serves: 6 - 8 servings
My friend Mario Picozzi and I discovered this deluxe version of bread pudding on a winter visit to Merano, the historic resort town in the middle of the Alps, in Alto Adige. It was the perfect dessert on a cold day, served in its baking dish, still warm from the oven. Spooning the pudding onto plates, I was thrilled to find it loaded with apple chunks and walnuts, oozing rich custard and bubbling apricot jam. I make this at home now (it's very easy) and serve it just as they do in Merano, family-style, setting the steaming, gold-topped pudding set in the middle of the table, with a serving spoon and lots of plates. It disappears fast.
1 tablespoon soft butter
1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
½ teaspoon cinnamon
6 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
3 cups white bread, day old, crusts removed, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1½ pounds baking apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
6 tablespoons apricot preserves
½ cup walnuts, toastes and coarsely chopped
You will need a 2-quart (11 by 7 inch) rectangular baking dish, or an oval gratin dish of similar size, a flexible, sturdy wire whisk; a roasting pan large enough to hold the baking dish.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a baking dish with the softened butter. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the sugar on the buttered surfaces; tilt and shake the pan so it's sugared. Stir together 1/4 cup of the sugar with the cinnamon.
Start the custard by whisking the eggs in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Gradually pour in the cream, milk, and all the remaining sugar, whisking steadily to incorporate them. Then whisk in the salt, vanilla, and lemon zest. Fold the bread cubes into the custard, pushing them down so they're all submerged, and stir in the apple chunks.
Spoon the pudding into the baking dish, spread everything out to fill the dish in an even layer, and smooth the top. Drop teaspoonfuls of the apricot preserves on the pudding, distributing it all evenly, then scatter the chopped walnuts on top. Finally, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the pudding. Put the pudding dish inside a roasting pan, and set the big pan in the oven.
Carefully pour hot (not boiling) water into the roasting pan, enough to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish-don't splash the pudding! Bake the pudding for an hour and 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crusty and the custard is set. (A knife blade inserted into the custard should come out clean.)
Carefully lift the roasting pan from the oven to a solid surface. Leave the pudding dish in the water bath to cool very gradually, but not too much. Take it out of the water and serve the pudding family-style while it is still warm.