A fantastic apple dessert. It has a layer of soft cinnamon apples topped with sweet bread cubes and a vanilla custard mixture, baked until creamy, and served with gooey dulce de leche or caramel sauce. Comfort food at its best.
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Most countries and cultures have a way of using stale bread. Many involve a custard, whether a bread pudding or french toast.
This apple bread pudding recipe is no exception, and it's the perfect dessert for the holiday season when we usually have leftovers from brioche, challah bread, panettone, pandoro, Scandinavian pulla, etc.
It's highly recommended to serve it with a sauce, ideally caramel or dulce de leche, and enjoy a caramel apple bread pudding, which is the ultimate flavor combination for fall!
Two parts to this recipe
- Apples: are cooked in a skillet, so they caramelize a little and add more flavor to the dessert.
- Bread pudding: the bread layer is simple and traditional and uses an egg mixture, similar to a custard. The main difference is that it uses some sort of egg and/or sweet bread (today is Pandoro bread that I had leftover from the holidays, but brioche, challah, or Finnish Pulla also work).
Together, both layers are magic!
- Apples: Granny Smith apples, the green ones, are a must to balance out the richness and sweetness from the rest of the ingredients.
- Bread: use any sweet/eggy/buttery leftover bread you like, such as Pandoro (I had some leftover from the holidays), Challah, Brioche, or Pulla. They are softer and sweeter than the regular white bread used in old-fashioned bread pudding, so consider when adding sugar.
- Unsalted butter.
- Sugar: white granulated or light brown sugar, both work well.
- Milk and cream: the combination makes this dessert rich and creamy. I use full fat, but low-fat milk can be used. I don't recommend the same for the cream, though.
- Eggs: they are essential for the structure of this dessert. Otherwise, the liquid will never firm up. The extra yolk adds richness.
- Vanilla: I use pure vanilla extract or pure vanilla paste when available, but a good vanilla essence (artificially flavored) also works.
- Cinnamon: any ground cinnamon you normally use works fine. I like Frontier Vietnamese cinnamon and Mc Cormick culinary cinnamon.
- Citrus juice and zest: I like adding some lemon or orange to cut the sweetness. But it's optional.
Types of apples to use
Depending on the kind of apples you use, you can vary the sweetness of this dessert.
- Granny smith: I use them exclusively (the green ones, my absolute favorites for baking due to their tartness). They bring some acid to the mix that complements the overall sweetness of the cake. And they hold their shape and don't turn mushy in the oven.
- Other popular ones: if you have another favorite that you usually bake with (pink lady, fuji, gala, Honeycrisp apples), by all means, use it. Red apples are sweeter.
- A mix of apples: you can also mix them to create different textures and sweetness levels.
How to make bread pudding
Making this sweet casserole dish is easy and quick since the bread cubes don't need to soak a long time before baking, as sometimes happens when using stale French bread.
The first layer consists of apple slices lightly cooked in butter, sugar, and cinnamon. This step adds more flavor and color, and it's worth it.
The bread mixture
A few important comments about what bread to use and how to cut it.
- Types of bread to use: as mentioned before, we use egg-based bread, like Italian Pandoro bread, challah, Scandinavian pulla, or brioche bread, but favorites like cinnamon bread also work.
- Bread cubes: they're easier and faster to soak, and some tips are exposed during baking, so they get crunchy. This adds great texture to the final dessert, which is very creamy. The result is way better than with large bread pieces or slices.
- Bread slices: I did try this version, and the custard took way too long to bake fully, and it just didn't work. So, I don't recommend slices. Cubes work much better.
The custard mixture
You only need to whisk or stir the custard, not beat it.
You want the eggs to be completely integrated but not incorporate extra air into the mixture so that it doesn't rise or puff too much during baking.
The top will bake to a golden brown, especially with an egg-based bread, and it will look like it's done when the specified time in the recipe is up.
But, and this is a big but... always make sure the inside is creamy but completely set, fully baked. You don't want it to be still liquid because it means that the eggs are not set. It will be soupy and not good at all.
- Organization: read the recipe first and ensure you have ingredients at the right temperatures, equipment needed, and enough workspace. This will make the process so much easier!
- Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look the same or very similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. Use a thermometer inside the oven (like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that the temperature is right. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
- Apples: we use medium slices, and they soften just enough. But if you want crunchier apples, cut them into thicker wedges (about 6 slices from each half apple), and if you like very cooked fruit, I suggest you dice them.
- Topping: cut bread into cubes rather than slices. You'll get crunchier parts because they get more exposure as the apple dessert bakes. And the dessert will bake more evenly.
- Flavorings: I love cinnamon, vanilla, and lemon because they go so well with lemon, but let your palate decide. Orange, apple pie spice mix, and even a dash of cardamom work.
- Add-ins: several ingredients can be added to the apple layer, such as raisins, walnuts, pecans, and cranberries. Use ¼ or ⅓ cup (total) of one or a mix.
- Serving it: this is the ultimate apple dessert to serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle. A delicious fall dessert! Before serving, I usually drizzle some dulce de leche sauce or caramel on top of the bread pudding in the baking dish.
It depends on how you like it, as both ways are fine. I like it warm with dulce de leche or caramel sauce and sometimes with a scoop of ice cream. But plain apple bread pudding is fantastic.
The top will be golden, and the creamy inside will be firm. You can use a cake tester or toothpick; it's done when it comes out clean. You can also lift the top layer in the center with a fork and see if it's still liquid or not.
Yes, it can. Make sure it's covered. The bread in this one is very soft, even if it's stale, so there's no need to soak it for a long period. But you can do it if you want to bake it in the morning, for example. The texture will be more uniform as the liquid will be absorbed more.
Yes, but in a good way. It's baked bread with liquid, so it does soften a lot. Make sure it's properly baked, so it's not mushy. There's a difference between creamy and soft versus soggy and mushy.
No, it's not recommended. There are eggs and also fruit, which tend to ferment. So refrigerate what you're not using after a few hours, well covered.
Family style desserts
What type of dish to use
Choose a nice baking dish you like to showcase on the table.
For me, ceramic ones are the best. I use my favorite Emile Henry small ceramic rectangular dish or the medium Emile Henry ceramic dish (the size depends on the recipe) whenever possible, but they can be pricey.
Also, a cast-iron skillet fits this type of dessert if you like a Southern style.
Related recipes you might like:
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- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup white granulated or light brown sugar
- 1.5 pounds Granny Smith apples ((about 4 or 5)
- Optional: ⅓ cup raisins/dried cranberries/chopped walnuts or pecans can be added to the apple layer
- 1 pound brioche, Pandoro bread, Finnish pulla or challah, homemade or store-bought
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream (double cream also works)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon or apple pie spice
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- Caramel sauce, homemade dulce de leche or crème anglaise (custard sauce) for serving
- Have ready a rectangular 11x7-inch ovenproof dish in which you will serve the pudding. I like ceramic dish, but glass also works. Remember that the bread pudding will be served directly from the baking dish, so choose one you like to put on the table.
For the apples:
- Peel, core, and cut the apples into wedges.
- Partially cooked apples: melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and sprinkle sugar on top. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula and cook for about 3 minutes, until they begin to caramelize here and there. Do not let them turn too dark or too soft. Remove from heat, add the cinnamon and lemon juice and arrange them in the prepared dish.
- Trim the brioche or pandoro bread and cut it into big chunks or cubes.
- Arrange the bread on top of the apples. It will be uneven.
- Mix milk, cream, eggs, and egg yolk in a medium bowl or pitcher. Do not beat.
- Pour mixture slowly over bread, gently pressing down to absorb the liquid.
- Let it soak at room temperature for about 15 minutes, pressing a few times so that the bread absorbs as much of the milk mixture as possible before going into the oven.
- Preheat oven to 350ºF / 180°C.
- Bake for about 40 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the crust is golden. Check the inside by lifting the bread with a fork. You don't want liquid, but it's fine if not completely set.
- Let rest for a few minutes on a wire rack.
- Serve warm or at room temperature with caramel sauce or homemade dulce de leche. If you want a showstopper dessert, add a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and pour the sauce over it.
- Organization: read the recipe first and ensure you have ingredients at the correct temperature, equipment, and enough workspace. This will make the process so much easier.
- Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look the same or very similar. The baking time in my recipes are as accurate as I they can be, but it might take you more or less time. You can use a thermometer that is placed inside the oven (like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that your oven is the right temperature. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
- Apples: if you want crunchier apples cut them in thicker wedges (about 6 slices from each half apple) and if you like very cooked fruit I suggest you dice them.
- Topping: you can cut bread cubes or slices. Both ways work, but the former tend to have crunchier parts because they get more exposure as the apple dessert bakes.
- Flavorings: I love cinnamon, vanilla, and lemon because they go so well with lemon, but let your palate decide. Orange, apple pie spice mix, even a dash of cardamom if you're familiar with it also work.
- Add-ins: there are several ingredients that can be added to the apple layer such as raisins, walnuts, pecans, cranberries. Use ¼ or ⅓ cup (total) of one of them or a mix.
- Serving it: this is the ultimate apple dessert to serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle on top. A delicious fall dessert! I usually drizzle some dulce de leche sauce or caramel on top of the bread pudding, directly in the baking dish before serving.
- Dulce de leche: I have the best dulce de leche recipe in this blog, but you can also buy it online. I like Dulce de Leche Cachafaz warmed before using it so it's more fluid. You can also buy a dulce de leche sauce like La Lechera.
- Caramel: you can buy online the topping like Ghirardelli caramel flavored sauce, or make your own following this salted caramel recipe or this homemade caramel recipe.
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Category: Desserts
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: International
- Serving Size: ⅛
- Calories: 374
- Sugar: 19.7 g
- Sodium: 252.9 mg
- Fat: 16.4 g
- Carbohydrates: 47.8 g
- Protein: 9 g
- Cholesterol: 131.3 mg
Keywords: apple bread pudding
Adapted from an old Bon Appetit magazine.