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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Island Pantry
Find some comfort in bread pudding

By Kaui Philpotts

O'ahu Country Club pastry chef Richard Wagner displays his bread pudding topped with creme anglaise, a recipe of his own invention.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Bread pudding is the ultimate comfort food. Something the cafeteria ladies made from all those leftover loaves of government surplus (do they even do that anymore?).

In New Orleans, bread pudding has taken on a decidedly wicked air. At the Commander?s Palace, and just about every other place in town, they lace it with whiskey or rum sauce and charge a pretty penny.

In many old-style local bakeries, you can find a solid square of rich pudding, its greasy residue being soaked up by a fluted paper cup. The dessert often is embellished with coconut and raisins.

Chic desserts come and go, but bread pudding regularly makes a comeback, and for more reasons than sheer economy. In these frantic days of cell phones, e-mail and caller ID, it reminds you of Mom and the rainy days when you got to stay home from school. It's crawling onto the pune'e with an old comforter, a good book and the TV clicker. It's nobody around asking you to do something.

Richard Wagner has been making his special bread pudding at the O'ahu Country Club for a least 20 years. It's a recipe he developed himself as a way to use up leftover french and white bread. What makes Richard's bread pudding so good is its lightness.

"I tried to make it light like a souffle," says Richard. "Then I thought it needed something else to make it special, so I added a creme anglaise. It has a very vanilla flavor. It's the perfect marriage"

Richard's bread pudding has raisins in it — but not too many. He just throws in a handful so those who don't like raisins can pick them out easily.

The secret to good bread pudding, says Richard, is in the process and not the ingredients. He has given his recipe to many people, and it always comes out differently.

"You have to soak the bread first," he says, "The lightness is in the process. I put it in a water bath (similar to a custard) and cover the whole thing with foil. It is more like a steamed pudding." Richard was very surprised when everyone who tried his pudding loved it.

"I guess it's like coming home to mother's house. It's just a plain old pudding, but it makes you feel good."

He cautions that not all bread works well: "Stay away from sourdough and breads with poppy seeds or caraway. You don't want anything pungent."

Wagner is working on a chocolate version, which he has yet to perfect. "Chocolate behaves differently when it's cooked. It's very strange," he said.

The following recipe is Wagner's basic recipe.

Richard Wagner's Bread Pudding

1 1/2 loaves french or white bread
Handful of raisins to taste
One dozen eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 quarts milk
1 pint (2 cups) half and half
Pinch of salt
3 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay the bread in a baking pan (12-by-9 1/2-by-2-inch) and pack tightly. In a bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, milk, half and half, salt and vanilla. Measure out 3 cups of mixture and save for the sauce. Pour the remaining milk mixture over the bread slowly and allow to stand for 5 to 7 minutes, occasionally pushing the bread down with a spatula to absorb the mixture. Cover the pan with foil and place into a larger pan filled with about 4 cups of water. Bake for about 1 hour. Remove the foil and brown the top for about 10 minutes (optional). Allow to cool.

Creme Anglaise

3 cups of reserved milk mixture
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla

Cook the milk mixture in a sauce pan over medium heat. When it comes to a boil, reduce to simmer and add the cornstarch moistened with some of the milk mixture. Cook until a thickened sauce. Add the vanilla, and remove from the heat. Serve over the warm bread pudding.

CORRECTION: Due to a source error, a previous version of this story had a wrong amount for milk in Richard Wagner's bread pudding recipe.