Want to learn how to make the perfect bread pudding? We called on baking expert Pam Lolley to share her secrets for success.
Mmm...bread pudding. When made from scratch, it's simply magical. This classic baked custard dish transforms a simple, everyday ingredient—bread—into a deeply-comforting treat that everyone can love. Golden brown on top while luscious and creamy on the inside, homemade bread pudding makes for the best-smelling house on the block.
Traditionally made with bread and a custard of milk, sugar, and eggs, bread pudding is commonly sweet and served for dessert. However, you’ll also find savory bread puddings made with cheese, veggies, and more for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The exact origins of bread pudding are unclear, but it’s believed to have originated as a tasty solution for stale bread. Various cultures around the world have adopted their own renditions, from New Orleans-style bread pudding with bourbon sauce to Mexican-style (known as capirotada) bread pudding made with nuts, dried fruit, and cheese.
RELATED: Our Best Bread Pudding Recipes
To show you how to make the tastiest bread pudding ever, we’ve called on baking expert Pam Lolley to share her wisdom. When it comes to bread pudding, Pam knows her stuff. “Bread pudding is very forgiving and easy to make—but you can set yourself up for success by starting with a great recipe,” she says.
Speaking of which, you’ll want to try Pam’s Praline Bread Pudding—it’s the perfect basic bread pudding recipe to hone your skills. But first, let’s break bread pudding down into its most essential components—bread, custard, and sauce.
What’s the best type of bread to use for making bread pudding? Pam prefers a loaf of French or Italian bread, but she also likes slightly-sweet breads such as challah and brioche. Stale bread is preferable over fresh, as it holds its shape best when soaked in custard. While you can use fresh bread, we suggest toasting it first.
Avoid using a crusty bread, such as a baguette, because it won’t soften as well. Opt for a whole loaf over thin pre-sliced bread, so you can control the size of your bread cubes. (Aim to make yours around one inch.)
While French and Italian bread are trusted picks for bread pudding, there are plenty of other tasty breads to try. Pam uses frozen prepared pound cakes in her Bread Pudding with Lemon Hard Sauce recipe (and it’s absolutely delicious)—so don’t be afraid to mix it up. For a twist, try these clever bread pudding recipes that make use of some of our favorite breads and treats:
- Croissants: Caramel Croissant Bread Pudding
- Chocolate Babka: Chocolate Babka Bread Pudding
- Doughnuts: Stale Doughnut Bread Pudding Muffins
- Pumpkin Bread: Pumpkin-Honey-Beer Bread Pudding with Apple Brandy-Caramel Sauce
- King Cake (because why not?): King Cake Bread Pudding with Chicory Ice Cream
The custard is the heart and soul of any bread pudding. It binds all the ingredients together, and it’s the key to why bread pudding is so creamy and delicious. A basic custard consists of eggs, milk or cream, and sugar, but you can also add flavorings such as melted chocolate, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, orange or lemon zest, or even brewed coffee. (Pam uses chicory coffee in her NOLA-inspired Cafe Brulot Bread Pudding recipe.)
Mix-ins—typically dried or fresh fruit—aren’t essential to the custard, but they can add balance with a touch of sweetness or tanginess. Try dried cranberries, raisins, crushed pineapple, grated apple, peaches, or blueberries. For crunch, Pam also likes adding in toasted nuts such pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts.
The perfect finishing touch, a drizzle of homemade raspberry sauce or dulce de leche sauce makes bread pudding even more satisfying. Bread pudding can stand alone without a sauce, but we promise it's worth the extra effort. (Need proof? You'll love the spiked caramel sauce in this Peach Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel recipe.)
How do you decide what type of sauce to make? Pam recommends choosing a sauce that balances the flavor of your bread pudding. She suggests, “If your bread pudding is on the sweeter side, top it with a fruit-based sauce. If it’s less sweet, opt for a richer sauce, such as a caramel- or bourbon-based sauce.”
How to Put Them All Together
You know the essential parts of bread pudding, so let’s talk about how to put them all together. Depending on the bread pudding recipe, you’ll need either a rectangular baking pan, muffin tin (three words: bread pudding muffins), or individual ramekins.
Once you’ve cubed your bread, soften it by soaking it in your custard for at least an hour. Some recipes also call for soaking the bread overnight, but it’s not imperative. “If you skip this step, don’t worry,” says Pam. Yes, it can add a little more flavor to your bread pudding, but it won’t make or break it.
When it’s time to bake your bread pudding, your oven should be set no higher than 350 degrees. If your oven is too hot, the custard could break and start to curdle. According to Pam, an overbaked bread pudding is one of the most common mistakes anyone can make. Soaking your bread sufficiently beforehand will help keep your bread pudding moist while it bakes.
Lastly, the final key to a successful bread pudding is knowing how to tell when it's fully cooked. Pam uses this surefire method—insert a knife in the middle of the bread pudding, and if it comes out clean, then you know it’s done. Keep in mind that your bread pudding will continue to cook a little as it cools outside of the oven.
It’s tempting to dig right in, but let your bread pudding cool slightly so that you’ll be better able to taste the flavors. Serve it warm—and preferably with a scoop of ice cream.