Two years ago I posted a couple of "strata" recipes for possible brunch menus, one savory and one sweet. (You can find that post here: http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2014/05/sweet-and-savory-stratas.html)
Today I was looking for a bread pudding for a dessert that would incorporate apples. Guess what: that sweet strata (very similar to a French toast dish) can be tweaked only slightly to turn into a dessert.
This recipe is quite a bit smaller, as it won't be a main dish as the strata might be. It also has slightly different proportions, with a little more topping in proportion to the bread pudding base, in keeping with its place on the menu as a dessert.
Perhaps most of all, the flavor combination will be changed quite a bit by substituting walnuts for pecans. While these nuts are interchangeable in many recipes, there will be a definite difference in the final flavor. For me, apples and walnuts are a perfect flavor combo, and walnuts are relatively inexpensive this year. However, you can stay with pecans if that is your preference.
As with the strata, this is best served warm--and as a dessert, it really calls out for either ice cream or whipped cream if those are things you enjoy.
A word about Mapleine:
I grew up with this a part of our kitchen staples. My family never was able to afford "real" maple syrup, so my mother always made the syrup she served over pancakes and French toast with a simple sugar syrup (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar to 1 cup water) flavored with a teaspoon of Mapleine.
For many years I was unable to find Mapleine where I lived, and other brands of maple flavoring never quite came close to real maple syrup. Moving to the Midwest, I did find Mapleine in the stores and have been happy with the current formula, even though the little Seattle company that developed it was bought by the big spice company, McCormick.
Since I still rarely have maple syrup on hand, I make this bread pudding with Mapleine, but I have provided a variation if you have real maple syrup available. Either way, this is a great dessert any time apples are reasonably priced.
Apple Walnut Bread Pudding
3 c cubed firm bread--may be slightly stale or even dried
1/3 c brown sugar
1/2 t Mapleine or other maple flavoring
1/2 t vanilla
1 c milk, or a bit more (may use evaporated milk for added richness)
1 t cinnamon
3 T butter
1/3 c sugar
2 c finely diced apples--no need to peel
1/2 t Mapleine or other maple flavoring
1 c coarsely chopped walnuts
2. Beat the eggs, sugar, flavorings, cinnamon, and milk together and pour over the bread.
If the bread is not completely covered by the egg mixture, add a small amount of milk and press the bread cubes more firmly under the egg mixture.
Cook over medium to high heat, stirring often, until the apples are tender and the mixture is starting to caramelize.
4. Remove from heat and stir in the Mapleine and walnuts. Pour the apples evenly over the bread mixture.
5. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least four hours.
6. Remove the pudding from the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 325. Uncover the pudding and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
NOTE: if you are using a lightweight pan, like the disposable aluminum pie pan shown in the pictures, put the pan in a slightly larger pan or oven-safe bowl with water to just below the top of the bread pudding. This will ensure that the bottom and edges do not brown too much before the center is completely baked. Remove from the oven carefully when done, to avoid getting any remaining water into the pudding.
Allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Substitute 1/3 cup maple syrup for the brown sugar and maple flavoring. Reduce the milk to about 3/4 cup, adding more only as needed to completely cover the bread. Using maple syrup instead of maple flavoring in the apple topping, however, does not result in nicely caramelized apples, so I would not try any substitution of syrup here.
Add 1/3 cup water to 1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins and microwave for about a minute. Cool slightly and then add to the eggs and milk mixture before pouring over the bread in step 2.