I have been baking up a storm here this past week, breaking in my new oven and all. There has been an abundance of sweet treats, like apple and pear pie, pumpkin gooey butter cake, and plum- topped coffee cake. And now I am in the mood for savory autumn flavors. Is stuffing as popular a savory side dish in your family as it is in ours? If so, then this version, a savory bread pudding, is simply stuffing, kicked up a notch (or two).
This is a simple recipe and a good use of slightly stale bread. The principle is the same as for a sweet bread pudding: combine bread with various flavorful garnishes, add a simple custard, and let stand while you preheat the oven. Top with a little shredded cheese and bake. Voila! You will have a slightly richer and more sophisticated version of everyone’s favorite side dish. If you choose a more shallow baking dish, there will be more of the crusty, golden top layer to enjoy. A deeper casserole, like the one I used, makes for a more tender and pudding-like texture. You decide! This dish is best straight from the oven, while still puffed and sizzling hot, but you can successfully reheat leftovers. The microwave maintains the moist texture of the pudding, but you can reheat in a moderate oven with the dish loosely covered. And feel free to use your imagination and whatever ingredients you have on hand; add diced cooked bacon or ham, change the cheese to Gruyere or Swiss, substitute parsley or tarragon for the marjoram, deglaze the pan with sherry or brandy. However you interpret the dish, it will be delicious and impressive. And be prepared to cook some turkey to go alongside, with cranberries, of course.
Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding
- 3 heaping cups of ½-inch diced bread (about 6 ounces), I used challah
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon butter, plus a little more for the baking dish
- 1 cup chopped white or yellow onion
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- 8 ounces baby bellas or brown button mushrooms *, cut in pieces about the same size as the bread cubes
- A splash of white vermouth, sherry, or brandy (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram leaves
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup heavy cream, light cream (1/2 and ½) or whole milk
- ½ cup chicken or turkey stock, preferably homemade
- ¾ cup shredded aged white cheddar cheese, divided
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Place the cubed bread on a sheet pan and toast in a 350°F oven until somewhat dried, but not brown. Alternately, you can leave the bread out to dry overnight. It will lose some of its volume, but that's okay. Set aside.
- Set a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and butter to the pan. When the butter has melted add the chopped onion and a good pinch of salt. Cook until the onion begins to soften and brown a little at the edges. Ad the minced garlic and stir until it is fragrant, then add the chopped mushrooms. Cook and stir until the mushrooms brown and give off some liquid. Add the vermouth and cook until the liquid reduces to a glaze. Stir in the marjoram and check the mixture for seasoning, adding more salt (if necessary) and some pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Butter a 1½ quart casserole or gratin dish. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs together with the cream and chicken stock. Add ½ cup of the shredded cheese and ½ teaspoon of salt. Taste the custard mixture and adjust the seasoning to your liking with additional salt, and freshly ground pepper. Fold the dried bread cubes and the mushroom mixture into the custard, pressing the bread down into the liquid. Let stand while you preheat the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. When the oven is heated, transfer the bread and vegetable mixture to the prepared baking dish. Press the bread down into the custard and smooth the top surface a little; sprinkle on the remaining ¼ cup shredded cheese.
- Place in the oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the top is handsomely golden brown and the custard is set. The baking time will depend on the depth of the baking dish you have chosen. Serve hot and make sure every diner gets a portion of the crusty top. Leftovers can be refrigerated, tightly covered for 2 to 3 days.
- *If you have wild mushrooms available, you can substitute them for part of the total weight of the mushrooms.