These last couple of weeks have been such a tease. The sun has been shining quite brightly.
Which is good for the psyche. When the sun is smiling, it’s hard not to be smiling yourself.
But then I would open the balcony doors to let the Spring breezes come inside. And horror, frigid breezes were on the other side. So pretty well every time I ventured outside, it was with sunglasses, a toque, scarf, base layers and gloves. And it’s almost the end of March! I want a refund! But at least I found rhubarb.
A few times when I went down to the market for Saturday morning shopping, I was able to source some rhubarb. These bright pink stalks are to me one of the best icons of Springtime, (well, okay robins and daffodils rank right up there, but you don’t eat either of those!) This last weekend, I had all in mind what I was going to prepare for dinner with friends. The dessert would be a rhubarb bread pudding, a recipe that I’ve been trying to perfect. So can you imagine the disappointment when I found out there was no rhubarb anywhere at any of the vendors?! I was chatting with the owner of my favourite organic produce spot, and he was explaining what had happened to the supply of the grower of said rhubarb, and how no one in the area had any to sell. I was all set to switch my dessert to a pie of some sort, when one of the owner’s assistants came up and told him he thought there was still some rhubarb downstairs in the stock fridge. Anthony got all excited and told me to wait, he would go down to check it out. He returned with a bunch of rhubarb. It was a beautiful sight! And he gifted it to me, which was even better!
And I got to make my bread pudding. I had already made this once before, but I wasn’t happy with the results. It tasted great, but the texture was too custardy. The centre hadn’t set the way I wanted. So I adjusted the ingredients a smidge, and this time it turned out exactly the way I wanted. Obviously the rhubarb is the star of the pudding. But to counter the refreshing sour side to the rhubarb, I decided that white chocolate would work perfectly. It gives the pudding a rich creaminess and also a texture, since the chunks don’t all melt down.
I use a good challah bread from Carousel Bakery at St. Lawrence Market. As with any bread pudding, you want to use day old bread; cubes that are too fresh will soak up the custard liquid and turn to mush. In fact what I will do to the bread to help the drying out process, is to cut the loaf into 1 inch slices and lay them out on a baking sheet. After a couple of hours, turn them over so that the air can dry out the other side. Soon you will have slices that are pleasingly crisp and dried out. You could also lay them on the baking sheet and place them into a 200F oven to dry out- just keep checking till you have just turning firm dry slices.
Then I cut them into 1 inch cubes. Place them in a large bowl. Then whip up the custard of eggs, whole milk, heavy cream, some melted butter and salt. Then I added the chopped chocolate to the mixture. This all gets poured over the bread. Stir it all together and allow the bread to start soaking up the liquid.
In the meantime I chopped up the rhubarb and tossed it in some sugar. Then it came time for assembly. I sprayed my baking pan with some non-stick spray. Then I ladled half of the bread into the pan and spread it evenly over the bottom. Half of the rhubarb got strewn over the bread. Then I repeated, and now the pan was full. I gently pressed down to get the bread to soak up all the custard. I placed some cling wrap over it and let it set for about 20 minutes. When it was time to bake, I sprinkled some more of the white chocolate over the contents, and into the oven it went.
I forgot to tell you, before any of this happened, I took a couple of cups of sliced strawberries, tossed them in lemon juice and laid them out on a silicone lined baking sheet and dried them out in a 200F degree oven (it takes about 3 hours) They turned into the most lovely sweet-tart strawberry chips. I would use these as a garnish to the pudding when it came out. Depending on your schedule, this can be done first thing in the morning, or even the day before.
So in the end, it became a rhubarb white chocolate pudding with strawberry chips. But I couldn’t leave well enough alone. You can call it gilding the lily, but I found some fresh chocolate mint (yes, mint that has a chocolate hint to the flavour- how awesome is that?!) at the market when I picked up the rhubarb, and knew that they just had to hang out together. So a sprinkling of the mint happened at the same time as the strawberries did. It was a joyful topping to a cozy bread pudding. The toppings totally reminded me of confetti. I think it is the perfect complementary colour effect of the pinks and greens. In fact, I consider this the ultimate Springtime Bread Pudding! I hope you’ll agree. Let me know what you think of it, okay!
Rhubarb and White Chocolate Bread Pudding
The ultimate Springtime Bread Pudding, with fresh rhubarb, creamy white chocolate chunks and garnished with strawberry chips and chocolate mint. This needs to be eaten on a patio with a side of vanilla ice cream and a glass of champagne!
- 12 cups of challah bread cut into 1 inch cubes (one large challah should do it- about a 16oz loaf)
- 4 medium stalks of rhubarb
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 4 tbsp 1/2 stick butter, melted
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 5 oz good quality white chocolate cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks
- 5-6 good dashes of rhubarb bitters optional, but amazing if you can do it!
- 1 cup dried strawberries see below for recipe
- 3 tbsp fresh chopped chocolate mint can substitute with any other type of mint
If the bread is still too fresh (too soft on the inside, as you slice it) lay out 1 inch slices onto a baking sheet and let them dry out. Either on the counter, or in a 200F oven. Check regularly and turn over if necessary. You want the bread to be going to the stale stage, so that it doesn't go mushy when the custard is added to it.
Cut the dried bread into 1inch cubes and place in a large bowl. You will need 12 cups worth
Cut the rhubarb into 1/2 cubes and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp sugar.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, melted butter, salt and vanilla.
Add all but 2 tbsp of the chocolate chunks to the egg mixture.
Pour this mixture over the bread and toss gently to get the bread started in soaking it all up. Toss 5-6 generous dashes of rhubarb bitters over everything. While this is optional, it does add a depth of flavour and a slight bright contrast to the creaminess of the contents.
Spray a large baking pan (9x13) with non-stick spray.
Spoon half of the bread mixture into the pan and spread out evenly. Sprinkle half of the rhubarb pieces evenly over the bread, gently nudging them into the nooks and crannies.
Repeat, getting all the bread and liquid poured evenly over the pan, and add the final amount of rhubarb. Press down gently to get the bread soaking up all the liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325F
When the oven is warmed through, remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the remaining chocolate chunks over the pudding.
Place the pan onto a baking sheet and place this onto the middle rack of the oven.
Bake for 50 minutes or until set. Check the middle section with a toothpick.
Remove from the oven.
Take the strawberry chips and crush gently into various sizes and sprinkle these over the pudding like confetti! Do the same with the mint!
Serve with a side of vanilla ice cream
This will feed 8-10 comfortably. Feel free to cut the entire recipe in half and just adjust your baking pan accordingly.
Any extra strawberries will be great on cereal or yogurt.
Oven Dried Strawberries:
2 cups of trimmed, cleaned and dried strawberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 200F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat.
Using a mandoline or very sharp knife, slice the strawberries into 1/8 inch thick slices Place these into a bowl, and add the lemon juice. Gently toss to coat.
Lay these out evenly in one layer on the baking sheet. Bake until dry but tacky. This will take 3-3 1/2 hours.
Let cool completely. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.
Recipe courtesy of Bake From Scratch, Volume 4, issue 2