Can bread pudding save the world?

Despite being a carb-loving family, we frequently aren’t able to get through a loaf of bread before it goes stale or, even worse, starts to grow green stuff. I hated throwing away the last bits of gluten-filled goodness and started stashing leftovers in the freezer. The most obvious solution was to transform those bread cubes into bread pudding, which I love—especially topped with a creamy, buttery, boozy sauce!—but opportunities for a decadent dessert proved few and far between. Inspiration hit and I tried turning regular, sweet bread pudding into a main-course-worthy dish. Voila savoury bread pudding, also known as strata and more commonly served for brunch. 

My version is very welcome as an evening meal with a veg on the side. It’s great for using up odd bits of things from the fridge and easily adaptable to varying dietary needs. Celiac? You’re probably already buying gluten-free bread, so that will clearly be your base. Vegetarian? Don’t use any meat as your add-ins. Lactose-intolerant? Make sure the dairy components don’t set off your tummy. Vegan? Well, that’s a little bit harder. Non-dairy cheeses have come a long way, but I’m not sure how to veganify bread pudding as the creamy, dairy- and egg-based custard is such a huge component. Okay… so this recipe isn’t vegan-friendly, sorry.

But it is pretty friendly overall! No special cooking skills or equipment required. The whole dish is based on proportions instead of a set-in-stone recipe, making it ideal for feeding a crowd or scaling down for a solo supper. The magic ratio is:

  • 4 parts – bread
  • 1 part – liquid
  • 1/2 part – eggs
  • 1 part – add-ins
  • 1/2 part – grated cheese

The ease of putting it together depends on whether your add-ins are pre-prepared and if you use pre-grated cheese or do the work yourself.

Method

Bread cubes in a loaf pan ready to be measured

❶ Measure your bread

• This becomes the building block for your magic ratio.
• Start by filling the dish you want to bake your savoury bread pudding in with breadcrumbs.
• Based on the volume of bread, put those high school math skills to work and calculate the volume of the custard base (1 large egg is about 45 ml), the necessary amount of add-ins, and how much cheese you’ll need.

Egg shells in a ramekin next to a large measuring cup filled with liquid and a bowl of grated cheese

❷ Mix the custard and give it some flavour

• Whisk up the eggs with the milk or cream and spice it up with salt and pepper, along with whatever fresh herbs you have around (chopped sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, or parsley are all nice) and/or dried spices (perhaps some paprika? and nutmeg is almost always delicious in a custard).
• A few dashes of hot sauce or some lemon zest are also excellent.
• And, for me, a good dollop of Diijon mustard is absolutely necessary.

Grated cheese in a bowl next to a measuring up with green and red bits of food in it

❸ Prep the cheese and add-ins

• Set aside a handful of the grated cheese to adorn the top of your savoury bread pudding.
• Cut up your add-ins and make sure they’re not too moist—there’s more than enough liquid in the custard base.
• If you’re cooking any of the add-ins, let them cool before moving on to the next step, wouldn’t want the eggs to cook before everything gets into the oven!

Turquoise mixing bowl filled with uncooked savoury bread pudding

❹ Combine all the deliciousness

• Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl (based on my experience, you’ll need a larger one than you expect!) and stir in the liquid, the majority of the cheese, and your add-ins.
• Let the savoury bread pudding sit in the mixing bowl for half an hour or so to allow the custard mixture to soak in.
• Use this time to preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F and maybe tidy the kitchen unless you have a helpful sous chef following you around.

Metal loaf pan filled with savoury bread pudding and topped with grated cheese - waiting to be baked

❺ Load up the baking dish

• Generously grease your baking dish with butter, then pour in the bready, cheesy, goopy mixture.
• Squish the bread down a bit to make the finished product pleasantly dense.
• Top with the handful of grated cheese you set aside earlier.

Golden brown savoury bread pudding in a loaf pan

❻ Bake!

(as Noel and Sandi cheerfully yell on Bake Off)

• Cover with foil for the first 20 minutes, then uncover and continue to bake until the custard is set (15-30 minutes depending on the size and depth of your baking dish).
• The centre of the bread pudding should be a bit jiggly, but hold together.

A slice of savoury bread pudding waiting to be eaten

❼ Eat!

• Enjoy your savoury creation—perhaps with a salad or roasted veg on the side.
• Let the savoury bread pudding sit for at least five minutes before cutting into it.
• And look forward to leftovers!

Waste not, want not

In addition to preventing bits of bread from going to waste, this savoury bread pudding is fantastic for using up small bits of veggies and cheese. You can use just about anything for the add-ins and combine flavours to make the final dish more Italian, Greek, something akin to a Thanksgiving stuffing, or anything else that takes your fancy.

Some great choices for add-ins: defrosted frozen spinach, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, green onions, raw asparagus spears, jarred red peppers, leftover cooked root or cruciferous veggies (broccoli is particularly awesome, sweet potato is also delish), sautéed mushrooms, cubed ham, leftovers from a Sunday roast, and, of course, crisp bacon.

The ingredients I used for the savoury bread pudding in the pictures are: 

  • 2000 ml cubed bread
  • 500 ml liquid (mostly milk with the last couple of glugs from a bottle of cream and a tablespoon or so of the oil from the artichoke hearts) 
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • A dash of nutmeg
  • 6 eggs
  • 500 g add-ins (sauteed kale with minced onion and garlic, roasted red peppers, and chopped artichoke hearts)
  • 250 g grated cheese (half smoked mozzarella, half regular pizza mozzarella)
  • 1 tsp butter (for greasing the loaf pan)
  • Salt and pepper

I used a loaf tin as the baking dish and it took around 40 minutes in the oven. The savoury bread pudding was delicious the day I made it… but perhaps even better fried up in butter the day after!

So savoury bread pudding probably isn’t going to save the world, but it will prevent perfectly good food from going in the bin instead of on your plate. And give you a delicious, filling, and satisfying option for dinner—or brunch if you want to be more traditional.

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