In this quintessential Christmas bread pudding brunch dish, crisp, mahogany-red bacon and red peppers contrast with bright green spinach leaves. The bread pudding makes breakfast or brunch a one-dish meal, though I like to serve it with a winter fruit platter. Remember to start the recipe two days in advance, as the bread cubes need to dry out and the pudding must set before baking. Besides being Christmas fare, this recipe can be served at Thanksgiving in place of dressing. It’s a do-ahead dish perfect for when you’re expecting a crowd.—David Leite
One 14-ounce loaf olive ciabatta, crusts removed, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 pound apple wood-smoked bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained, and chopped
2 cups spinach leaves
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping
4 cups milk or half-and-half
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. One day before preparing the bread pudding, place the bread cubes on a baking sheet and let stand at room temperature overnight, or until the cubes are dried out.
2. The next day, in a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat, turning once, for 5 minutes, or until evenly brown and crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain.
3. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange the bread cubes in the dish. Scatter the bacon, peppers, and spinach leaves evenly over the cubes. Sprinkle with the 2 cups cheese. With a large spoon, evenly distribute the ingredients.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together, or beat with an electric mixer on medium speed, the eggs, milk, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended. Ladle the milk mixture over the bread cubes, using your fingers, if necessary, to press the bread into the liquid. Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
5. The next morning, remove the bread pudding dish from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Bake the pudding for 45 to 50 minutes, or until slightly puffed, set, and browned on the top. If the center is still underdone, push the bread down with a wooden spoon to help the bread absorb the liquid. Bake for a few more minutes. Let rest for a few minutes and then cut into squares. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Note: For advance preparation, make the bread pudding up to 4 hours ahead, cover, and keep at room temperature. Reheat in a 350°F (175°C) oven for 15 minutes, if desired.
Recipe © 2007 by Diane Rossen Worthington All rights reserved.