This year for American Thanksgiving, we opted to make Cornish game hens for our guests instead of the traditional turkey. We tossed the idea around of making stuffing (and just not stuffing the birds), but when I came across this recipe for bread pudding, I thought it would serve as a nice stuffing-substitute.
6 cups (½”-diced) bread cubes from a rustic country loaf, crusts removed
2 tbsp good olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 oz pancetta, small-diced
4 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts (4 leeks)
1½ lbs cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed and ¼”-sliced
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves
¼ cup medium or dry sherry
salt and freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 extra-large eggs
1½ cups heavy cream
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1½ cups grated Gruyere cheese (6 oz), divided
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until it starts to brown. Stir in leeks and cook over medium heat until tender. Stir in mushrooms, tarragon, sherry, 2 tsp salt and 1 tbsp pepper and cook until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the parsley.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, stock and 1 cup of the Gruyere. Stir in bread crumbs and mushroom mixture. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid. Stir well and pour into a casserole dish (13″ x 9″ x 2″). Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is browned and the custard is set. Serve hot.
A few notes on preparation: We weren’t able to get tarragon, and David forgot to substitute other herbs, so we didn’t end up putting any herbs in to the mix. He used only 2 tsp salt since the cooking sherry we used was salted. We also didn’t remove the crusts of the bread, as we’re a fan of crusty goodness.
The bread pudding turned out to be surprisingly delicious! Moist and jam-packed full of flavour–it had a wonderful round, almost earthy taste. D noted that he could see adding a bit of variety of textures, perhaps including walnuts or crustier bread. It also held up well for leftovers the following day. Definitely a win!