"Just as custards work well in the savory portion of the meal, although they're more often served as a dessert, so do bread puddings," writes Thomas Keller in "Ad Hoc at Home" (Artisan, $50).
It would go well with Thanksgiving dinner, prime rib or roasted duck breasts. "Or top it with oven-roasted tomatoes and serve it as a vegetarian meal," he writes.
Leek Bread Pudding
2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices leeks (white and light green parts only)
Kosher salt, to taste
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 cups 1-inch cubes crustless brioche or Pullman sandwich loaf
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
3 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded Comté or Emmentaler cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Put the leek rounds in a large bowl of tepid water and swish so that any dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl. Set a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, lift the leeks from the water, drain and add them to the pan. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. As the leeks begin to soften, lower the heat to medium-low. The leeks will released liquid. Stir in the butter to emulsify and season with pepper to taste. Cover the pan with a parchment lid (see note) and cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until the leeks are very soft, 30 to 35 minutes. If at any point the butter breaks or looks oily, stir in about a tablespoon of water to re-emulsify the sauce. Remove and discard the parchment lid.
Meanwhile, spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan about walkway through, until dry and pale gold. Transfer to a large bowl. Leave the oven on.
Add the leeks to the bread and toss well, the add the chives and thyme.
Lightly whisk the eggs in another large bowl. Whisk in the milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread half the leeks and croutons in the pan and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup of cheese. Pour in enough of the custard mixture to cover the bread and press gently on the bread so it soaks up the milk. Let soak for about 15 minutes.
Add the remaining custard mixture, allowing some of the soaked cubes of bread to protrude. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top and sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling.
Note: To make a parchment lid, fold a large rectangular piece of parchment paper in half to give you a square bigger than the pot to be covered. beginning at the crease, fold over the edge to create a narrow triangle. Continue to fold the triangle over until you have reached the opposite side of the parchment paper.
To gauge the size, place the tip over the center of the spot to be covered and mark the edges of the pot with your thumb, then cut the end off there. With a pair of scissors, cut 1/4 inch off the narrow tip of the triangle. Trim the pointed edges of the triangle to form a smooth rounded edge. Unfold the triangle. It will be a circle the size of your pot with a steam hole in the center. Put the paper lid in the pot so that it rests gently on the food you're cooking.
Makes 12 side dish servings or 6-8 main dish servings.
From "Ad Hoc at Home" by Thomas Keller