Sometimes you lose track of things. It happens. Car keys, a favorite scarf, your Iphone, maybe a loaf of banana bread. I lose track of many things but they always turn up eventually. Like the aforementioned loaf of banana bread I found, several days after baking, tightly wrapped in a far corner of my kitchen counter. Whoops. Forgot about that one. It had gone a bit stale but with more than half a loaf remaining I was hesitant to toss it. So I thought about other options.
I ran through the list of things I do with stale carbohydrates. For old cake, I’ll often crumble and toast the scraps and pat the fine crumbs onto the side of a buttercreamed layer cake or work them into a muffin streusel. For old bread I might make a savory strata or it’s sweet cousin, that patron saint of leftovers and restaurant staff meals: bread pudding. Honestly, there is no better use of stale carbs than a bread pudding though I’d never made one from banana bread. I liked the idea. The loaf was sturdy enough that it wouldn’t dissolve into a big mushy mess like a delicate cake yet tender enough that it had high potential for a delicious pudding. The theory was sound so I went for it. What did I have to lose besides half a loaf of already stale bread? In the name of research, carry on!
First things first, and this seems obvious, but I feel it must be said. You need stale banana bread. If you happen to have it, maybe sitting forlornly in a neglected corner of your kitchen, fantastic. You and I were separated at birth. If not, you can bake up a fresh loaf, eat half right away and save the rest for this purpose. Or you can buy a loaf, which is fine because those are usually stale at the time of purchase anyway but it goes without saying that homemade is best.
OK, so now that you’ve got your bread in order the next step is to cube it and let it get even more stale – either air dry or speed things up in the oven. This serves a purpose: dry bread absorbs the custard much better resulting in a superior pudding. Go figure.
Then whisk together a simple custard, combine the two, fill a baking dish or a few ramekins and bake in a water bath. The nice slow heat of a water bath (aka, a bain marie) will prevent the eggs from overcooking and results in a silky custard. Cool then chill and you’re good to go. Or serve it warm. That’s pretty good too.
Or … hold on a second. A bread pudding is so much better with a sauce and I decided this one is fantastic with a bourbon caramel sauce. I like bananas. I like caramel. And I really like bourbon. So there you have it.
I’m rather pleased with how this turned out – a richer, moister and somewhat heartier version of the banana bread itself. It’s delightful for dessert and rather delicious for breakfast too. Something about the bananas makes me think it makes a good breakfast. Just this side of healthy even.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: DOUBLE WHAMMY. Terrific and thrifty! There’s something very Heloise about this one, taking something scrappy and turning it into something new, something better and even more delicious. It’s familiar yet different enough to be unique. If you like, tuck in some extra bananas before baking or add some chocolate chips to the mix and switch out the caramel sauce for a chocolate one. Oooh now there’s an idea.
BANANABREAD PUDDING WITH BOURBON CARAMEL SAUCE
Makes about 6 1-cup ramekins
12 ounces leftover banana bread cut into ½” cubes – about 4 cups
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half
1 Tablespoon bourbon (or ¾ teaspoon vanilla)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and place a rack in the lowest position. Line a roasting pan with a double layer of paper towels and set aside.
- Cut the banana bread into ½” cubes, spread out on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for 15 minutes, stirring once, until slightly crisp. Alternatively, allow to air dry on the sheet pan, uncovered, for several hours or overnight.
- Butter the sides and bottoms of 6 ramekins (or a baking dish) and fill with the bread cubes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt.
- Whisk in the cream, half-and-half and bourbon.
- Transfer the mixture to a measuring cup or something with a pour spout and pour the liquid over the bread to just below the rim. Gently poke the cubes to submerge.
- Let soak for 45 minutes, poking any exposed cubes gently now and then to help soak up more liquid.
- Put a kettle or pan of water on to boil and place the filled ramekins (or baking dish) in the roasting pan, on top of the paper towels (this helps prevent the ramekins from sliding around in the water bath.)
- Open the oven, slide the rack out half way and place the roasting pan on the rack.
- Carefully pour the boiling water around the ramekins, to about halfway up the ramekin sides. (If it’s easier, remove one ramekin to facilitate the pouring and carefully replace.)
- Carefully slide the oven rack back in, close the door and bake until lightly golden on the top and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, not wet, about 30 minutes.
- Remove the ramekins from the water bath and and serve warm or let cool completely on a wire rack then chill, tightly wrapped, for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Serve warm, room temperature or cold with bourbon caramel sauce. Store any leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the fridge for several days.
BOURBON CARAMEL SAUCE
Makes about 1 ½ cups
Note: when working with hot sugar it’s a good to keep in mind that things start slowly then move very, very quickly. Don’t walk away. It’s also a good idea to have a bowl of ice water standing by – spilled caramelized sugar is no joke.
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup (the clear kind, not the “lite” kind. Ugh.)
¾ cup heavy cream, room temperature or warmed
¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 Tablespoons bourbon (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
- In a heavy bottomed saucepan, preferably silver or light colored, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup with a heatproof spatula.
- Bring to a boil and without stirring, cook the mixture at a rapid boil until the edges begin to color and turn a golden brown.
- Carefully swirl the pan or gently stir as the caramel begins to color; cook to a amber shade and immediately move from the heat. (Note: the darker the color, the deeper the flavor but be careful – it can go from dark amber to burnt very quickly.)
- Quickly stir in the cream and salt – careful, it will bubble up and release a lot of steam. Stir until smooth; if there seems to be a large mass of caramel in the mixture, warm over medium heat until smooth and dissolved.
- Add the bourbon and stir until combined.
- Serve warm or cool then refrigerate until needed. The sauce reheats easily on the stove or in the microwave (50% power).
- The sauce can be made up to 1 week ahead; store in the refrigerator.
- Cleaning tip: an easy way to clean that sticky caramel pot is to fill it with water and bring to a boil. The caramel will dissolve. Easy peasy.