Cuban Diplomatic Bread Pudding
1/2 loaf of fresh Ciabatta bread (any bread without a hard crust), cut into small pieces
2 cups sugar
2 cups milk
4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp of salt
1 cup canned fruit cocktail, drained
Preheat oven to 350F. Caramelize 1 cup of sugar in a shallow 9 inch square baking pan. Tip pan to cover sides, until sugar turns light amber brown. Do not let the sugar foam.
Pre-soak the bread slices in milk. Puree in blender and reserve. Combine the eggs, Grand Marnier, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, almond extract, and salt. Puree in blender and reserve. Pulse 1 cup of sugar with butter in the blender, and combine with egg mixture and puree. Combine with bread and milk mixture.
Put the fruit cocktail in the caramelized baking pan. Pour the batter in the pan. Place the pan in a large glass pan (Pyrex), pour hot water in the large glass pan halfway up the sides of the baking pan. (I prefer a large glass pan as you can monitor the water level from the oven door.) Place the pan in the oven, and bake the pudding for approximately 2 hours. Do not allow the water level to reach the bottom of the pan. You can tell it's done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the pudding from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack. Turn the cooled pudding upside down onto a serving plate and refrigerate before serving.
This recipe goes along with one of my favorite stories my grandmother used to tell when she made it. In her days in Cuba, a can of fruit cocktail was the most elegant hostess gift; not available in Cuba, it meant you had American connections. This dessert has become my father-in-law's favorite.
Christ Church, Durham
I'll admit it: I question the elegance of a can of fruit cocktail as a hostess gift. Though, hey, there have been times in my life where a can of Spaghettios would have been seen as a very clever and thoughtful gift indeed... I'll ponder this further.
I love a good bread pudding. They're highly adaptable creatures, and I'd be tempted when tinkering with this dish to do away with the water bath. Yes, yes, it makes the custard set up all smooth and perfect, but we threw caution to the wind over Thanksgiving and did cheesecakes sans water baths, and I'm feeling like tweaking the cooking gods' noses again. Nerds to the water bath!
Consider switching up the fruit here, unless you're making it for an elderly Cuban expat who will recall the fruit cocktail elegance with fondness. I'm thinking that a can of cling peaches would be good here. I imagine it would work with any canned-in-syrup fruit.
Christ Church makes St. Alban's look like a toddler. It was founded in 1661. Not a typo. It came in to being when Charles II was king in England. That, friends, is a very long time ago.