They say in Texas that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. A more accurate way to describe things around here would be this: give it three days. We went from balmy, gorgeous weekend weather to below freezing on Tuesday morning. I’m not complaining. It is winter, after all. Or that’s the rumor I keep hearing. This return of winter, or the arrival of real winter, gives me all sorts of delicious things to do, like wear my cozy sweaters, bust out my ludicrously huge mittens, and bake. That last part is my favorite.
(On the subject of real winter, there are rumors we are going to get snow this week. Snow! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for it. Snow in Texas is very exciting. Even if I have to trudge to work in it.)
Back in November, when fresh cranberries were in the stores, I picked up two bags, thinking I would like to make this cranberry cake and maybe that cranberry chutney. I still think I’d like to make those things and of course it’s not too late. Oh no, it’s definitely not too late for me because I ended up stuffing all those fresh cranberries in the freezer after a quick rinse-and-sort, keeping only the plump, good-looking ones. But in keeping with my invigorating spirit of frugality, I decided to dig out the cranberries for something new and delicious: a tiny batch of Baked French Toast with Fresh Cranberries. Ooh, I think my tummy just rumbled!
I do love a good sweet bready something, still warm from the oven. Whether you call it Baked French Toast or Bread Pudding, I’m the one hovering over the stove, sniffing the air and imagining the flavors in that first bite: the brightness of fruit, the soft wheaty bread, the sweet sugary spicing. This class of desserts has it all: great flavors, different textures, and the satisfaction that comes from making something delicious from the odds and ends bouncing around your kitchen.
The predecessor for this cranberry version is the apple version, an old favorite that makes me happy every time I trot it out for another repeat. It’s an easily lovable dessert or afternoon snack with its sweet bites of apple and plump cubes of bread and perhaps just a tiny bit of crunch from the butter-browned bits on the top. To adapt this recipe for cranberries, I swapped the apple for a heaping quarter-cup of cranberries and upped the sweetness factor to compensate for the sour berries. I changed the topping a tiny bit, adding some oats just for fun. The result is very similar to the original, except that you get the unexpected bite of sour mixed into an otherwise sweet and calming background. It’s also gorgeous. Those red cranberries soften and relax, eventually melting into tiny puddles of berry in the hot oven.
It’s perfect for a quiet evening at home in winter or as an afternoon snack the next day while you read papers with titles like “A set of female pheromones affects reproduction before, during, and after mating in Drosophila.” Oh, wait, that was my afternoon. Hmm. Perhaps you aren’t interested in the sex life of flies as much as I am, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some cranberry bread pudding. It’s good stuff.
Baked French Toast with Fresh Cranberries or Cranberry Bread Pudding
Adapted from this recipe
For the bread pudding:
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. granulated sugar (I used vanilla-infused sugar here)
2 tbsp. real maple syrup
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 slice whole-wheat bread, cubed
1 good-sized wedge of cornbread, cut into bite-sized chunks
Heaping 1/4 cup fresh cranberries, frozen or not
For the topping:
1/2 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. oats
1 tbsp. crunchy granulated sugar, such as Demerara
1/2-1 tbsp. butter
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8.5x4.5-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
2) In a mixing bowl, mix together the egg, milk, vanilla, sugar, maple syrup, and spices. Gently toss the breads with this eggy mixture, then set it aside for a few minutes to let the bread soak up the custard.
3) Meanwhile, prep the cranberries and topping. For the cranberries, slice them in half carefully with a sharp knife, taking care to watch your fingers! For the topping, put all the topping ingredients in a bowl, then use a fork to mash them into a coarse paste.
4) Add the cranberries to the bready mixture, tossing gently. Spoon the bready mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Top with the topping by shaping it into small clumps with your fingers and sprinkling the clumps over the bread mixture.
5) Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the bread pudding is set and the top is browned and gorgeous-looking.
6) Allow the bread pudding to cool slightly (maybe 5-10 minutes?) before slicing it into serving sizes and digging in.