There’s plenty of festive frontier fare to choose from in Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond’s latest collection of recipes The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. “Holidays really are just one enormous excuse to eat,” says Drummond. Indeed they are, and given that Christmas is just around the corner, I flip right to the Christmas Delights and Deliveries section, curious about her family’s Yuletide favorites.
It’s time to celebrate. All the pre-amble to Christmas cookery is there-- colorful confections, family cookie traditions, gingerbread-- along with a guide to the Drummond family Christmas Eve dinner starring their ranch-raised prime rib, a savory Yorkshire pudding to catch the drippings, Burgundy-soaked mushrooms, and a dessert pudding, too.
Pudding. The very word evokes the Christmas spirit. We sing of figgy pudding and dream of sugary plum pudding. Drummond’s Boozy Bread Pudding recipe promises a buttery, rum-filled finish to a spectacular holiday dinner. I ask myself, “Why wait for Christmas eve to bring joy to my world?” It’s pudding for this pioneer.
The recipe calls for a crusty artisan bread that can stand up to a bath of rich, eggy custard. I select two loaves of the best classic Italian bread I can find and carve them into 10 cups of one inch cubes. They fill the deep and generously buttered 9 x13 casserole to the brim. Then, organic eggs, half and half, whole milk, sugar, vanilla, and sweet melted butter combine to yield a creamy eggnog-like base. An abundant sprinkle of chopped pecans, raisins, and my own festive flourish of bright red dried cranberries make for a sweet, crunchy, and tart topping. I christen the fresh bread cubes with the sunny custard mixture and offer a benediction. One hour in the oven affords me plenty of time to uncork the dark rum and begin the “spirited” portion of this pudding preparation.
Rum, rum. It’s good for the tum. And when swirled in a saucepan with a stick of butter, sugar, and whipping cream, a delectable sauce blossoms over the heat in 10 minutes. I drizzle most of it over the steaming, hot bread pudding fresh from the oven (and steal a quick lick of the butterscotch-y sauce off the serving spoon). The golden liquid is lush and contrasts in texture with the pudding’s crispy top layer of nuts and chewy dried fruit. The perfect accent of rum sings in the background as I imagine the Christmas revelers will do at my holiday table.
Boozy Bread Pudding is a versatile holiday dish for a flock of folks, baroque in scale, and versatile, too. Busy holiday cooks can prepare the dish the night before and refrigerate it until ready for cooking. It will be just as heavenly if made with whiskey or brandy, and it makes a festive brunch dish, too. In Boozy Bread Pudding, both the pioneer spirit and Christmas spirit meet in a saucy, rum-laced holiday offering.
Boozy Bread Pudding
For the Bread Pudding:
1 loaf crusty Italian bread or other Artisanal loaf (I had a loaf of bread with sesame seeds and it was perfect)
2 cups milk
1 cup half and half
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup (one-half stick) butter, melted plus additional for the pan
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
For the Sauce:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dark rum
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Generously butter a baking dish.
Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes; you should have 8-10 cups of bread cubes.
Whisk together eggs, milk, half and half and vanilla.
Add the sugar and whisk to combine.
Add the melted butter and whisk it into the egg mixture.
Put the cubed bread into your buttered baking dish and pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes.
Sprinkle the pecans (optional raisins or dried cranberries) over the top and bake in the oven for 1 hour until a nice golden brown.
For the Boozy Sauce:
While the bread pudding is baking, make the sauce by combining the butter, sugar, heavy cream and dark rum in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Bring to a boil; turn down to low and let simmer for 10-15 minutes; remove from heat and set aside.
Drizzle some of the sauce over the bread pudding when it first comes out of the oven and serve the rest in a small pitcher to drizzle over individual slices.