Sometimes a cool and cloudy fall day calls out for an old-fashioned dessert, and this bread pudding fills that role well. Served warm or cold, with or without a dollop of whipped cream or (while still very hot) even a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this will say comfort food anytime you serve it. Best of all, it's pretty easy and inexpensive, especially if you have some stale bread you are not sure what to do with.
I used soft whole wheat bread cubes in today's version, but you can include all kinds of breads--even leftover hot dog buns! If you have some dried bread cubes (not crumbs), they can also be included but you will probably want to increase the amount of liquid by up to half a cup.
The sauce is easier than you might think, but it does need to be attended to while you are cooking. There is a certain "cool" factor for kids to watch as the sugar gradually turns from dry white crystals to a golden liquid, so this could be fun to do together with them. If you are not up to that whole thing, you can buy a bag of caramels and melt them with a little milk in the microwave...but the flavor of this homemade sauce is ever so much better, and the cost will be substantially less. Any leftover sauce (if there is any!) is good over any apple dessert or as an ice cream topping too.
Apple Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce
6 c (9 to 10 slices) soft whole wheat bread, cut in about 1 inch cubes
1/3 c raisins
3 c finely chopped apples, cored but not peeled
1 c brown sugar (may use less if a sweet variety of apple is used)
2 1/2 c milk
1/4 c butter, melted
1 to 2 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla
1. Toss the bread cubes, raisins and apples together until well mixed.
2. Beat together the milk, eggs, butter, cinnamon, and vanilla in a large bowl. Gently fold in the bread mixture and stir just until evenly blended.
3. Turn into a well-buttered 10 inch deep dish pie pan or flat casserole dish--12 inch square or 9 X 13 will work. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. (The flatter the pan, the faster this will bake.) After about 25 minutes of baking, cover the dish lightly with foil so the top is golden but not dry.
1 c sugar
1 c very hot milk
1 t maple flavoring
1. Place the milk in a microwave safe dish and heat for about a minute or two, depending on your microwave, until very hot but not boiling. This can be done while you are caramelizing the sugar. You want to be sure that the milk is still very hot when adding it to the sugar.
2. Pour the sugar into a heavy nonstick pan or cast iron skillet, spreading evenly over the bottom. Heat the pan to medium high and stir the sugar occasionally. Watch carefully; when it begins to melt in spots, you will need to begin stirring it pretty continuously, until it has all melted and turned light gold.
3. When the sugar is completely melted, reduce the heat to low and add the butter and stir until evenly blended.
4. Slowly add the very hot milk, stirring continuously. When the entire mixture is smooth, remove from heat and beat in the maple flavoring. Store in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
If the milk is not hot or if you don't stir quite quickly enough, it is possible that you will suddenly have a hard clump of melted sugar in the middle of a puddle of milk! Don't despair. If this happens, just turn the heat down and keep stirring until the mixture finally comes together--as it will. You do have to be patient if this occurs, but you don't have to toss the whole thing out. The only way you can ruin the sauce is by burning the sugar, so just keep stirring and keep the heat low enough to avoid that. (Trust me, it will be worth the few minutes it takes to do this.)