Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding

Autumn, Savory Recipes • 8 Dec 2008

Food is very, very important to my family. At family get-togethers, food is always the centerpiece, almost as significant as the family members who labored over the stove. You can say that food is like my sibling or cousin: we fawn over it, scrutinize it, romance it, love it, struggle with it and best of all, examine it as it changes with the generations. Like people, dishes in my family develop gray hairs, and then are reborn as shiny new babies.

As my grandmother ages, Thanksgiving has started to change. My grandmother epitomizes a top- notch home cook. Her food is fragrant, flavorful and always comforting. In the past, she has always taken on the whole kit and caboodle- the shopping, the cooking and the cleaning. The rest of us were always thrown out of the kitchen, never asked to help, and we reveled in being served by the culinary figurehead.

Times are changing, though, and new traditions are taking shape. Like some of her dishes themselves, this is a bittersweet sentiment: while she is less energetic, she has finally allowed the younger generations to enter her kitchen and make a big, giant mess.

This year, I had the honor, along with my aunt Paula, of steering the Thanksgiving ship. Paula and I have perpetuated the comfort food tradition, although our dishes were edgier and perhaps more modern. Paula made many dishes such as cheesy mashed potatoes with sage, a nutty sweet potato casserole, green beans with shiitake. My grandmother, of course, worked magic with her famous pies and the turkey centerpiece. I was in charge of a handful of dishes such as roasted Brussels sprouts with a cranberry, orange and thyme butter, a carrot and fennel soup, parsnip gratin and a mushroom bread pudding, to contrast my mom’s more traditional stuffing.

I rarely cook with mushrooms since my husband Mike hates them. I occasionally attempt to disguise them and slip them into various dishes. But they are always mushrooms and he always tastes them, always holds them in contempt and I am always forced to move on.

I take any given opportunity to cook mushroom-laden dishes since I have a forbidden romance with the fungus and rarely indulge. This bread pudding is infused with a thyme-perfumed mushroom broth, bread packed thick between layers of wild chanterelles and shiitakes. It emanates a sweet and nutty aroma and tastes rich, creamy and earthy.

Bread pudding is a special treat, whether sweet or savory. This custardy mushroom bread pudding takes the comfort food to the next level, a luxurious, warming alternative to stuffing.

Mushroom Bread Pudding
Adapted from The New York Times

1 1/4 cups rich mushroom stock (recipe below)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
4 eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
4 cups stemmed and sliced wild mushrooms, preferably shiitakes and chanterelles (reserve stems to make mushroom broth, if desired)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Small loaf brioche or challah, crust removed, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices and toasted on both sides.

1. Place the stock in a saucepan over medium heat and reduce by half. Add the heavy cream and simmer until the mixture is reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Whisk the milk, eggs and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the reduced stock mixture and set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic and thyme and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until wilted, about 10 minutes. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste.

3. Line the bottom of an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pan with a layer of bread slices. Top with half of the mushroom mixture. Repeat the layers and top with a third bread layer. Pour the egg mixture over the bread. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap the dish and press the bread down into the liquid. Cover the pan with foil and place in a roasting pan. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. Bake until the pudding is set and the top is puffed and browned, about 2 hours. The pudding can be made ahead and reheated. Cut into slices and serve warm.

Yield: Six to 8 servings.

Mushroom Stock

1 ounce dried cepes, porcini or other wild mushrooms
2 pounds white mushrooms
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 quarts cold water.

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large pot over medium low heat. Simmer for 2 hours and strain.

2. Discard the mushrooms. The broth will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator or up to two months in the freezer.

Yield: One quart.

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