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Cheesy Bread Pudding

Revisiting recipes is a lot of fun. I was recently asked to bring something to a church potluck dinner and decided that cheesy bread pudding was it. This recipe was one of the first uses for bread posted on this web site, and it's long been a family favorite. So, I printed a copy and started making the pudding. And I realized, "Gee - I haven't done it that way in some time, I should update the recipe online. And a better picture would be a good thing too!" So, it's re-do time!

This marvelous recipe had its beginnings with a recipe in Laurel Robertson's "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book". It's a different spin on bread pudding. Bread pudding - it's not just for dessert any more! Most bread puddings are very sweet, and sweeter still when you put the lemon, whiskey, rum, or whatever sauce on them.

This bread pudding is suited to be a side dish, used like a Yorkshire Pudding, pasta, or rice dish. I suppose a ovo-lacto vegetarian would enjoy it as a main course. I will say, it never lasts long around here, and it's especially good when made with sourdough bread.

Since we're talking about bread pudding, I'll share a tip that Beth, my wife and the love of my life, picked up on a Delta Queen river cruise she and her mother enjoyed. The ship line had hired Chef Joe Cahn of New Orleans and "Commissioner of Tailgating" fame to have cooking classes onboard. Joe is known for his bread puddings, so he taught a class about them. Beth says they were just amazing. Joe said you shouldn't worry about what kind of bread to use. If you liked the bread when it was fresh, it will make a good bread pudding. He just starts with whatever is around. White, wheat, rye, pumpernickel. Whatever. Of course, I think that sourdough bread makes the best bread pudding. I probably wouldn't use a sweet bread, like cinnamon raisin bread, to make a cheesy bread pudding, nor would I use a savory bread like my dilly onion rye bread (when I finalize that recipe, I'll post it) to make a sweet bread pudding, but within a wide range, any bread will make a good bread pudding.

This is a great way to use up some of the excess bread you might have baked. This recipe is enough for a 9x13 inch baking pan, and should serve about 8 as a side dish. Unless one or more are teenagers. Or never realised how good sourdough could be. Or know very well how good sourdough is.

11 cups of bread chopped into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch cubes This is about 1 1/2 pounds of a well risen bread. Bread that is slightly stale works best here, as it does for French Toast.
6 cups of warm milk
3 eggs
3 tablespoons of butter (you can omit the butter if you are avoiding fats)
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces by weight) of any grated or crumbled strong cheese - a good sharp cheddar, aged swiss, aged Gouda, blue, or Parmesan will do fine. As with the bread, if you like the cheese, it will make a good cheesy bread pudding.

Start by preheating your oven to 350F. Bread in a pan... like wow Next, lightly grease the 9x13 inch pan with some of the butter (or use a baking spray). Then, chop up the bread and put it into the pan. You want to fill the pan, and it's OK if the bread peeks over the top of the pan. A half-full pan says "stingy" to me. I prefer a dish that says, "abundance" and "generosity," or even "wretched excess." If you want to make a smaller bread pudding, use a smaller pan so the smaller bread pudding will still look generous. Also, the cheesy bread pudding will settle a bit as it cools, so if you make it way too big, it'll be just right after it cools.

Lightly beat the eggs, mix in the warm milk, and beat further. By warming the milk, you are reducing the baking time considerably. Add the grated cheese, and mix well. Glug, glug Pour the egg, milk, and cheese mixture on top of the bread. Stir the pudding a bit to distribute the cheese throughout the bread pudding. If you don't, all the cheese will gather on the top. Let the bread pudding sit a few minutes so the bread can absorb some of the milk and egg mixture.

Dot the top with the remaining butter. More butter! Put the pan into the oven until the pudding is set, and the bread is nicely browned. This will probably take about an hour. For an extra touch, sprinkle the top of the bread pudding with Parmesan cheese about 15 minutes before the bake is over to give it time to melt and brown also.

This recipe is really a starting point. You can vary it in many ways and have different, and wonderful dishes. Make it with rye bread - especially a sourdough rye - with an aged Swiss cheese. Or use a sesame bread, and top the pudding with a few tablespoons of sesame seeds. You could also add a sauteed onion and a cup or so of chopped celery to turn this into a delicious casserole. If, like me, you aren't a vegetarian and want to make this a main course casserole, you could add a cup or so of chopped ham. If you, like me, like spicy foods, beating some Tabasco sauce, or your favorite hot sauce, into the milk and egg mixture will add a nice taste and some burn to the pudding.