Child-free cooks are often incredulous at the ways in which parents accommodate the eating “preferences” of kids.
For instance, we love toast. The crustier the better. But sometimes our kids protest the effort it takes to chew. Rather than abandon the artisanal loaf, we've come to accept demands to whittle the outside away.
Daily, dutifully, then, I gnaw on fresh piles of buttered and salted toast crusts. This scene drives my husband crazy. He says to our girls, “When I was your age, I ate ALL the crusts of my bread!” This is true, but pretty tame as far as triumphs go. Likely, too, why neither child cares.
Continually humored by this exchange, I set out months ago to find an alternate use for these toast crusts. Somewhat directionless, I started a Crust Bank in a freezer bag. Two months of toast later, I made Banana Buttermilk Bread Pudding. It was an easy lesson for my daughters in frugality and improvisation, cloaked as another entry for a blog series I write, called “Otherwise, Trash.”
First, start a bread bag.
In a freezer bag, toss in the crusts of most bread you might otherwise discard. Even those marked with a little jam and peanut butter, or a bit of cream cheese. Bread pudding is sweet and rich and won’t fuss over a schmear of something extra. (I don’t think I would recycle pieces with deli meat or mayonnaise, however.) Using toast crusts, in particular, gives you a leg up on the pudding process, since all bread pudding starts with stale or oven-dried bread. But you can toss in any bits of leftover danish, if you have them, or slice up the nub end of a baguette, too.
I used buttermilk in this recipe, because I had some on hand (see, Might as Well: Buttermilk), but you can use cream alone, if you prefer. The pungent, ripe banana (if you have some from a frozen stash), smells deliciously of vanilla and rum, a good match for the rich, sour milk. If you use just heavy cream, substitute it for the buttermilk in equal amounts. You can leave out the bananas if you don’t have any, or if you prefer a pudding less sweet.
Some recipe notes:
If you use frozen, ripe bananas, first let them thaw in the container or bag you stored them in. They will break down as they defrost, releasing delicious juices. Use the juices along with the fruit.
Use any loaf or cake pan you have, recognizing that the shallower the pan, the less time the pudding needs to cook. I baked my pudding in a cast-enamel terrine pan (like a long loaf pan, but beautiful in that French way, and conveniently lidded). In fact, my long pieces of toast crust reminded me of lardons and tenderloins that would have filled that terrine pan in my pre-parenting, entertaining days. I layered them, here, like I would a typical terrine, careful to fit each piece snugly next to another. You want the custard mixture, which you’ll pour on top, to glue together the crusts rather than fill up holes between them.
The soaking of crusts in custard is important, but doesn’t need to take all day. I think it is a good idea, however, to weigh down the bread as it soaks; it results in a nice, compact, easily sliceable loaf. If you don’t, you may bake the pudding with excess custard, which will cause it to buckle up as it cooks, and turn into something more eggy than bread-y. Here’s how you weigh down your soaking pudding: take a piece of cardboard from your recycling pile. Cut it to fit just inside the pudding pan. Wrap it well in aluminum foil. To fill your pudding pan, place the pan on a tray to collect any excess custard. Once you’ve added you toast and banana and poured the remaining custard on top, cover with a generous amount of plastic wrap, then place the foil-wrapped cardboard on top. With your hands, press down firmly.
For a loaf or terrine pan, grab a few cans of beans, soup, coconut milk–whatever–from your pantry and place them directly on top of the cardboard to keep it in place. For a wider, shallower pan, try a small plate as a weight. Compress pudding for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. You can also refrigerate it, as is, overnight. When ready to bake, remove the cardboard and the plastic wrap, pour off any obvious excess custard, wipe the sides of the pan well, and cover with a clean piece of foil.
Banana Buttermilk Bread-Crust Pudding
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups sugar
a few scrapes of nutmeg
scant 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
about 4 cups toast crusts
2 tablespoons butter, in small pieces (and more to butter pan)
3 frozen and thawed ripe bananas, roughly smashed (with their juices)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
In a small pot, heat cream until scalding. Add sugar and stir well to dissolve. Add nutmeg and vanilla and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Once cool, stir in buttermilk and add salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs. Add cream/buttermilk mixture to eggs, whisking continuously until smooth.
Butter the bottom and sides of a terrine or loaf pan. For added non-stick insurance, you can place a piece of parchment on the bottom, too. This usually isn't necessary. Place the pan on top of another pan, or cookie sheet, to catch inevitable drips.
Fill the bottom of the terrine pan with toast crusts, breaking pieces as necessary to fill in any gaps, all pieces tightly aligned. Toss in a about half of the butter bits, distributing evenly on top. Casually arrange half of the banana on top of that. Pour on enough of the buttermilk custard to cover. Repeat the snug layering of bread, butter, banana and custard, one more time, ending at last with a final bread layer. Pat down firmly to compress the layers, then pour in as much remaining custard to completely cover the top layer of crusts. If you have extra custard, resist pouring it all in. Cover the top of the bread with a generous layer of plastic wrap, press and weigh down, as described above. Better to let excess custard run out of the pan than to make your pudding too eggy. (Likely, just a matter of preference.) Let the pudding rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until a thin knife inserted in the center comes out custard clean (not liquid-y wet nor completely dry). Cool to room temperature before refrigerating to set completely. In my opinion, this pudding is best served cold or at room temperature the next day.
Ronna Welsh is the chef and owner of Purple Kale Kitchenworks.
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