Caramel Apple Brioche Bread Pudding

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 1998
adapted by There's Always Thyme to Cook

Notes: I used a large baking dish, instead of ramekins and kept it covered for 30 minutes and then baked it for about 30 minutes more without the foil. You can also use store-bought caramel sauce.

2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled and cut into matchsticks
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 loaf brioche or challah bread
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Caramel Bourbon Vanilla Sauce:
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon bourbon

Heat oven to 325°. Place apples in a small bowl, and toss with lemon juice; set aside. Butter six 8-ounce ramekins or custard cups; place in a roasting pan. Or use one large baking dish. Cut brioche into eight slices, then quarter each slice; set brioche aside.
 
In a large bowl, whisk together cream, eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, and nutmeg. Add brioche, and toss to coat.
 
Place 1 tablespoon caramel sauce into each ramekin. Add approximately 1/3 cup apple mixture, then 1/3 cup bread mixture. Add a second layer of sauce, apple, and bread. If using a large pan just pour some caramel in the pan to coat the bottom of the pan! Save some caramel to drizzle on the top as well!
 
*Omit the water bath (roasting pan!) if using a large pan instead of individual servings with ramekins.*
Carefully place the roasting pan on the center oven rack. Fill roasting pan with hot water to within 1/2 inch of ramekin tops. Cover pan with aluminum foil. Cook 20 minutes. Remove foil; cook 20 minutes more. Remove roasting pan from the oven, and transfer ramekins to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes. Using a towel, invert ramekins onto serving platter. Serve warm with remaining caramel sauce on the side.
 
CARAMEL VANILLA BOURBON SAUCE:
Combine sugar and 1/2 cup water in a 2-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Without stirring, cook mixture until dark amber in color, swirling the pan carefully while cooking, about 20 minutes.
 
Reduce the heat to low. Slowly add cream, stirring with a wooden spoon. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the pan, and add the pod. Add lemon juice, butter, and bourbon. Stir to combine.
 
Cover, and store, refrigerated, up to 1 week. Bring sauce to room temperature, or warm over low heat, before using.

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