Shortly after I turned twenty-two I packed up my car, left my childhood home in Virginia and headed north to Pennsylvania. I left everything familiar behind and carved out a new life for myself with next to no money and knowing next to no one. It was the scariest and most exhilarating time of my life. Thanks to my best-friend’s older sister and her husband I had a place to get my bearings for a few months before I made the final plunge and moved into a group house with two new friends I’d made through my adventures in community theater.
It was a time where I lived on a shoestring budget, bouncing from temp job to temp job until I finally settled into a wonderful position as a nanny to twin two-year-old boys. It was the early 90’s. The radio was filled with Tori Amos, Alanis Morisette, R.E.M. and Nirvana. I was still filled with the boldness of youth; that magical elixir of self-confidence mixed with fearlessness and the awareness that you are completely in control of your life for the first time. I still firmly believed my future was as a performer on the stage, and the Philly area was that much closer to New York City and The Great White Way.
So what does all of this have to do with bread pudding? Everything. My special fondness for bread pudding began in the new-found life of my youth in Pennsylvania.
Being poor and having only a small base of friends, I found simple, cheap ways to spend my time. One of my favorites when flying solo was visiting an awesome book store, Chester County Book Company. The book selection was huge, with absolutely everything you could imagine, along with magazines for days including obscure titles that have likely disappeared long ago. This was life before Amazon, so bookstores were still king, and this one did everything right.
Inside the store was a small restaurant The Magnolia Grill. It. Was. Awesome! A number of the dishes on their menu had a New Orleans/Creole Cuisine inspiration. I quickly found my favorites and ordered the same thing every time I went. For less than $15 I would get a whole, scrumptious meal: A perfect Shrimp Po Boy, a generous helping of perfectly crispy battered shrimp on a buttery toasted baguette. Sublime. Followed by a caramel coffee and the most amazing Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce, firm yet creamy pudding without raisins (I’m decidedly anti-raisin, so big props), and a bourbon sauce with a hint of hooch and just the right amount of sweetness to make this rich dessert satisfy my sweet tooth without rotting my teeth. Absolute heaven.
It was sitting at my usual table in the back, savoring my scrummy dessert and reading Backstage magazine (with hopes of a life on the stage still coursing through my veins) that my lifelong love affair with bread pudding began. Sadly, the restaurant is gone, but thankfully the book store has survived, although in a much smaller space.
While I still love that classic plain bread pudding with bourbon sauce, I’ve explored other iterations of that homey dessert, finally settling on what I think is the holy grail of bread puddings – Orange Chocolate Bread Pudding with Orange Bourbon Sauce. An elevated incarnation of one of the most comforting desserts you can find.
Creamy, custardy bread laced with fresh orange juice and zest, pockets of melted dark chocolate, and a crisp top that soaks up warm orange bourbon sauce. Absolute heaven! This recipe makes a hearty amount, so there’s plenty for a large gathering, or enough for days of tasty leftovers.
I hope this recipe transports you to some sweet memory of your own, like it does for me. I may have surrendered my dream of life on the stage and long ago left the Philly area to return to Virginia, but each time I have bread pudding I briefly travel back in time to that young woman sitting in the back of the bookstore with stars in her eyes. This is why food is such a magical touchstone, it conjures not only joy on your palate it also conjures memories in your heart.
Orange Chocolate Bread Pudding with Orange Bourbon Sauce
- 1 large loaf of french bread, cubed
- 3 C. milk
- 5 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 C. sugar
- 1 tbs. vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 3 tbs. butter, melted
- 2 oranges, juiced and zested
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbs. Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
- 7 oz. dark chocolate, roughly chopped
- Put the cubed bread in a large bowl, add the chopped chocolate and mix to incorporate throughout.
- In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange juice & zest, salt and liqueur. Whisk until well mixed and a thick creamy consistency.
- Pour the milk mixture over the bread cubes. Press the cubes in to the liquid, making sure all the bread is able to soak in the liquid.
- Let the mixture sit for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- When ready to bake, pour the melted butter in a 9×13 baking dish, making sure to cover the bottom and all the sides of the dish.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Pour the bread mixture into the prepared dish and bake, uncovered, for approximately 45-50 minutes, until the center is firm but moist and the edges are lightly browned and begin to pull away from the dish. If it’s still a little loose in the middle after 50 minutes, simply return to the oven and continue to bake, checking every 5-10 minutes, until baked through.
- Set aside on a rack to cool.
- While cooling, make the Orange Bourbon Sauce.
Orange Bourbon Sauce
- 3/4 C. butter
- 1 C. sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
- 1 tbs. bourbon
- 1 tbs. Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
- In a medium saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter.
- Add sugar.
- In a bowl, lightly whisk the the eggs. While whisking the eggs, add approximately 1 Tbs. of the melted butter to temper the eggs.
- While constantly whisking the butter and sugar, slowly add the eggs to the saucepan. Be sure not to add the eggs too quickly, or they might cook and curdle. This will ensure your sauce is nice and smooth.
- Once all the egg is incorporated in the butter and sugar, continue whisking until all the sugar has dissolved, and the mixture is smooth and thickened.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the bourbon and liqueur to the sauce and continue whisking until all ingredients are incorporated.
- Serve immediately over a portion of bread pudding, or let cool and quickly reheat when ready to serve.
**Tip: Store any unused sauce in an airtight container in the fridge to serve over leftover bread pudding. It can easily be reheated in the microwave.