Strolling through my favorite local Farmer’s Market there was no escaping the intoxicating aroma of the bright red strawberries stacked in neat little bundles. They were going home with me.
I walked into my kitchen, berries in hand and there on the counter sat a golden loaf of Challah bread. I almost always have a loaf of Challah bread in my freezer. I had pulled this loaf out with the intent of making French toast. But now a change of plans – make bread pudding instead and find a way to incorporate those strawberries.
Roasting strawberries brings out a unique quality in the fruit. So it stood to reason that baked strawberries would provide a wonderful balance to the rich custard in bread pudding. Tuck the plump red berries in between bites of the Challah along with toasted almonds – strawberries and almond pair beautifully together. Then add a rich egg custard enhanced with pure vanilla and almond extract plus a splash of Amaretto liqueur.
The baked berries provide an unexpected bright tartness to the bread pudding and the layers of almond flavors are absolutely luscious. And for serving – make a creamy vanilla custard sauce. After all, it is the weekend!
Strawberry and Almond Bread Pudding with Vanilla Custard Sauce
10 cups cubed Challah bread, about 1 loaf
2 cups milk
1 cup half and half
½ cup cream
½ cup Disaronno Amaretto liqueur
6 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2-1/2 cups whole strawberries, rinsed and hulled
½ cup toasted sliced almonds
Spread the bread cubes evenly in a large baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray. (I use a large oval dish that is 15” x 10” 2-1/4” deep but a 13” x 9” dish will also work.) Tuck the strawberries into the bread, distributing evenly. Toss the toasted almonds across the top of the bread and strawberries.
Combine the milk, half and half, the cream, Amaretto liqueur, eggs, vanilla, almond and both sugars together in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until well blended.
Pour the egg custard mixture over the Challah bread cubes. If you’re baking the bread pudding right away, let it stand for at least 30 minutes or until the bread cubes have soaked up the liquid mixture. Press the bread into the liquid as needed to help soak up the egg custard.
Bake the bread pudding at 350-degrees for one hour to one hour and 10 minutes, or until the custard is set in the center. Insert a knife or dip a spoon into the center to check. You don’t want the center to still be “liquid”. If the bread pudding starts to darken too much on top, cover it loosely with a sheet of foil.
You can also prepare this ahead, cover and refrigerate overnight. Allow the bread pudding to come to room temperature, about 30-45 minutes before baking. If the baking dish is still cold to the touch, place it on a rimmed baking sheet, and then place it in the oven. Setting a cold dish on a hot oven rack doesn’t always end well! Refrigerate any leftover portions.
While the bread pudding bakes, make the custard sauce.
Vanilla Custard Sauce
3 extra-large egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl using low-speed of a hand mixer.
Add the sugar and kosher salt then beat on medium-speed until the eggs are thick and light in color.
Transfer the eggs to the top of a double boiler* set over simmering water (medium-heat).
Add the milk and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, stirring frequently – about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve warm or at room temperature over the bread pudding.
Refrigerate any leftover sauce.
*If you don’t have a double boiler you can set a heat-resistant bowl over a pan of simmering water.