I feel like I have been sitting on this leek bread pudding recipe forever, though it has technically only been six months — the New York Times ran this recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home last October, when [updated: ahem, I had thought] leeks were decidedly out of season and apparently, I’m really becoming someone who really digs her heels in about these sorts of things. I imagine how much better something will taste in season, how much better it will look, how much more excited I’ll be when I “score” the thing I’ve been longing six months for and say “aargh, fine! I’ll wait.” And wait I did. (Jacob, too, was patient but mostly because he was just a little lump back then.)
Nevertheless, despite my initial grumbling that I was bereft of my favorite spring delights, I’ve been hauling back armloads from the Greenmarket since, literally as much as I can carry and leeks were finally among last week’s haul. (It has also helped that I’ve discovered the glories of Wednesday — glorious uncluttered, overflowing-stands Wednesdays! — shopping. Wednesday, I’m in love.) For this savory take on bread pudding, the leeks are sliced in pretty, pretty coins then cooked slowly in butter until soft and caramelized enough to bring tears to your eyes. I really get carried away with leeks, I know.
From there, you build a fairly standard savory bread pudding: toasted bread cubes, shredded cheese, herbs and a mix of milk or cream and eggs. If you follow the original recipe, you layer it up in a 9×13-inch baking dish. But I’ve had this notion for a long time that I would love a savory bread pudding in a loaf pan, sliced like the “bread” it once came from, and I’m glad I finally auditioned it because this here is a fun and adaptable way to eat it. For breakfast, you can toss some bacon or hash browns on top. You can even fry an egg on top, I know it is redundant because there are eggs inside but I won’t tell anyone, drippy yolks are important to people like me. For lunch, you can eat your slice with a pile of lightly dressed greens and a slip of proscuitto. For dinner — and what a wonderful thing this would be to bring to a dinner party, or serve at Thanksgiving or another big holiday meal — you put it alongside or underneath your roast. You let it get muddled with the sauces and juices on the plate. It only gets better, I promise. It was worth the wait.
One year ago: Ranch Rugelach (Cinnamon Buns get the rugelach treatment; we all win)
Two years ago: Jim Lahey’s Pizza Bianca and Brownie Roll-Out Cookies (one of my favorite cookies on earth)
Three years ago: Chicken Empanada with Chicken and Chorizo (hands down, the best empanadas I’ve ever eaten, anywhere)
Leek Bread Pudding
Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home
I actually had a chance to go to Ad Hoc shortly after it opened when I was out in San Francisco a couple years ago and I loved it. That kind of stepped-up home cooking speaks to me, as I have a hard time summoning the effort to make something unless it’s going to taste a little better than we might expect from the dish. This recipe perfectly embodies this: caramelized leeks, layered with toasted bread, cheese and custard that could be breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s my kind of dish.
The flavors here are pretty subtle, but they work. Nonetheless, there’s definitely potential to increase the amount of leeks you use and increase the amount of cheese. You might also add another sautéed vegetables or some sharp parmesan as well. This is a flexible recipe.
Makes one loaf. Double the recipe to fit in a 9×13 baking dish.
Serves 6 as a side dish
1 cup leeks in 1/2-inch thick slices, white and light green parts only, cleaned and rinsed
Kosher or coarse salt
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups 1-inch-cubed crustless brioche or Pullman loaf (I used a little less than one loaf)
2 teaspoons finely chopped chives (I forgot to buy these; it made me sad)
1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 cups whole milk, heavy cream or half-and-half or a combination thereof
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup shredded Comté, Emmanthaler or Swiss cheese
Place a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, drain excess water from leeks, and add to pan. Season with salt, and sauté until leeks begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in butter. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft, about 20 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While leeks are cooking, spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake until dry and pale gold, about 15 to 20 minutes (my already-stale brioche took less time to brown), turning pan about halfway through. Transfer to a large bowl, leaving the oven on.
Add leeks, chives and thyme to the bowl of bread; toss well. In another large bowl, lightly whisk the egg and egg yolks, then whisk in milk or cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste and a pinch of nutmeg.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons shredded cheese in bottom of a buttered 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Spread 1/2 of bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 2 tablespoons cheese. Spread remaining bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough milk mixture to cover bread, and gently press on bread so milk soaks in. Let rest 15 minutes.
Add remaining milk mixture, letting some bread cubes protrude. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until pudding is set and top is brown and bubbling, about 55 to 65 minutes. Serve hot or cold (because I’m weird and enjoy bread pudding cold).