My friend Berkeley has never tasted bread pudding. For someone born in the south, that is practically incomprehensible. (Once, on a visit to New Orleans, I ate my weight in bread pudding, beginning with the signature souffle bread pudding at Commander's Palace and Ending with the classic dessert at Bon Ton Cafe, which was the overwhelming pick of the cabbies I consulted. New Orleans cabbies know food like Chicago cabbies know sports so I wasn't about to miss what Bon Ton Cafe had to offer.) Recipes for both versions are readily available online, so you can easily try both.
Berkeley's birthday is next Tuesday, so I'll be taking her to a restaurant here in Los Angeles, Les Sisters, that is the closest thing to honest-to-God Southern food you can get. In addition to bread pudding, they also serve sweet potato pie, peach cobbler and buttermilk pie. I had to explain buttermilk pie to Berkeley too. Poor, poor deprived child.
If you haven't had bread pudding in awhile, or never, here's the recipe I learned from my grandmother.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Enough bread to fill a baking dish—torn into small pieces
2 cups milk
¼ cup butter
2/3 cup light brown sugar
¾ cup chocolate chips
2 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Combine the milk and butter in a saucepan, stirring until the butter is melted. Cool slightly.
Beat the sugar and spices into the eggs until frothy. Add the vanilla extract.
Combine the egg mixture and the milk mixture slowly. (Make sure the milk isn’t too hot or the raw eggs will curdle.)
Mix in the bread and turn everything into a baking dish that has been greased or treated with non-stick spray.
Don’t pack the bread down too tightly or the “pudding” will compact and get really dense instead of staying moist and fluffy with those delicious buttery, crunchy bits.
Bake for 45-55 minutes until the “pudding” is set. Serve warm as is or add a few spoonfuls of whipped cream.