Leek Bread Pudding

The base for this recipe is Keller’s brioche that will now be transformed into what is, essentially, an excuse to eat stuffing as a regular side dish, which is a brilliant idea. Maddeningly, Keller tells you you will need 12 cups of brioche cubes for this but doesn’t hint as to whether that’s one of the loaves you’ve made, one and a half, both of them, etc. (turns out it’s about 1-1/2).  And if you’ve followed his instructions for storing the brioche, you’ve already wrapped one loaf of the hot-from-the-oven brioche in foil and transferred it immediately to the freezer. So I had to make do with one loaf and, therefore decided to make half of this recipe. 

Keller’s instructions for cooking the leeks are uneccesarily fussy in my opinion.  (One of my favorite cooking jokes is the recipe that starts “First, take a leek.”  Sorry, I couldn’t resist).   He tells you to put them in a dry pan and cook until they begin to soften. Then you add some butter “to emulsify” and cover with a silly piece of parchment that you’ve cut to the exact diameter of your pan, and cook for 35 more minutes. I suspect what’s supposed to be happening here is that the leeks are releasing some water and that is mixing with the butter but that never happened with mine. There was absolutely no emulsifying going on and no “sauce” at all in the pan. So my adaptation just sautees the leeks in oil and butter until they’re caramelized (because everything is better caramelized). 

This dish, like the Braised Oxtail and Mushroom Tartine, probably originated as a clever and frugal way to use up some leftovers but has now been turned into a weekend project.
Like the Oxtails, though, you don’t have to spend 2 days making brioche in order to make this dish. You could use almost any kind of very rich bread and you could even — gasp! — buy it.  I don’t want to discourage you from making the brioche though; it’s delicious and it makes two loaves so there is enough to make this as well as have some leftover for toast or croutons.

Leek Bread Pudding

The dish is truly delicious and satisfying as only rich, rich bread, cream, and cheese can be. I would have liked more of a leek “presence” in the dish and his picture in the book suggests that that is what’s supposed to happen but when you’re only slicing the leeks into 1/2″ slices and then cooking them down for 40 minutes you are not going to maintain any kind of leek chunks in the final product.  I might also use a different kind of cheese next time.  I sampled a bit of the Emmentaler before adding it and it didn’t have a strong flavor, so it was hard to detect in the finished product.  You could certainly use parmesan, asiago, gruyere, or romano.   You could also use regular onions or scallions in place of the leeks.  

Leek Bread Pudding 

Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller
Serves 12 as a side dish, 6-8 as a main course

 

2 cups 1/2″ thick slices leeks (white and light green parts only)
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
4 tablespoons (2 oz.) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
12 cups 1″ thick cubes crustless Brioche or Pullman sandwich loaf
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
3 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded Comte or Emmentaler
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
 
Put the leek rounds in a large bowl of tepid water and swish so that any dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl.  Set a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, add the canola oil and butter.  When the foaming subsides, add the leeks and salt to taste, and cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  [Keller tells you to make a parchment lid at this point but I truly don’t see why you couldn’t just put a real lid on the pot leaving it partially open].  Continue to cook, stirring often, until the leeks are very soft, 30 minutes [mine did not take this long].
 
Meanwhile, spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until dry and pale gold.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Leave the oven on.
 
Add the leeks to the bread and toss well, then add the chives and thyme.
 
Lightly whisk the eggs in another large bowl.  Whisk in the milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.
 
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese in the bottom of a 9×13″ baking pan.  Spread half the leeks and croutons in the pan and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese.  Scatter the remaining leeks and croutons over the top with another 1/4 cup cheese.  Pour in enough of the custard mixture to cover the bread and press gently on the bread so it soaks in the milk.  Let soak for about 15 minutes.
 
Add the remaining custard, allowing some of the soaked cubes of bread to protrude.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top and sprinkle with salt.
 
Bake for 1-1/2 hours, or until the pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.