Zorro Smitty suggested I cook this for Occipital Hazardland. I hadn’t made it for a long time–not since I last made it for him. So when Sparrow and I went to the Berkeley Bowl today, I picked up some Semifreddi’s challah (that’s a local bakery here), hella Swiss cheese and some asparagus. Let’s do this shit.
It’s not a classic bread pudding in that it’s savory instead of sweet. The first time I had a savory bread pudding was at Nook Bistro, my favorite restaurant in Santa Monica–my favorite restaurant on the Westside, really. It’s the kind of place that’s great, reasonably priced, and kind of hidden away. You see people there that you know must be important but not recognizable getting lunch. Producers and such.
They make a shiitake mushroom and Gruyère cheese bread pudding that is off the motherfucking chain. I highly recommend it. That’s what introduced bread pudding to me as an edible food. I don’t like sweet, sticky, soft bread pudding at all. This is a crunchier, crustier dish.
It’s also cheese-intensive. For the cheese-phobic, look elsewhere. You can’t hang with this shit.
Savory Swiss Asparagus Challah Bread Pudding
Nota bene: the amounts are variable, Chef You. Really. Promise. I’ll give ’em to you exactly as I made it, but you really can feel it out, and substitute vegetables and whatevs.
Yield: one 8 inch by 8 inch and one 8 inch by 12 inch pan
- 2 loaves challah bread
- 2 pounds Swiss cheese, grated
- 1 quart half and half
- 4 eggs
- 1 pound asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound cream cheese (totally optional, but hella good. Fat bastard food)
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper (use black if that’s what you have–don’t go buying white pepper just for this)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (if you have it)
- pinch mace (if you have it)
Cube the bread into 2-inch pieces. Either leave out to dry overnight and risk critters invading or put into a slow oven (170° F worked for me) to dry out for an hour or so. Stir it ever ten minutes or so to make sure all sides of it are exposed to the heat, and to let the moisture of the bread out. You want to desiccate the bread so you can replace the moisture with fat later. Doesn’t that sound marvelous? Um, yes.
Grease the bottom of your pans. Don’t be dumb like me, and start to assemble, then have to dump the bread out and grease the pans. I do this often. You want a nice crusty bottom that comes out easily, so greasing the pans is a good idea. Grease with whatever you feel like greasing with.
I begin with bread cubes all over the bottom, as closely as I can while still getting a single layer. Then I put a heavy layer of Swiss cheese all over it. Next, I put on pieces of asparagus. Then more Swiss.
Next we get serious. Ready to get real, my Dunny?
Lumps of cream cheese. Take two spoons and randomly drop lumps of cream cheese on the fucker. They’ll melt in the oven. You don’t need to put the cream cheese in, but it really does put it to the heart attack level. This is the level of 1950s recipes, where they use butter, mayonnaise, lard, Crisco, and gelatin to make a salad.
Do it. Use the cream cheese and bring it to a potluck or to work. You don’t have to eat the whole thing. Just keep telling yourself you’ll start running tomorrow. Yoga. The gym, yes, you’ll go to the gym.
Next, the remaining bread cubes, and the rest of the cheese. Beat the eggs until light-colored, then add about three cups of the half and half to the eggs and the spices. Mix well.
Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes slowly. If you missed any, target them with the remaining half and half sparingly.
Let it sit for about ten minutes. This is to think about soaking up all the fat you just confronted the bread with.
Bake at 350° F for about 30 minutes or so, until the bottom is crusty (if you can see it through a glass pan), until a knife comes out clean from the middle, and the top is nicely golden.
Eat and grow large with food.
I think mushrooms would be nice, but they’ll lose moisture, so I’m thinking they might need to be cooked first. The asparagus doesn’t lose that much water in the pudding.
Let me know how yours turns out.