This classic bread pudding recipe spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg and spiked with bourbon is absolutely phenomenal. This bread-based dessert is soft and tender in the middle with perfectly crunchy edges (my favorite part) then drizzled with a bourbon cream sauce! A classic southern dessert, perfect for Christmas, Mardi Gras, or any special occasion.
I fell in love with bread pudding years ago when my husband and I went to a cozy little Italian restaurant to ring in the New Year the very first year we were dating. We were served dessert right at midnight (which now, over 10 years later, astonishes me because I can’t even fathom being up and OUT at that hour, let alone eating a meal, HA! Oh, the seasons of life…); he ordered a chocolate bread pudding, and I… can’t remember what I ordered.
He gave me a taste of his and he could tell I was totally enamored with it, so he offered to trade me desserts. I have been infatuated with all things bread pudding ever since. This is the first one that I made myself and it remains my all-time favorite version!
What is Bread Pudding?
Bread pudding is a bread-based dessert with a custard-soaked, soft middle that is drenched with custard-y flavor in each and every bite. This simple recipe evolved out of a need to use stale bread and has been delighting tastebuds since as early as the 11th century.
The bread pudding we are most familiar with today originated in England where it has the nickname “Wet Nelly” after the Nelson Cake. Many other cultures also have their own version of bread pudding. For example, Mexico’s version, Capirotada, has both savory and sweet elements while Cuba’s Pudín is served with a guava marmalade. No matter how you choose to make this dish, it’s going to be a favorite!
Stale Bread + Creamy Custard + Flavor
The basic formula for a delicious bread pudding comes down to three main parts: the bread, the custard, and the delicious mix-ins you add for flavor. Let’s look at each part to put this delicious bread pudding together!
Dry Bread is Key!
I like to use an 18-20 inch French baguette in this recipe. You can use another type of bread if you’d like, but do not use pre-sliced bread – you want to be able to get nice big chunks.
Use either stale bread that is a few days old, or toast the bread before using it in the bread pudding. Using stale or dried bread allows it to soak up the custard mixture and retain its shape, which gives the dessert both a sturdy body and an ultra-creamy texture.
Please do not be tempted to use fresh bread or skip the toasting step in this recipe. If you do so, the bread will fall apart, disintegrate, and/or turn to mush in the custard mixture.
To toast the bread for the bread pudding you will need to:
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Rip the bread into 1-inch chunks.
Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Bake until crispy brown, about 12 minutes, turning pieces halfway through and rotating the baking sheet from front to back.
Remove from oven and let the bread cool completely.
Bourbon Soaked Raisins + Other Mix-Ins!
While your bread is cooking in the oven you can start on the next part of the recipe, the bourbon-soaked raisins.
Heat raisins and bourbon in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until bourbon begins to simmer, 2-3 minutes.
Strain the mixture and place the bourbon and raisins in separate bowls.
If you do not care for raisins, they can be omitted or substituted with another dried fruit or mix-in such as:
Or chocolate chips!
And if you do not wish to use alcohol, you can replace the bourbon with water in this step.
Make the Custard
Now that your bread is crisp and nicely dried out and the mix-ins are prepped you can make the custard for the bread pudding.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, brown sugar, cream, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
Whisk in the remaining bourbon, plus the bourbon used to plump the raisins.
Toss the toasted bread into the bowl gently and evenly coat.
Let the mixture sit until the bread begins to absorb the custard, about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.
If the majority of the bread is still hard when squeezed, soak for another 15 to 20 minutes.
How to Make Bread Pudding
Once your bread has soaked in the custard you are ready to bake!
Storing: Keep your bread pudding fresh and moist by storing covered in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Freezing Instructions: The bread pudding can be baked, cooled completely, refrigerated for at least 2 hours, then frozen. To freeze, cover the pan tightly with foil and freeze for up to 3 months.
Reheating from Frozen: Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat in a 350-degree oven, covered, until warmed through, about 15 minutes.
Reheating from the Refrigerator: Reheat in the microwave or in a 350-degree oven covered with foil.
Make-Ahead without Baking: You can prepare the bread pudding through step #5 (before baking), cover and refrigerator for up to 1 day before baking. If you assemble the dish ahead of time, the longer that it sits before baking, the softer and more custard-like the interior will be.
Make-Ahead with Baking: Alternatively, you can bake the bread pudding, cool, cover, and refrigerator for up to 2 days, then reheat in the oven, covered at 350 degrees before serving.
Prep the Sauce: The bourbon sauce can also be prepared up to 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator, then reheated before serving.
Bread Pudding FAQs
What’s the Difference Between Bread Pudding and Bread and Butter Pudding?
Bread pudding is made by soaking stale pieces of bread in a custard mixture while bread and butter pudding uses pieces of bread that have been buttered before soaking in the liquid mixture.
Is Bread Pudding Supposed to be Gooey?
Moist yes, gooey probably not. Yours might end up gooier if you:
Use less than 10 cups of stale bread.
Let the bread soak in the custard for longer than 30 minutes.
This bread pudding starts with toasted French bread cubes soaked in a bourbon-spiked custard, then layered with bourbon-soaked raisins, baked, and drizzled with a bourbon cream sauce. This classic southern dessert is perfect for Christmas, Mardi Gras, or any special occasion.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish; set aside.
Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until crisp and brown, about 12 minutes, turning pieces over halfway through and rotating the baking sheet front to back. Let bread cool. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees F.
Meanwhile, heat raisins and ½ cup bourbon in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until bourbon begins to simmer, 2 to 3 minutes. Strain the mixture, placing the bourbon and raisins in separate bowls.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, brown sugar, cream, milk, vanilla, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk in in the remaining ¼ cup bourbon plus the bourbon used to plump the raisins. Toss in the toasted bread until evenly coated. Let the mixture sit until the bread begins to absorb custard, about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. If the majority of the bread is still hard when squeezed, soak for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Pour half the bread mixture into the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle with half the raisins. Repeat with the remaining bread mixture and raisins. Cover the dish with foil, and bake for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the granulated sugar and remaining ½ teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. Using your fingers, pinch 6 tablespoons butter into the sugar mixture until the crumbs are the size of small peas. Remove the foil from pudding, sprinkle with the butter mixture, and bake, uncovered, until the custard is just set, 20 to 25 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F and bake until the top of the pudding forms a golden crust, about 2 minutes.
Let the pudding cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes (or up to 2 hours). Serve alone or with Bourbon Sauce (I strongly recommend the bourbon sauce).
Make the Bourbon Sauce: In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of bourbon until well combined.
Using a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the cream and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cook until sauce thickens, 3 to 5 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat, and stir in salt, butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons bourbon. Drizzle warm sauce over bread pudding. Leftover bread pudding can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave or in a 350-degree oven covered with foil.
Bread: While a French baguette is preferred for this recipe, you can use another type of bread if you'd like.
Raisins: If you do not care for raisins, they can be omitted or substituted with another dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries.
Bourbon: The bourbon can be substituted with another liquor if you'd like to switch up the flavor. Some ideas would be whiskey, rum, Kahlua, amaretto, etc. The bourbon can also be omitted entirely if necessary. You can plump the raisins in water and replace the remaining bourbon in the recipe with milk or cream.
Make-Ahead Instructions: You can prepare the bread pudding through step #5 (before baking), cover and refrigerator for up to 1 day before baking. The bourbon sauce can also be prepared up to 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator, then reheated before serving. Alternatively, you can bake the bread pudding, cool, cover, and refrigerator for up to 2 days, then reheat in the oven, covered at 350 degrees before serving.
Freezing Instructions: The bread pudding can be baked, cooled completely, refrigerated for at least 2 hours, then frozen. To freeze, cover the pan tightly with foil and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat in a 350-degree oven, covered, until warmed through, about 15 minutes.