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Monday, December 20, 2010

Gingerbread Bread Pudding

I love me some gingerbread. Normally, I make several batches throughout the holiday season, as well as the occasional gingerbread man and decorated gingerbread house. This year, I decided to add a twist and combine two of my favorite things, and make Gingerbread Bread Pudding!

I got the idea from Bobby Flay’s pumpkin bread pudding (which I would also like to try someday), but I tweaked the recipe a decent amount, not the least of which was making use of gingerbread, and using mixes that Betty Crocker sells, for added convenience!

But before we get to the recipe, let’s take a quick time-out to explore the origins of that wonderful treat known as “Gingerbread”!!

Gingerbread as a term can actually be applied to a great many baked goods. The only things they have in common are ginger, and a propensity for using molasses or honey in place of granulated sugar. Originally, the term gingerbread didn’t even mean a sweet confection flavored with ginger, but rather any bread with ginger sprinkled on top – which was most loaves, because ginger was used as an early preservative and was also believed to ward of colds and upset stomachs.

Gingerbread has a long history. Originally from the Middle East, where ginger was first used as a preservative, it was brought to Europe in 992 AD by Gregory of Nicopolis, a monk. There are many different variations, including treacle and parkin (England), lebkuchen (Germany), licitar (Croatia), pepperkaker (Norway), and pierniczki (Poland).  In Poland, Torun gingerbread (ToruĊ„ski Piernik) has been produced ever since the Middle Ages. Gingerbread became so popular in Europe that there were gingerbread fairs held at various times throughout the year, the most famous being in Nuremberg, Germany.

Gingerbread also has a long history of being molded into shapes. Originally, gingerbread dough was pressed into molds, although later it took on the shapes we are more familiar with: gingerbread houses and gingerbread men. Gingerbread house-making has its origin in Germany, where it is called lebkuchenhaeusle.  It caught on after the Brothers Grimm popularized what is arguably the most famous gingerbread house of all time: the Witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel, and German immigrants brought this tradition of gingerbread house-making to the US.   The first documented instance of a gingerbread man actually dates back to Elizabeth I of England, who used to have them baked and decorated in the likenesses of her guests, in an effort to awe them.

The widespread association of gingerbread with Christmas had to wait until the mid 19th century, when Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, Prince Albert, imported the tradition of gingerbread making (along with the tradition of Christmas trees) to England.

In making this pudding, I decided to keep it simple and start off with the boxed mix of gingerbread. It’s easy, and it has the traditional taste of gingerbread that I was looking for, without a lot of the fuss of a from-scratch recipe. But if you have a favorite gingerbread recipe, this bread pudding recipe can certainly be adapted, just skim down the post until you get to the part where I talk about chopping up and toasting the gingerbread cubes.

For this recipe, I made 2 boxes of gingerbread, according to the directions on the box, and baked them in 2-8” square disposable cake pans, because that’s what I had on hand. The box gives directions for multiple size pans, so you can look on the box to find the directions that fit the pans you are using. One thing I would make sure, though, is not to combined both boxes into one plan, like I did for the gingerbread cake balls, because having smaller, thinner cakes makes the toasting process a lot easier than one big thick cake.

So, make, bake and cool 2 boxes of gingerbread cake.

Then cube up both cakes into cubes that are maybe a half inch wide by whatever the depth is of your cake (hence why it is better to have 2 thinner cakes than one fat one).

Spread the cubes out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and toast for about 10 minutes at 350. You’re not making croutons, you’re just trying to dry them out a tad, so don’t make my initial mistake and bake until they are rocks. You can see the toasted to the left, and the untoasted to the right. Put these cubes into a 9”x13” pan once they are cool.

Then, you make the custard: egg yolks, heavy cream, milk and vanilla. Whisk it until it is well-combined, and then slowly pour it over the gingerbread cubes. Gently press the cubes into the custard a little bit, and let it soak in for about 15-20 minutes.

Then, you bake it for 50 minutes to an hour. Gingerbread pudding is best warm, but if you try to dig into it at this stage, it will probably be runny and fall apart. My advice is to let it cool fully, cover it, and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight.

Then, when you are ready to serve it, cut it, and zap it in the microwave piece by piece. My microwave took about a minute or so to get to the right temp, wait until you can hear it sizzle! Put some good quality vanilla bean ice cream over it, and enjoy!

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about this pudding while I was making it. I over-toasted the bread cubes, I didn’t feel like there was enough custard, I forgot to add sugar to the custard period, and I felt that the top of the bread pudding was too hard. But, I gave it a break overnight and came back the next day, microwaved a piece, and man! It was good!! I didn’t miss the sugar, and in fact, I think the whole thing would be too sweet with it, so I am permanently leaving it out of the recipe from now on. I am toying with the idea of increasing the amount of custard by 50% (3C heavy cream, 1.5C milk, 2 extra yolks and a bit more vanilla), because I think I ended up with more cubes of gingerbread than the original recipe was supposed to accommodate, so keep that in mind if you want to try this recipe, although I haven’t tried that. But even as-is in the amounts specified below, this gingerbread bread pudding is delicious, relatively easy, and definitely a different twist on an old favorite!!

Bobby Flay also has a caramel apple sauce that he puts over his pumpkin bread pudding that I think would be equally delicious on this gingerbread pudding. I didn’t have time to try it, but the recipe is at the above link.

Gingerbread Bread Pudding
(Printable Recipe)

  • 2 14oz boxes of gingerbread mix (Betty Crocker) plus ingredients specified on the box (water, eggs)
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 1 C milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 6 yolks

  1. Make and bake 2 boxes of gingerbread according to the directions on the box
  2. Cool completely
  3. Cube gingerbread into ½” cubes, place on a cookie sheet, and toast for 10 minutes at 350F.
  4. Cool cubes completely and spread in a 9”x13” pan
  5. Assemble custard: whisk yolks, cream, milk and vanilla in a bowl until smooth
  6. Pour over the cubes
  7. Push cubes slightly into custard, and let soak for 15-20 minutes
  8. Bake at 350F for 50-60 minutes
  9. Serve warm (see above) or cool completely, cover and store
  10. When serving, place pieces of gingerbread pudding in microwave, cook for ~1 minute (until warmed through and slightly steaming) and top with vanilla ice cream

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