Monday was Rosh Hashana dinner at my parents’ house across town, and as I was leaving for the night, my mom, as she is wont to do, shoved a fully wrapped, untouched round challah into my hands. “Take it!” The first thing I thought was not thank you or are you sure you don’t want it but cinnamon-apple bread pudding.
The vision was almost divine in its clarity, so the next day, I sliced my loaf into a few pieces (to allow for some staleness to settle in; always the best kind of bread for this dessert) left it on the cutting board, and headed off to work for a few hours. I dug up the simplest bread pudding template I could find, and all day thought about how I was going to tweak the recipe so that it had that nice custardy texture broken up by a slightly crunchy-tender apple here and there. How does a craving seed just get planted like this? I’ll never understand it.
I don’t want to bore you with too much wind-up here, but after baking my vision for a half hour, I decided it wasn’t golden enough on top so flipped on the broiler for some final toasting. I didn’t set the timer — I had been obsessing about this thing all day, it’s not like I was just going to forget about it and walk into the next room and get into a deep drill-down discussion on college applications with my high school senior, you know? Who would do that during a one-minute broil?
Mom, I’m so sorry I wasted your beautiful challah!
The good news is that I doubled down on my determination and made it again the next night. Even though I had to swing by Trader Joe’s to pick up another challah, and decided to add an egg, and switch the baking dish size to allow for more “soakage,” it was still by all accounts super easy to throw together and delicious. More important, maybe, the whole house smelled like fall.
Cinnamon-Apple Bread Pudding
3 tablespoons butter, plus more for pan-greasing
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup sugar
5 cups cubed bread (such as challah), preferably a little stale
3 small-medium apples, peeled and cubed
3 eggs, beaten
powdered sugar, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in a small saucepan set over medium-low heat. Whisk in milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar and heat until just warmed through. Remove saucepan from heat.
Butter a 9×9 baking dish. Add half the bread, layer with apples, then top with remaining bread.
Once milk mixture is cooled, whisk eggs into it. (If you are as impatient as I am and don’t want to wait for the milk to cool, you can also temper the eggs, by whisking about a 1/3 cup of the warm mixture into them, then whisking that egg mixture back into the saucepan. If that sounds confusing, just ignore this entire parenthetical.)
Pour milk-egg mixture over bread, making sure every cube is a little damp.
Bake 35-40 minutes. Broil for the last 2 or 3 if it doesn’t look toasty and golden enough. But don’t forget about the broiler.
Let cool on a rack. Once it has mostly cooled, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. It’s really delicious served warm (and with ice cream, natch), but room temp is fine, too.