It's indulgent fun to dream up rich foods one can enjoy for the feast before Lent. I can't help but think of some of the buttery things those food-loving folks in New Orleans cook up for dessert. Bread pudding comes to mind — with raisins, a touch of citrus and of course plenty of creamy sauce loaded with rum or whiskey.
I usually start with Emeril Lagasse's recipe and modify it according to what bread I have on hand and perhaps a little less whiskey depending on who's going to be enjoying it.
Making bread pudding is a good way to use up stale or day-old bread. You can gather some end slices, leftover dinner rolls, toast and even croissants. Some folks get a little carried away and throw in doughnuts, but it is not something I recommend. Day-old French or Italian bread works quite well. If you do use some sweet rolls, you should cut back on the sugar in the recipe.
I like to use a pretty casserole dish so the pudding goes right from the oven to the table, but you can use a regular 9-by-13-inch pan if you like. The pudding can be scooped up with a serving spoon or cut in generous square portions. It is best served warm, but I wouldn't turn it down right out of the fridge.
If I know we are going to be eating the pudding right away, I like to separate the eggs and whip the whites into stiff peaks. Once the custard mixture has had a chance to soak into the bread cubes for a while, you can fold in the whites before transferring the entire mixture into the baking dish or pan. It reminds me more of the bread pudding souffles served at Commander's Palace in New Orleans.
The pleasant thing about whiskey sauce is how it sort of warms you up as you enjoy it. I find that the flavor is not compromised at all by using a much smaller amount than called for. Think of it as you do vanilla. When it is going into a sauce, a small amount will suffice. You should also consider the possibility of any guests who might have medication restrictions when it comes to alcohol. There are extracts in both brandy and rum available that can supply the flavor without the extra alcohol.
Whatever you choose for dessert, enjoy it to the max as Fat Tuesday is meant to be indulgent.
New Orleans-Style Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce
Think of this recipe as a starting point and embellish it to your heart's content.
Makes 10 to 12 servings of pudding and about 3 ½ cups whiskey sauce.
FOR THE BREAD PUDDING:
12 to 14 cups day-old French or Italian bread, in 1-inch cubes
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups heavy cream
4 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
1¾ cups light brown sugar
4½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup raisins
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
FOR THE WHISKEY SAUCE
2 cups cream
½ cup whole milk
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cup bourbon or other whiskey
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter