October 18, 2010 § 11 Comments
Over the centuries, humankind in every culture has struggled with some timeless questions. What am I here for? What does it mean to live life well? And, perhaps most notably, what do I do with my bread that is no longer fresh? I guess it comes with the territory. If your culture makes bread, you will have to deal with the fact that after a couple of days, your fresh baked bread is no longer fresh baked. In fact, it’s a little dry and crumbly or chewy. Sometimes even stale. And let’s face it kids, stale bread is kind of a big deal. It’s almost like a cruel trick of nature, the way bread is so unbelievably, indescribably delicious when it is warm and fresh out of the oven. I don’t think it’s exactly coincidental that bread has been used as a spiritual metaphor for life and all that is life-giving. But then, after just a couple of days – after a day even – it’s glory fades into pretty much, meh. Dry uninteresting bready stuff that can only be saved by toasting (and probably lots of butter or peanut butter or cheese).
So, if you look around the world, you will discover that almost everyone has found some very clever ways to use up bread that has gone stale. Necessity is the mother of invention, and using stale bread turns out to be a gold mine of creativity-promoting necessity. Panzanella; panades; stratas; pain perdu; torrijas; croutons; bread crumbs; brown Bettys; French toast. But, in my opinion, the queen of them all is the bread pudding. Well, sometimes.
It’s possible that there is nothing more disappointing than a poorly executed bread pudding. A bad bread pudding is so heavy and dense you could sink a canoe with it. They are frequently over-spiced, cinnamon or chocolate being used to badly cover up the overall dry flavorlessness of it, like using an air freshener to cover up the smell of cigarette smoke. They are, most definitely, to be avoided. Which is why I pretty much never would order a bread pudding at a restaurant unless I knew I had every reason to have implicit trust in the pastry chef (or if I just planned to eat the whipped cream off of the top of it and leave the pudding itself sitting, untouched, on the plate).