The story of this recipe begins with doughnuts. Stale doughnuts turned into delicious bread pudding.
Well… maybe not quite. It really starts with pralines and my failure making them last Christmas. But I’ll get back to that. For now, let’s talk about doughnuts.
We had a big meeting at work a few weeks ago and I bought dozens doughnuts and bagels for the crowd. Okay, I overdid it a little bit. There was a dozen and a half raised, yeast doughnuts left over that nobody ate and I saw them sitting around the office a few days later.
Now I grew up in a family of 8 and learned not to waste food around my house, so I would be damned if I would let these go to waste as well. But what to do with them?
My birthday was coming up and I usually liked to bring in doughnuts or something nice for my co-workers. Could I turn these stale ones into something delicious? My mind went straight to breakfast casserole or bread pudding and I knew that I could pull some culinary necromancy and animate them into something new.
When I was designing this bread pudding recipe, I also knew that I wanted to use sous vide for quality of end result and ease of preparation. I wanted to be able to do the prep work the day before, drop it in the sous vide bath to do the cooking, pull it out when I wake up, finish it and go without having to wake up 3 hours earlier than usual to start cooking.
I also knew that I wanted to add an interesting topping on top. The texture of bread pudding can be homogeneous and uninteresting without some added textural elements. I’m not a huge fan of raisins in my bread pudding, so nuts fit the bill perfectly. Pecans to be specific. And I had the perfect source just waiting for me in my freezer: my failed pralines.
Last November, Jill and I swung by Savannah and Charleston on our drive down to Florida. On the Riverfront Plaza, we stopped into the classic River Street Sweets. This place is amazing! They make candy the old fashioned way and it is incredible.
Here’s a video I recorded of River Street Sweets stretching salt water taffy on an ancient machine over 100 years old. The machine draws and stretches the taffy, cuts it, wraps it, and delivers it via a complicated journey through a series of belts, elevators, and shoots to the bin where it can be scooped up and purchased. It’s pretty cool!
But the real reason you go to River Street Sweets is for the pralines. The sweet, buttery, salty, crunchy confection of the South that is simply irresistible. Once you start eating them, it is hard to stop! So of course, after our trip, I had wanted to make them.
I had heard a story many years before on NPR about King’s Candy. Robert H. King had been locked up in Angola for decades for his political activism and I remember that he had made pralines during his time incarcerated. Now that he was out, I wanted to make his recipe for pralines, or “freelines” as he calls them. I dug up the NPR article from 2005 and sure enough, there was King’s recipe.
It was a very long recipe to make, contrary to how simple it looks on their website. Hours of boiling milk and sugar on the stove to create a caramel and eventually getting to the hard crack stage for the candy. My failure with the recipe was because, in order to hold all the ingredients that King called for in his recipe, I had to use a 5-gallon thin-walled aluminum turkey fryer. It worked great the caramel started to get thicker, then it started scorching on the bottom. Not good! Sure, I could have kept cooking and hoping the scorched flavor didn’t get into the finished candy or I could cut my losses and end up with the texture of caramels.
I played it safe and went for the caramels. After I took it off the heat, I stirred in my pecans like you would for pralines knowing that the finished product would never have the crunch that pralines should have. But the flavor was great and I knew that they would be delicious as a topping on ice cream or something else in the future. So I froze them and waited for the right time.
Today was that day!
I’ve always been a lucky guy. My favorite stoic, Seneca the Younger said thousands of years ago, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Bingo, Seneca! I was prepared with my pralines and here was my opportunity!
And with that final decision of my topping, my bread pudding recipe was complete! I made it for my birthday and brought it into work. Everyone who tried it told me that they loved it and some asked if I would share the recipe. I figure that if I share the recipe at work, I may as well post it here too.
A few of thoughts on preparation. I used sous vide because the timing in my specific case, but you can easily bake it instead and I gave instructions for that too. I used my leftover failed pralines for my caramel pecan topping, but for the recipe, I’m assuming that you don’t want to spend 4 or 5 hours stirring a pot of boiling milk and sugar. Therefore, I’m calling for prepared caramels and toasted pecans instead, which will get you really close. And finally, the recipe I present here is the original size I made, but it can easily be scaled down significantly. You can cut it in half, quarter, etc. quite easily and still get great results (round up if there gets to be a fraction of egg yolks).
And finally, on doughnuts. I used raised doughnuts since they’re really close to bread, but I would think that cake doughnuts would work fine too, especially with the long soak in the custard. Many stores sell their day-old doughnuts for dirt cheap ($2.24/dozen at my local grocer), so you can make this recipe inexpensively. Or collect your stale doughnuts in the freezer until you have enough to bake with and make the recipe then.
While this recipe really doesn’t fit into our Explorer’s Kitchen adventure for foods around the world, it was a fun project to make and we think that your family will love it! In the end, I was able to turn two failures into a massive success.
Tried this recipe? Let us know what you think about it in the comments below!
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