in color.
Slowly begin adding the cream mixture into to yolks, stirring constantly until all the milk has cream mixture has been added. Pour the mixture back into the sauce pot and cook over a low-medium flame stirring constantly. Cook until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat a spoon or spatula.
Remove from the heat and cool down in an ice bath.
This sauce may be made two-three days in advance.
Yields : 8-10 servings
(Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author who lives in Hattiesburg, Miss.)
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