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Irish Bread and Butter Pudding

Servings: 6-8
Bread pudding, a classic Irish sweet, is also called bread-and-butter pudding when the slices of bread are buttered first, a touch that adds a richer flavor. When raisins or golden raisins are added, they are often plumped up first with a few hours' soaking in Irish whiskey. Contemporary versions might include fruits such as apples, blueberries, pears, rhubarb and dried cranberries or dark or white chocolate pieces.

This recipe is the most traditional, adapted from ones you'll find throughout Ireland. For restaurant service, chefs make the puddings in six-to-eight-ounce ramekins, or even teacups, but you can bake the pudding family-style in a nine-inch baking dish, as suggested in this recipe. Custard Sauce is a favorite traditional accompaniment, although Irish Whiskey Sauce is also popular. Sauces should be made first and chilled before serving.

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup Irish whiskey
5 large eggs
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 vanilla bean *(see note below) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces (8 to 9 slices) firm white bread, crust left on
1/4 cup (1/2 stick/2 oz/56g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Custard Sauce or Irish Whiskey Sauce* (see recipes below)

In a small bowl, combine the raisins and whiskey and let soak for 1 hour. Butter a 9-inch-square glass baking dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the vanilla extract or split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and drop them into the custard.

Spread butter on one side of each slice of bread. Cut the slices in half diagonally and arrange half the bread, overlapping the slices, in the bottom of the baking dish. Drain the raisins and sprinkle half over the bread. Repeat with remaining bread and raisins. Pour the custard over the bread and let soak for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F/200 degrees C. Place the baking dish in a large baking pan. Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the pudding is set and the top is golden. Remove the baking dish from the water and let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm with a chilled sauce, if desired.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Vanilla beans, which are actually seedpods, can be found in the baking or spices section of most supermarkets. For maximum flavor, slice the pod down its length and scrape the point of the knife along the inside to release the seeds. Vanilla pods are quite expensive (as much as $7 for two pods), but the flavor is worth it. After the seeds are scraped out, you can make vanilla sugar by putting the pods into a lidded jar of superfine sugar. Use the sugar in cakes, sauces and other desserts. You can continue to add used pods and replace with more sugar as needed.

Custard Sauce
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, cream and vanilla. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce heat to simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Stir into the cream mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Strain into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until chilled. Can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Irish Whiskey Sauce
3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/3 cup Irish whiskey
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon cornstarch

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream, whiskey, sugar and vanilla. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce heat to simmer. Mix the water and cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth. Add to the cream mixture. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes or until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until chilled. Can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

Makes about 1 cup.

Source: Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles and Fools by Margaret M. Johnson, photographs by Leigh Beisch (Chronicle Books)

Date: March 3, 2006