Has ever a food risen from such ignominy to opulence as bread pudding? Well actually yes, there’s lobster for one, a cheap and undesirable food fed to slaves and indentured servants back when the world was all topsy-turvy and out of whack.
But still, bread pudding could star in its own Vanity Fair-esque novel. It would begin sometime in the 1200s in Europe as “poor man’s pudding,” a sorry little Dickensian dessert of upcycled stale bread and crusts, and end in modern times with pomp and circumstance on a platter soaked in caramel or vanilla sauce at often twice the cost of a loaf of bread.
The Drunkard: The drunkard is a ne’er-do-well pudding soaked in or slathered with whisky, rum or other liquors. If bread pudding is nothing but a custardy sponge, why wouldn't you pour booze all over it?
Yes, bread pudding is now a luxe hybrid of snooty dessert and comfort food, both stately and stout like a fat corporal in evening wear. I don’t know any dessert quite like it.
I have identified three distinct classes of bread pudding with which you should become acquainted.
1) The Drunkard: The drunkard is a ne’er-do-well pudding soaked in or slathered with whisky, rum or other liquors. If bread pudding is nothing but a custardy sponge, why wouldn't you pour booze all over it? Try some versions at Two Fools Tavern (3211 Central NE), a raisin, apple and cinnamon pudding, spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream and a Jameson whiskey sauce; Flying Star’s crème anglais and rum sauce over a pudding made of buttered croissants; or St. Clair Winery and Bistro’s (901 Rio Grande NW) bourbon and butterscotch-doused pecan and raisin délice.
Pueblo Harvest Cafe
2) The Vicar: This is a squarer, stuffier kind of bread pudding, not in shape so much as composition. No booze or New World chocolate here. Rather these puddings are heavily laden with temperate delights like cinnamon, raisins, nuts, apples and vanilla. Pueblo Harvest Cafe's (2401 12th Street NW) apple, caramel, and cream pudding is a perfect example. Still unspeakably delicious, the straight-laced pudding is stricken with secret yearnings that will one day lead to its tragic downfall and massive freak out.
Pasión Latin Fusion
3) The Femme Fatale: This is a saucy, sireny pudding spiked with sexy New World ingredients such as chocolate and red chile. Behold Pasion Latin Fusion’s (722 Lomas NW) Azteca goddess: chocolate pudding powdered with red chile and streaked with cajeta (lascivious goat's milk caramel) cooled with vanilla ice cream. Want a whole pan of exotic pudding? Savory Fare Cafe (7400 Montgomery NE)does a tropical dish with pineapple and mango, and a Black Forest pudding of dark chocolate and cherries, both with challah. All they need is 24 hours notice to deliver the pudding of your dreams.
There are of course subclasses of each of these—the Limey, the Seminarian, the Spanish Strumpet. Explore them all. The story of bread pudding is the story of all of our cultural achievements. All great things come from humble origins.