The Proof is in the Pudding

Our old favorite, bread pudding, gets a modern boost with unexpected ingredients both savory and sweet.

Bread pudding can be considered a classic American dish, and it is if we recall its humble origins, born from the thriftiness of the English colonists whose recipe using stale bread crusts transformed these leftovers into comforting custardy goodness. With endless flavor options like its more cosmopolitan counterpart rice pudding, the crusty dish attracts passionate devotees who argue tirelessly over issues such as whether raisins or nutmeg are proper additions and whether ice cream is a suitable topping. 

Not all early bread puddings measure up to today’s standards. In her influential cookbook The Virginia House-Wife, Mary Randolph shared recipes for the bread pudding that Virginians typically ate in the early 1800s. 

“Grate the crumb of a stale loaf, and pour it in a pint of boiling milk, let it stand an hour, then beat it to a pulp; add six eggs, well-beaten; half a pound of butter, the same of powdered sugar; half a nutmeg, a glass of brandy, and some grated lemon-peel; put the paste in a dish and bake it.” She may have called it bread pudding, but it sounds more like an overwrought pound cake. 

Modern cooks lean more toward Mrs. Randolph’s recipe for something called “Sippet Pudding,” which combines bread pieces, eggs and milk with sugar, raisins and nutmeg. Sippet was traditionally baked and served with a white wine sauce. 

We tend to think of bread pudding as a dessert, but it lends itself well to either sweet or savory ingredients. Today, Virginia chefs experiment with variations from croissants to crab, pretzels to donuts, and bourbon to bacon, and then top their puddings with rich sauces and ice cream. 

Here, we offer recipes for some creative bread puddings from some of the state’s most inventive chefs, who experiment with their favorite ingredients. You probably won’t have leftovers, but if you do, we recommend treating them as you would leftover pie: Bread pudding makes a highly respectable breakfast. 

Crab, Roasted Pepper, Bacon and Scallion Bread Pudding

“Back in the day, we used to serve a blue cheese and caramelized onion bread pudding alongside a tenderloin steak. Now, we sometimes call it a bread pudding soufflé, because that’s more the direction we head in than big heavy soaked bread. Kind of in-between a traditional bread pudding and a spoon bread.” —Tom Power, Fat Canary Williamsburg,

4 cups heavy cream

10 eggs

2 teaspoons kosher salt

12 cups French bread, cut into ½-inch dice (about one 1 pound loaf)

1 ½ pound jumbo lump crab, shell pieces removed

½ cup roasted peppers, finely diced

6 strips applewood smoked bacon, cooked and diced

¼ cup scallion (about 1 bunch), green parts sliced thin 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix cream, eggs, and salt in a large bowl with a whisk or immersion blender. Add diced bread and soak for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until custard is absorbed. Mix in crab, peppers, bacon and scallion.

Grease and flour eight 1 ¼-cup soufflé dishes or large ramekins. Spoon mix into soufflé dishes and fill to the top. Place dishes in a large roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with hot water about a third of the way up the soufflé dishes. Cover roasting pan with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until bread puddings are springy.

When cool enough to handle, gently remove from dishes. If serving later, they can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator at this point. To reheat, place on parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 350 until hot and puffy, about 20 minutes. 

Serves 12

Dark Chocolate Pretzel Bread Pudding with Malt Ice Cream

“For the past year I’ve been building the bread program at Metzger. As I was experimenting with our sourdough pretzels that go in our breadbasket, I’d go through baking tests and have lots of leftovers. I hate to waste anything, so one night for our Wednesday date-night menu I thought about tearing them up for bread pudding. The pretzels ended up going perfectly with the malt and chocolate. Bread pudding is a way to reduce waste. And who doesn’t love salty and sweet, especially pretzels and chocolate?” —Olivia Wilson, Metzger Bar & Butchery

4 eggs

½ cup whole milk

1 ½ cup cream

¼ cup brown sugar

⅔ cup chopped dark chocolate 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon bourbon 

1 teaspoon salt

⅓ cup dried currants

4 cups soft pretzels, torn into pieces and toasted

2 tablespoons butter, softened 

Butter an 8-inch baking dish. Whisk eggs and set aside. Combine all ingredients, except pretzels, in a medium saucepan. Bring liquid to a gentle simmer, remove from heat, add chocolate and let sit one minute until chocolate melts. Whisk until well-blended, then add eggs. 

Spread pretzel pieces evenly in pan. Pour liquid over the pretzels and press down so they are fully submerged. Wrap in plastic and chill in refrigerator for 3-4 hours. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, place bread pudding in a larger baking pan and dot with butter. Fill large baking pan with enough water to come up to about an inch on the sides of the pudding pan. 

Bake for 45 minutes or until set. Cool to room temperature. 

For the malt ice cream: 

2 cups whole milk 

1 ¼ cup cream 

¼ cup corn syrup

¼ cup sugar 

1 teaspoon xanthan gum (thickener)

2 tablespoons malt syrup 

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Combine milk, cream and corn syrup in sauce pan. Combine sugar and xanthan gum, set aside. Bring milk mixture to a gentle simmer. Slowly whisk in sugar mixture. Continue mixing until it reaches a boil, and keep whisking for 5 minutes. Add malt syrup and salt and strain into a sealable container. Chill in refrigerator for 4 hours. Churn custard in ice cream maker. 

Serves 8-10 

Croissant Bread Pudding with Brandy Crème Anglaise

“I adapted this recipe from the Greenbrier, where Bread Craft owner Alex Eliades and I both worked. The croissants are very buttery, so that adds a richness that’s not in your normal white bread. The flavor from the caramelization on the baked croissants comes through also, so this bread pudding is a little richer than some. When we serve this in the bakery we cut it into squares and leave the edges in the pan. Then we eat the edges. Oh man, those scraps are the best part.” —Rebecca Yarwood Senter, Bread Craft Bakery Roanoke, 

6 eggs

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar

2 ½ cups milk

¾ cup cream

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

6-8 croissants (1-2 days old)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Prepare a water bath by filling a larger baking pan halfway with water and placing it in the oven to preheat. 

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, salt and sugar until combined. Add remaining ingredients except the croissants and whisk until combined. 

Slice croissants in half lengthwise. Fill pan with croissants up to the edge. Fill in any gaps with partial pieces. Pour egg mixture over the bread and let stand for one hour, occasionally pressing the bread down into the mixture. Add more croissants if necessary. 

Loosely cover pan with foil; do not let the foil touch the top of the pudding. Set pan in the water bath and bake for about 1 hour 45 minutes, or until set. Remove foil for last 10 minutes of baking to brown the top. 

For the brandy crème anglaise: 

2 cups milk

1 vanilla bean

6 egg yolks

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons brandy

Pour the milk into a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of water. Cut open the

vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the insides into the pan, then add the bean pod. Scald the milk by heating the water over medium high heat just until the milk begins to boil. Let milk cool to room temperature. 

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extract until combined. Pour scalded milk into yolk mixture and whisk to combine. 

Pour mixture back into double boiler and heat to 185 degrees (test temperature with a candy or meat thermometer). Remove from heat, remove vanilla bean pod and mix in the brandy. Let cool briefly, and serve over the bread pudding.

Serves 6-8

Harvest Bread Pudding

“It’s not often that we have our harvest wheat bread remaining at the end of the day, but we secretly yearn for leftovers so that we can mix up a dish of this bread pudding. It can also be made with challah or brioche, but we especially like it in the fall and winter with our nutty fruit bread for a hearty dessert enjoyed while curled up in front of a fire. We like to ladle warm jam or pear butter over the bread pudding just before serving … whipped cream on top of everything is not out of the question.” —Brian Noyes, Red Truck Bakery Warrenton and Marshall,

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 ½ cup sugar

1 cup sorghum syrup

2 large eggs

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

1 loaf of harvest wheat bread (with walnuts and dried cranberries), torn into large pieces

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. With softened butter, liberally grease the sides and bottom of a large baking dish.

In a saucepan over low heat and stirring frequently, cook the heavy cream and whole milk until just bubbling. Whisk in the vanilla, sugar, sorghum, eggs and yolks. Add the salt, orange zest, allspice and cardamom. Whisk together and remove from heat.

Evenly distribute the torn bread into the buttered dish. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the bread. With a spoon, gently stir the bread to allow it to soak up the liquid. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar on top.

Serves 8-12

Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding with Chocolate Glaze

1 dozen day-old Krispy Kreme donuts, torn or cut into 5-6 pieces

3 eggs

1 cup whole milk

1 ¼ cup heavy cream

¾ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt 

½ teaspoon vanilla

pinch nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by 13-inch baking dish. Scatter donut pieces evenly in the dish and set aside.

Whisk eggs in a large bowl just to break up the yolks. Add sugar and whisk until eggs are lighter in color and the sugar is well blended, 3-5 minutes. Add milk, cream, salt, vanilla and nutmeg and blend well. Pour custard mixture over donuts and let sit for 20 minutes. Press the donuts down occasionally so they can absorb the liquid.

Bake until puffy and golden, about 45 minutes. Cool to serving temperature and drizzle with chocolate glaze.

For chocolate glaze:

½ cup chocolate chips

1 tablespoon butter

⅔ cup heavy cream

In a small saucepan heat the cream and butter to simmer. Take pot off heat, add chips and stir. Let sit until the chips are melted. Use immediately, sauce cannot be reheated.

Serves 8-10

Recipe courtesy of Eric Lindquist.

Persimmon Sweet Potato Bread Pudding

2 cups Homestead Creamery custard

½ stick butter

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoons salt

2 eggs

6 cups sweet potato rolls, cut into cubes

½ cup persimmons, cut

Warm the custard and the butter in a pot until butter is melted. Set aside to cool. Mix together the sugar, salt, and eggs. Slowly pour in the hot liquid. Mix to incorporate.

Add the cubes of bread and let soak for a minute. Mix in half of the persimmon chunks.

Scoop the bread into a large dish or individual ramekins. Pour any of the leftover custard mixture on top. Sprinkle with remaining persimmon pieces. Bake at 350 degrees until toasted and custard has set. Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of crème frâiche ice cream on top.

Recipe courtesy of Ishiah White of Commune, Virginia Beach,

This article originally appeared in our April 2017 issue.

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum