Being a student of the French language and culture, and growing up mere hours from Mobile and New Orleans, I have always been involved in some sort of celebration of Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before the Lenten season begins. I enjoyed a special lunch with "Le Cercle Français" (French Club) in a Purple, Gold and Green bedecked classroom in high school; more recently I have celebrated with a special Cajun dinner, home-made King Cake, and Mardi Gras decor (sans the crepe paper streamers) at home in more recent years.
Although the majority of our decorations are in storage, I couldn't resist having a Mardi Gras celebration at our apartment this year. I have to admit, Tuesday was also my birthday, so there was a bit of added festivity to the night. It was interesting to see how few people in our circle of friends had ever celebrated the day (Mardi Gras, that is). Up here there is a tradition of celebrating "Shrove Tuesday" by eating a doughnut-like pastry called fasnacht, but even so, many of my friends who grew up locally were not acquainted with the tradition of eating rich foods before the forty days of Lenten fasting leading to Easter.
I must admit, the food was fabulous. Leftovers were scarce, but we have managed to make them last a couple of days (at least long enough to take some post-party photos). We enjoyed Seafood and Andouille Gumbo (I substituted a pound of our favorite local sausage which we brought back from Alabama and squirreled away in the freezer), green salad with strawberries, cranberries, blue cheese and honey glazed pecans (a wonderful Christmas gift), and la pièce de résistance, bread pudding.
I have wanted to make this bread pudding ever since I came across the recipe on Simply Recipes. The recipe originally came from the Bon Ton Cafe in New Orleans. After a little research, all of the other Bon Ton Cafe recipes use considerably less bourbon in the sauce, so I went with the lesser amount of bourbon, and it was perfect. Because we were entertaining more than a few people, I doubled the recipe (which I am so glad I did!). As guests began to leave, a certain husband began to package up leftovers to send away, and was quickly stopped by his selfish wife who wanted to keep them all for herself! I have been enjoying this bread pudding every night since then. I apologize in advance if you have given up sweets for Lent.
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
For the Bourbon Sauce:
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup bourbon (I use the leftover bourbon from the soaked raisins)
For the Bread Pudding:
6-7 cups of day old french bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 quart milk
2 cups of sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 cup of raisins, soaked overnight in 1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter
For the bourbon sauce:
Whisk together the butter, sugar, and egg in a heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until thick. Remove from heat. Stir occasionally as the mixture cools. When cool, whisk in the bourbon. Before serving, stir the sauce well. It should be smooth and thick. Serve warm.
For the pudding:
Preheat the oven to 350.
In a large bowl, pour the milk over the bread cubes. Using the back of a spoon, push down the cubes so that they are soaked with the milk. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the sugar and vanilla until well combined. Carefully stir the egg and sugar mixture into the bread mixture. Drain the bourbon from the raisins, and carefully stir them into the bread mixture.
Place the butter in a 9 x 13 baking dish, and put the dish in the preheated oven. When the butter is melted, carefully tilt the dish so that the butter coats the inside. Pour the bread mixture in the dish. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the pudding pulls away from the side of the baking dish.
Cut the pudding into squares, and serve with the warm bourbon sauce.