I never thought of myself as spoiled but since starting this blog, I am constantly coming across ingredients and recipes that I disliked as a child for no good reason. Pudín de pan is another example. It’s only crime against me was not being natilla, panetela or another of my grandparent’s desserts that I loved. I’d come to their house for lunch, excited to see the flan tin brimming with the tell-tale amber glaze, only to be disappointed when a caramel drenched bread pudding filled with dried fruits and nuts would arrive at the table. The adults were thrilled but the kids were underwhelmed. Where was the flan? Did that pruny pudding thing eat it?
Firm but creamy, spicy but soothing with the thin layer of caramelo, I liked it despite myself but it was never my favorite. I’d work around the walnuts, figs, or prunes to get to the cinnamon rich pudding. My grandfather might ask why I was leaving behind the best parts, but he never altered the recipe. Why should he? He was right and I was wrong.
Pudín de Pan con Nueces y Dátiles/ Bread Pudding with Walnuts and Dates
Of course now, I love the combination of dried fruits and rum drenched pudding. This weekend, I decided to make the Cuban version of pudín de pan to take to a friend’s barbecue. As I was cutting it up to serve, someone asked what made it Cuban. Taken aback, I said it was the rum. That answer seemed to satisfy everyone, but it wasn’t entirely truthful. The real answer, sugar, would have been confusing. After all, most desserts include sugar. But it’s the the thin layer of caramelo that I most closely associate with Cuban desserts and pudín de pan in particular. I love watching the sugar go from granule to liquid to gold and trying to catch it just before it becomes bitter.
1/2 pound of bread, crust removed and cut into small cubes (challah or brioche)
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum
Freshly grated zest of one orange
1/2 cup walnuts halves
1/2 cup dates, pits removed and quartered
1 tablespoon of unbleached, all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, pour milk over cubed bread. Stir in cinnamon and nutmeg and set aside.
In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add vanilla extract, rum and orange zest. Add bread mixture and mix until well combined.
In a separate bowl, combine walnuts, dates and flour and then fold into bread mixture.
Pour remaining 1/2 cup of sugar into small saucepan. Place over medium heat and move pan frequently but do not stir until it takes on an amber hue. Pour caramel into mold (like a loaf pan) and swirl so than bottom and sides are lightly covered. The caramel will be very hot so it should be handled carefully.
Add the prepared bread mixture to the mold. To prepare the baño de María, place it in a larger roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan so that it comes at least two-thirds up sides of the mold. Carefully place both pans in the oven and bake for two hours. The pudding will be done when an inserted knife comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before un-molding. To un-mold, invert over a serving plate. It will take a minute or so to release. Serve warm or cold, with whipped cream or ice cream.
Makes 12 to 16 servings.