Pumpkin Bread Pudding with a Caramel Rum Raisin Sauce

This is my first year celebrating a Canadian Thanksgiving. At the beginning of October, the timing feels wrong, but the fall flavors feel right. Canadian Thanksgiving isn't a romantic idealism about Pilgrims and Indians breaking bread together for the first time. It's about celebrating the autumn harvest. But let's be real, no matter which country you are in, Thanksgiving is all about the food.

Today, I am thankful that this pumpkin bread pudding was not a complete disaster. My bread pudding finished cooking ten minutes before it should have, burning the top layer of bread. The first time I made the caramel, the sugar seized up about halfway through, turning it into a giant, impenetrable sugar cube of failure. I added more water to compensate which seemed wise at the time, but really just made the caramel much too runny. So, I dumped it down the drain, sat next to my charred bread pudding and sighed.

My thanksgiving party was in less than an hour and my dessert was in a sad state of affairs. But self pity wasn't going to feed anyone, so I set off to salvage what I could. I picked off the burnt layer of bread and made another batch of caramel. This time, everything came together just right. And just in time to grab it and run out the door.

At the end of the day, my drama over this bread pudding seems trivial. After an evening spent in good company, my stomach is full and my eyes are heavy. The outcome of one component of the meal was not going to make or break the evening. Thanksgiving is a time for togetherness, whether you are sharing the holiday with family you love or friends you have just met. Having moved to Montreal a month ago, being surrounded by a new family of friends is something I am truly thankful for.

And, just for the record, this bread pudding was an absolute hit. Every bite was cleanly eaten from the plates. The pudding itself is moist with a mild pumpkin flavor, but the caramel rum raisin sauce really sets this bread pudding apart. The caramel compliments the pumpkin in the bread pudding and the rum soaked raisins add just the right amount of alcoholic flair. This dessert is truly decadent. It serves well at dinner parties or Thanksgiving meals.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with a Caramel Rum Raisin Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yields 10 to 12 servings

2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 cinnamon sticks, crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 whole cloves
1 loaf of brioche (3/4 pound), cut into 1-inch cubes (challah can also be substituted)
4 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar

In a medium saucepan, mix together the milk and cream. Add the cinnamon sticks, ginger, vanilla, and cloves, simmering over medium heat until steaming. Do not let the milk boil. Remove from heat, cover and let sit until the milk is fragrant, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish.

On a rimmed baking sheet, toast the cubed brioche in the oven until dry and golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and spread the brioche cubes evenly in the greased baking dish.

Rewarm the milk over medium heat until warm and strain out the spices.

In another medium bowl, combine the eggs, egg yolks, pumpkin puree, salt, and maple syrup. Mix until blended and smooth. Slowly whisk 1 cup of the hot milk into the pumpkin mixture. Then whisk the pumpkin mixture back into the remaining milk. This will prevent the eggs from partially cooking.

Pour the pumpkin mixture evenly over the brioche and cover the pan with plastic wrap. Allow it to sit until the brioche has completely absorbed the custard, about 30 minutes. Toss the plastic wrap.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over the bread pudding.

Set the baking dish inside of a large roasting pan and add enough hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the side of the baking dish. Bake the bread pudding, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, or until it is puffed and set. Let cool slightly and serve warm, drizzled (or drowned) with the caramel rum raisin sauce.

The bread pudding can also be made ahead of time, if needed. Refrigerate the pudding overnight. Then, cover with aluminum foil and rewarm in a 325 degrees F oven for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Caramel Rum Raisin Sauce
1/4 cup dark rum
1 cup raisins
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup heavy cream

In a small saucepan, place the rum and raisins over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat when warm. Cover and let the raisins soak for 20 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, mix together the sugar and water and cook over medium heat until a caramel forms. Look for a deep amber color to know it is done. Remove from the heat and slowly add the heavy cream, stirring constantly. If the caramel gets a bit... chunky, just place the caramel back on the heat and stir until any lumps dissolve once again. Stir in the raisins and rum. Serve warm.

This recipe makes more sauce than you will need (oh no, whatever will you do?). But the sauce would taste wonderful on ice cream or drizzled over apple or pumpkin pies. The sauce can be kept refrigerated for up to a week. To reheat, simply place the sauce in a small saucepan and heat until warm, stirring occasionally.