Bread Pudding, the frugal dish turned trendy dessert

Bread has been a food staple for the past 30,000 years. Thought to have been invented in the Middle East, specifically Egypt, the first breads were flatbreads. Almost from the beginning people loathed food waste and devised a number of ways to utilize stale bread, from soup thickeners to edible serving vessels, to all kinds of stuffings.

Bread pudding can be traced back to the early 11th century as a way for frugal cooks to utilize leftover bread instead of letting it go to waste. Since custard was not invented until the Middle Ages, early bread puddings were simple dishes. Ancient Romans likely made theirs by simply adding milk, fat, and perhaps a sweetener to stale bread. Egyptians made a dessert called Om Ali from bread, cream, raisins, and almonds; India had Shahi Tukra, a dish made from bread, ghee, saffron, sugar, rosewater and almonds. A Middle Eastern variation, called Eish es Serny, was made from dried bread, sugar, honey syrup, rosewater and caramel.

Today, practically every country in the world has their own interpretation of bread pudding, in both sweet and savory varieties from India to Uruguay, Argentina to Asia, Europe and the United Kingdom.

Bread pudding was brought to America by the early colonists. By the 18th century bread pudding recipes began to appear in a number of popular cookbooks—The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glass included three recipes. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife provided readers perhaps the first upscale bread pudding recipe she called Sippet Pudding:

“Cut a loaf of bread as thin, as possible, put a layer of it on the bottom of a deep dish, strew on some slices of marrow or butter, with a handful of currant or stoned raisins; do this until the dish is full; let the currants or raisins be on top; beat four eggs, mix them with a quart of milk that has been boiled a little and become cold, a quarter of a pound of sugar, and a grated nutmeg – pour it in, and bake in a moderate oven – eat it with wine sauce.”

Today, bread pudding is popular throughout the United States, from east coast to west coast, both north and south of the Mason Dixon line. They can be sweet or savory, served at any day-part including breakfast, as a side or even the main entree. And while any bread pudding can be served unadorned, most sweet varieties are served with sauces ranging from alcohol based, such as rum or whiskey sauce, to vanilla and chocolate creme anglaise, to fruit sauces such as berry or citrus.

It may surprise you that French toast is a direct cousin of bread pudding. Dating back as far as the 4th century, it was first referenced in the Apicius, a collection of ancient Latin recipes. French toast, like bread pudding, was a way to utilize old and stale bread. But don’t let the name fool you. French toast was being made all over the world long before it got the name. In fact this delightful dish was around even before France was a country.

While not clear where the name came from, some historians suspect it was actually the English who, in the 17th century, began referring to it as “French Toast” after arriving in that country from Franc

One highly controversial legend credits Joseph French, an innkeeper in Albany, New York, as the dish’s creator in the year 1724, naming it after himself. However, due to the innkeeper’s poor grammar he failed to include the apostrophe calling it “French Toast”, instead of French’s Toast. Most historians reject this accounting because of the centuries old documentation of similar dishes.

Today both bread pudding and its cousin French toast have been lifted from their original peasant status to gourmet dishes that utilize a variety of ingredients ranging from fruits and nuts, to various sweet and savory fillings.

The truth is, bread pudding is no longer restricted to stale bread. One can use hamburger and hot dog buns, dinner rolls and baguettes, sandwich bread and even danish or donuts. In fact bread pudding can be made from just about any breadstuffs and fillings you can think of.

To get you started click on one of the links below for a great recipe for sweet bread pudding with rum sauce, as well as a savory strata, which is great for breakfast or brunch. So get cooking, have fun, and remember your creativity is limited only by your own imagination.

Make Em: Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce, Ham and Sausage Strata

The Gingerbread House, a Christmas Tradition

There are few things more synonymous with Christmas than the gingerbread house. But did you know this tradition got its start from a famous fairytale?

First cultivated in China some 5,000 years ago, ginger root was thought to have been initially used for medicinal purposes. Later it was used to season and preserve breads. It was also used to mask the smell and taste of cured meats. From the Middle East, one legend has it that in 992 the Armenian monk and saint, Gregory of Nicopolis (Gregory Makar), brought gingerbread to the northern French of Pithiviers where for seven years he taught baking ginger flavored breadstuffs to other priests and Christian bakers.

Gingerbread as we know it today began appearing in Europe during the 15th century. This was especially true in France, England, and Germany. And by the late 1400s bakers had begun shaping gingerbread into all sorts of figurines such as hearts, stars, animals, and religious items which were sold in shops and markets. In fact, gingerbread figurines and trinkets were so popular that gingerbread fairs were organized for the express purpose of sampling the popular confections.

It is believed that in the 16th century Queen Elizabeth was the first to have gingerbread man cookies made in the likeness of visiting dignitaries to which she presented them as parting gifts.

In the early 19th century Germany, well decorated gingerbread houses became popular following the 1812 publication of the Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel and Gretel. And while their popularity didn’t catch on in Britain, gingerbread houses were well received in the rest of Europe, a Christmas tradition that was brought to America by the Pennsylvanian German immigrants.

Today making gingerbread houses in America remains extremely popular, not only as a traditional holiday family activity but commercially, as well as rival stores, hotels, schools, and civic organizations compete to see who can construct the largest and most elaborate.

On November 30, 2013, the Traditions Club in the small town of Bryan, Texas set a new world’s record for the largest gingerbread house in order to raise funds for a new hospital trauma center. It took 7,200 pounds of flour, 2,925 pounds of brown sugar, 68 pounds of ground ginger, 1,800 pounds of butter, and 7,200 eggs to build the 2,520 square foot house.

In 2017, sous chef Jon Lovitch of the New York Marriott Marquis hotel set the world’s record for the largest gingerbread village for the fourth year. The editable town had 135 houses and 22 commercial buildings, complete with gingerbread people, cars, and even a train.

Interested in making your own gingerbread house? Wilton, America’s largest baking products company, makes gingerbread house kits available at retail department, hobby and crafts stores nationwide. For those of you with a bit more skill in the baking arena, recipes and templates are available on a number of online web sites including my favorite shown below.

How You Make Em:

NOTE: Brothers Grimm were actually two brothers; Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. The were German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, and authors who together collected and published folklore. They popularized traditional oral tales such as Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to name just a few of their more than 200 stories.