I made this recipe for my aunt, Midge. She had been craving a basic, pure-tasting bread pudding. And, of course, I welcomed the challenge of coming up with something that would satisfy her craving.
Midge isn't just any ordinary aunt. She is the best. She and my uncle Jay have treated me and my siblings with such respect and love that I think of them as second parents. They have always welcomed us to visit them in Manhattan or on Long Island and helped me take time out to appreciate and celebrate life.
Growing up, Midge managed to develop a relationship with each of my siblings that made us feel special. She took a genuine interest in us, making sure that she had a bit of one-on-one time with each of us to catch up and find out what was going on in our lives.
I haven't polled all of her nieces and nephews, but if I did, I think I would discover that even today, she makes all of us feel unique and that our lives are fascinating and important. And that is saying something because there are dozens of us. I love asking her for advice because I know that whatever decision I make, she will be behind me all the way. And now she is working her magic with the next generation. It is so gratifying to see the relationship that she has with my children.
When Midge told me that she had advanced stage colon cancer last year, I was heartbroken. How do such horrible things happen to such good people? Midge has had a year that can only be described as hellish, with multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. She still has one surgery to go, but the incredible news is that it looks like she has beat it. I'd like to think that some of the goodness that she added to the world came back to her when she needed it.
Through it all, there were some truly dark days when even getting out of bed was a challenge. But Midge handled it all with courage and dignity. Some of her journey was chronicled in this Wall Street Journal story. One of the images that helped her through it was the Winged Victory, a statue whose beauty first brought her to tears when she saw it in the Louvre as a teenager. The image of that strong, beautiful winged woman inspired her to keep going. And keep going she did.
Making this bread pudding for Midge was a way to celebrate the end of a very tough year, a year that brought her a raw deal and a sweet victory.
The pudding itself is pure, with traditional flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg. I sprinkled a bit of sugar and some hazelnuts over the top for a bit of crunch. Midge made the suggestion that we serve it with a bit of cream spooned over the top, as she had had it in England. It was the perfect touch.
Victory Bread Pudding
20 minutes preparation time
45-50 minutes baking time
I used a combination of white breads for this recipe, Arnold Brick Oven White and a soft-crust Italian bread. The texture of these breads yielded a classic pudding, soft with the bread well-integrated into the custard.
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
4 cups whole milk
1 cup cream, plus more for serving
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 cups cubed white bread
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Whisk together all the ingredients except the bread, hazelnuts, and sugar. Add the bread and toss gently. Let sit for at least half an hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pour the mixture into a buttered 9-by-13 inch casserole pan. Sprinkle the hazelnuts and sugar over the pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the pudding is browned and beginning to puff, but still a bit jiggly in the middle. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving. Serve with a bit of cream drizzled over the top.