Proof is in the Bread Pudding—Chefs Add Variety to New Orleans’ Classic Dessert
When most bread goes stale it gets tossed in the trash or fed to the birds. But for some lucky loaves, going stale is just the beginning of a transformation into bread pudding — the ambrosial dessert that is a mainstay finale at many restaurants across New Orleans.
A Quick History of Bread Pudding
Though its roots go back centuries to the thrifty domestic kitchens of Europe — where a variety of sweet and savory pudding dishes evolved from the recycling of stale bread — the distinctively Southern-style bread pudding is a dessert New Orleans has embraced and made its own.
Most such recipes start with bread soaked in a mixture of milk, eggs and sugar, which is then baked and sliced into squares or wedges. Served warm, bread pudding is usually covered in a rich, sweet sauce containing a strong dose of booze — most often bourbon.
The main appeal of the dessert, however, goes back to its first ingredient. The bready foundation nicely sops up any sauce paired with it so that each bite is infused with its flavor. The bread base — soaked in milk and eggs — also lends a soft, spongy texture to the pudding that contrasts deliciously with toppings of pecans, walnuts or raisins that often accompany the dish.
Although bread pudding is not a New Orleans (or even American) invention, it’s offered at many restaurants in the French Quarter and nearby, both the fine-dining and casual establishments. With a steady supply of French bread and no shortage of creativity, the New Orleans chefs have been concocting variations of the dessert ranging from traditional to new interpretations.
Most local chefs keep the bread pudding bread-based and sweet. Others may add their own twists to the sauce. You may also come across the savory versions, with cheese and chicken and Andouille sausage. One interpretation served in restaurants like Muriel’s is pain perdu (the “lost bread”), a Creole cross between French toast and traditional bread pudding.
Since there’s no “right” way to make bread pudding, New Orleans’ own unique versions are worth exploring. Here are our recommendations for the best bread pudding in the French Quarter and nearby.
This French Quarter casual eatery offers lots of other Cajun staples beyond its three types of gumbo and has a lovely courtyard. The bread pudding here is the traditional version, served warm, with whiskey sauce. Try it a la carte, or as part of the prix fixe Creole dinner.
This legendary eatery is located outside the French Quarter on Poydras Street in CBD. Mother’s has a casual, cafeteria-style approach and had been around since 1938, becoming a famous hangout for the working crowd. The “Ferdi Special,” a baked ham and roast beef po-boy, was named after a loyal patron, and the Creole-style “Jerry’s Jambalaya” belongs to chef Jerry Amato, who had ruled Mother’s in the late 80s. The bread pudding is the traditional version, with brandy sauce.
The casual French Quarter eatery at the corner of Bourbon and Conti Streets is a solid choice for Creole and Louisiana fare like crab cakes, po-boys and gumbo. It’s open late for dinner and has a lovely courtyard. Oceana’s traditional bread pudding is served with the restaurant’s own praline rum sauce.
With its huge, always-open windows, this casual Cajun restaurant on the corner of St. Louis and Chartres Streets is a prime spot for people-watching. The building that houses the restaurant is one of the oldest in the French Quarter, dating back to 1788. Legend has it Andrew Jackson met with the Lafitte brothers here when it was a coffee house, to figure out the plan for the Battle of New Orleans. The traditional caramel bread pudding here consistently gets rave reviews.
The iconic gem on Decatur Street hardly needs an introduction. The second oldest restaurant in the city, it was founded in 1856 and has since been offering traditional, fixed-price Creole menus to many a president and celebrity. Its famous bar takes credit for inventing the Grasshopper cocktail, and the restaurant may or may not take credit for creating brunch. Tujague’s white chocolate bread pudding is served with Maker’s Mark caramel sauce.
A Category of Its Own
The Pudding de Pain de Noix de Pecan (pecan bread pudding) is as timeless and classic as the restaurant that serves it. This French-Creole fine-dining establishment probably needs no introduction. Let’s just describe the pudding: It’s a cinnamon, golden raisin, and pecan concoction topped with warm butter rum sauce. The bread used is Leidenheimer French bread. It’s also on Antoine’s famous jazz brunch menu.
You probably know of Brennan’s world-famous Bananas Foster dessert, but the bread pudding at this fine-dining Creole landmark is a classic that is served with ice cream and is worth trying.
The pain perdu version at Muriel’s comes with candied pecans and rum sauce (here’s the recipe). Enjoy it a la carte or as part of the prix fixe dinner menu. Muriel’s is elegance personified and won’t steer you wrong if you want contemporary Creole cuisine. (The menu has quite a few gluten-free items too.) The restaurant opens up onto Jackson Square, so you can enjoy people-watching in the heart of the French Quarter.
This Brennan family-owned restaurant on the busy block of Canal Street is known for its upscale Creole bistro menu and ample sidewalk seating. The restaurant’s original white chocolate bread pudding is as unique as it is popular. The chunks of white chocolate are baked inside the bread, and the whole thing is covered with warm white chocolate ganache and shaved dark chocolate. You can take a stab at the recipe from the Palace Cafe: The Flavor of New Orleans Cookbook.
Ralph Brennan’s Red Fish Grill has been around for more than 20 years, offering a child-friendly respite in the middle of the Bourbon Street chaos. It’s known for its seafood-heavy menu and good happy hour deals on the drinks and the oysters. The well-reviewed double chocolate bread pudding is made with dark and white chocolate ganache (sauce) and chocolate almond bark. It takes about 20 minutes to prepare but it’s worth the wait.
Bread Pudding Recipe
Can’t wait until you make it to New Orleans? Try this recipe at home.
Ingredients: 1 loaf stale French bread 1 cup raisins 2 cups milk 3 eggs, beaten 1/2 cup melted butter 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon cinnamon 1/2 cup brown sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F
2. Rip the bread into small pieces
3. Place in a mixing bowl and cover with the milk, letting it soak for 20 minutes
4. Mash the bread into a consistent texture with no chunks
5. Add the eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, sugar, raisins, butter, and salt and mix well 5. Pour into a buttered nine-inch square baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until browned on top and set in the center
6. Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream
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