3large, tart, baking apples (such as Grannies, Pink Ladies or Fujis)
Bread and custard:
2 1/2cupshalf and half
1vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1/2cuplight or dark brown sugar
1/2teaspoonfreshly grated nutmeg
2tablespoonsbrandy (or whiskey, or dark or gold rum)
12ouncesbread (such as Jessa's Oat Baguettes; see headnote for more suggestions), in 1" cubes (about 6 cups; 1 cup reserved for the topping)
crème anglaise, for serving (below)
Crème Anglaise (Makes 2 cups, or 12 servings)
1cupwhole milk or half and half
1/2vanilla bean, split and scraped
Caramelize the apples:
Peel the apples, cut them off the core and into 3/4 - 1" chunks. In a heavy-bottomed 10 - 12" skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the sugar, cinnamon and salt, stirring until the mixture bubbles, then toss in the apples to coat them. Let the apples sit, undisturbed, for 1 minute to sear a bit, then toss them again, and let them sit another minute. Repeat this for about 10 minutes, until the apples are deeply golden and tender. Remove from the heat and scrape the apples and their juices into a bowl; don't wash the skillet - you will use it to make the custard.
Make the custard and assemble the pudding:
Pour the half and half and milk into the caramelly-appley skillet. Add the vanilla pod and scrapings and heat over a medium flame, stirring and scraping up any good stuff the apples left behind, until the dairy is steaming and small bubbles form around the sides of the pan. Turn off the heat, cover the pot (with a lid if you've got one, or use a large plate or platter) and let steep for 20 - 30 minutes.
When the dairy has finished steeping, in a large bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, salt, and nutmeg to combine. Whisk in the brandy. Remove the vanilla pod from the dairy and slowly whisk the warm dairy into the egg mixture, including any vanilla seeds which may have sunk to the bottom.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325ºF. Brush a 2-quart gratin dish or casserole with some of the melted butter.
In a small bowl, combine the tablespoon of sugar with the 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon.
Place 5 cups of the bread cubes in the buttered dish and pour the custard over the top. Let soak for 20 minutes, pressing the bread down occasionally to moisten it. After 20 minutes, scatter the caramelized apples and their juices over the bread. Scatter the remaining cup of bread cubes over the apples and press them to partially submerge in the custard. Brush the exposed bread cubes with the rest of the melted butter, and sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon sugar.
Bake the bread pudding until puffed all over and golden, about 1 hour. When you peek into the center, there should be no wet custard. Remove the pudding from the oven and let cool and settle, at least 30 minutes. Serve warm with crème anglaise or vanilla ice cream.
The pudding can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days; reheat in a 350º oven until warmed through.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk and cream with the vanilla pod and scrapings until steaming and small bubbles form around the sides of the pan, swirling occasionally. Cover and steep off the heat for 20 minutes.
Place a fine mesh sieve over a large, metal bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, salt and sugar until well combined. Reheat the milk until steaming, then dribble it into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture reaches 175º and thickens to the consistency of heavy cream, 5 - 10 minutes.
Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer and into the bowl to stop the cooking. Place the bowl in an ice bath, stirring the custard occasionally, until well-chilled. (If you overcooked your custard and it is lumpy, just whizz it in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.)
Store the creme anglaise in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
This recipe requires several steps: cooking the apples, steeping the dairy with vanilla bean, making the crème anglaise, and (if you are totally hardcore) baking Jessa's fabulous oat baguettes. Many of the steps can be done ahead: you can bake the bread weeks in advance (double-wrap and stick in the freezer after a week) and cook the apples and steep the dairy with the vanilla bean up to several days ahead (store both in the fridge).The pudding can also be baked in advance, left at room temp for up to 2 hours (or refrigerated for up to 4 days), and reheated in a 350º oven, or cut into individual squares and reheated.I love the flecks of steel-cut oats here, and these baguettes have the perfect light-dense texture for bread pudding. Lacking them, I wouldn't use a typically crusty baguette, but rather a firm, white sandwich bread (with a bit of whole grain in it, if possible) such as challah, brioche, pan de mie, orRudi's Organic Country Morning White. My multi-grain loaf would probably work, too; though I might leave out the flax seeds.Caramelized Apples: Adapted from Good to the Grain (from the Apple Graham Coffeecake recipe).Bread and custard: Inspired by Cook's Rich Bread Pudding.Nutritional values are based on one of ten servings.