It’s the time of the year when foodies pull out their Cajun and Creole cooking hats in celebration of Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday, or as most people know it “Mardi Gras”, happens tomorrow and is the one day of the year where we are expected to truly indulge, gorge, and tantalize our stomachs and taste buds with all those favorite New Orleans style dishes. Fat Tuesday is the final celebration before Lent, and for me marks the last time I can indulge in some of my favorites…for the next 40 days at least.
It’s difficult to differentiate between Cajun and Creole cooking. In my experience, Cajun cooking is highly seasoned country food, whereas Creole cooking tends to use fresh, local ingredients. Nonetheless, both are fantastic and full of flavor! I always love to add that my ancestors (the Germans), helped shape Cajun cuisine by introducing sausage making and playing a key role in the rice farming industry. This Fat Tuesday I challenge you to add some Cajun flavor to your day and celebrate Mardi Gras in the kitchen! One of my personal favorites is Turkey, Okra, and Rice Soup. You can literally taste New Orleans in this dish; packed with Creole seasoning it’s the perfect way to recycle leftover turkey.
As a chef, my other favorite part of Fat Tuesday is all the decedent desserts. The traditional New Orleans dessert is King’s Cake. And while I love the tradition surrounding the cake, my favorite southern treat (with a Berghoff twist) is Berghoff Bourbon-Prune Bread Pudding. When I really want to make something special, this is the recipe I reach for. And what’s more special than Mardi Gras? Bread Pudding was originally created as a way to use up stale bread…what better way to reuse a staple than by using it to create a rich and delicious desert!
So while you may not be celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate in your own kitchen and home. Have fun, spice things up, and truly indulge this Fat Tuesday, otherwise it’s going to be a long 40 days. Cheers!
Prunes were very popular in the café and in our home, where they found their way into a variety of savory and sweet dishes. But this bourbon-prune pudding was always my favorite. It is rich, so it is not a dessert I serve often. But when I want to make something special, this is the recipe I reach for.
- 10 cups cubed egg bread or challah, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 ½ cups good-quality pitted prunes, quartered
- 1/3 cup Berghoff bourbon
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 1 cup milk (use 1% or 2%, to decrease the fat)
- 4 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving
- Vanilla or cinnamon ice cream, for serving
- Caramel sauce, for serving
Spread out the bread cubes on a large baking tray and let dry, uncovered, overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a 1-quart bowl, combine the prunes with the bourbon; cover and let soak until the prunes are slightly plump but not all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Strain the prune mixture, reserving the prunes and bourbon separately.
In a large bowl, whisk together the reserved bourbon, half-and-half, milk, eggs, yolks, ¾ cup of the sugar, vanilla, and almond extract until well combined.
Butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish. Evenly distribute the bread cubes and prunes inside the baking dish. Pout the custard mixture over the bread cubes and prunes and let soak for 15 minutes, tossing once.
Meanwhile, bring about 8 cups of water to a simmer over medium-high heat.
Evenly distribute the remaining sugar over the top of the bread pudding. Set the pudding-filled baking dish into a larger roasting pan filled one-quarter of the way up with hot water. Add more hot water so it reaches a 1-inch depth along the sides of the baking dish. Bake, covered with foil, for 30 minutes. Then uncover and bake until the custard is set and the top is lightly browned, and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 15 more minutes (45 minutes in all).
Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold, topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream, vanilla or cinnamon ice cream, and caramel sauce.