From both the process of making it and some subsequent research, I realized that bread pudding bears many of the qualities I value in food. It's thrifty, humble--not flashy, and has a storied past, with historical touchstones in ancient Egypt, Medieval Europe, and the Civil War (both the Blue and the Gray made it in their respective camps, though it was often rather meager and lacking sugar). It also appears in both southern and northern classic cookbooks-- including Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife (1884 ed.) and the 1918 edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, with small variations according to region. (See Food Timeline for more historical info).
Using whole-grain bread really turned bread pudding around for me-- instead of soft and saccharine, it became dark, hearty, and complex. I like the Kitchn's recipe because it's very adaptable to whatever you have on hand-- an aspect in line with the essence of bread pudding. For me that was apples and pecans, but you can really throw in whatever you have in your pantry.
Adapted from the Kitchn
5-6 cups stale whole grain bread, torn into bite-size pieces (I used a variety of Bread Furst breads)
2 1/2 cups whole milk or your favorite non-dairy milk (I used coconut milk)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract (or bourbon for a kick)
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3 large baking apples, cut into bite-size chunks
For streusel top:
1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar
1/3 cup pecans, roasted and coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Butter an 11-inch cast iron skillet or equivalent baking dish and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt until well combined. Add bread pieces and stir until incorporated.
2. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least an hour or overnight so bread can absorb the custard.
3. Meanwhile, make the streusel by combining brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl.
5. Place in middle of the oven and bake for 45-55 minutes. Halfway through (after 25 minutes), remove skillet and and sprinkle with streusel, then bake for 20-30 minutes more. Pudding will be done when a toothpick or fork inserted in the middle comes out clean and the bread pieces are beginning to toast.
6. When done, remove from oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm. Leftovers can keep in the fridge for about a week.