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Bread pudding a slice of heaven straight from the oven

Bread pudding is the ultimate comfort food and a great way to warm up this winter. (Forum News Service photo by Jessica Karley Rerick)1 / 2
Vanilla Bourbon Sauce tops this quick and easy holiday dessert. (Forum News Service photo by Jessica Karley Rerick) 2 / 2

Bread pudding is a dessert I'm rarely able to turn down and for good reason: It's the ultimate comfort food in desserts. I must admit that when I first heard of bread pudding, it didn't appeal to me at all. I thought of someone taking a perfectly fine loaf of bread and adding enough liquid to it that the dish turned to the consistency of chocolate pudding. Well, thank goodness, that's not what it's all about.

Bread pudding is a bread-based dessert that is created by soaking stale bread in a custard made of milk or cream and eggs. While bread pudding can be made as a savory dish, it's most commonly served as a dessert or brunch dish. The cream and eggs mixture is sweetened by adding sugar, honey or syrup, and then is seasoned with flavors such as vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom.

The bread is soaked in the mixture and then pressed into a baking pan. After it's baked, you are left with a dense, warm and delicious dessert. When drizzled with a touch of caramel, chocolate or vanilla sauce, it's oh so difficult to resist.

I love to make bread pudding for several reasons. It's fast to put together and a great way to use leftover bread. It's also perfect for crowds because it's not an expensive dessert, and my family loves it.

Tips for making bread pudding

— When choosing which bread to use, pick one that is stale and has a good bite or chew to it. Examples of this would be French, challah, or brioche.

— Get creative when it comes to flavors. I prefer a classic ratio of 4 cups half and half to 4 eggs. I generally start with one-quarter to one-third cup of white sugar to sweeten, but you can add more or less depending on the additional items you plan to add. If you are using chocolate or dried fruits, you will find they will sweeten it up a lot; however, if you are using fresh berries or nuts, you may find you need a little extra sugar.

— Don't forget to grease your baking dish (unless you want to spend extra time at the kitchen sink). Pan spray will work, but butter is always better.

Eggnog Bread Pudding

4 cups eggnog, not light

4 eggs

1/2 cup sugar (the eggnog already is sweet, so I am adding less sugar than I normally would)

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon iodized salt

10 cups stale french bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggnog, eggs, nutmeg and salt. Add bread and stir gently to make sure all bread pieces are coated. Let mixture sit in bowl for 30 minutes. Pour soaked bread into a greased 8-by-10 baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the bread and center are puffed. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla bourbon sauce. Serves: 6 to 8.

Vanilla Bourbon Sauce

1 cup salted butter

1 cup cream

2 cups white sugar

1/3 cup bourbon

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, combine butter, cream, sugar and bourbon and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Serve warm.

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