Recipe by Lindsay Hunt
This recipe was one of the first complicated dishes I made for my boyfriend, Drew. He was in his senior year in college and I had just graduated. On the way home for Thanksgiving, he stayed with me in New York.
In the first months I lived in the city, we mostly ate out and took advantage of New York’s cornucopia of restaurants, but I wanted to impress him and make a delicious meal in the comfort of my apartment.
Ad Hoc at Home had just been published, I was clamoring for a copy of Thomas Keller’s most accessible cookbook yet. At the time I was at the French Culinary Institute, so I checked out the library’s copy and set about finding the most delicious, savory dish between it’s covers. A recipe for Leek Bread Pudding enticed my taste buds – I love pungent Swiss cheeses and buttery, melted leeks.
I pulled out all the stops for the dinner, but I can’t tell you what I served alongside the Leek Bread Pudding. It outshone the rest of the meal, and the dish provided leftovers to ensure its culinary competitors would be long forgotten.
Despite how much Drew and I loved the Leek Bread Pudding almost two years ago, I haven’t undertaken the recipe since, even after receiving the book upon my FCI graduation. Now that I cook more than half our meals, I shy away from complicated recipes. Admittedly time consuming, after making the bread pudding again, I remembered how worth-while it is. After all, 1 hour of prep time translates to 6 servings, so in the end, you’re actually saving time throughout the week.
I increased the leeks three-fold for a better vegetable-to-bread-ratio. Additionally, I lightened up the original recipe by cutting out the heavy cream. Initially it was half-heavy cream, half-whole milk. Use heavy cream if you wish, but I don’t recommend more than 1 cup out of the six.
Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home
6 cups 1/4-inch-thick slices leeks (white and light green parts only)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12-cups 1-inch cubes bread, baguette or a whole-grain loaf
3 large eggs
6 cups whole milk (or a combination whole milk and heavy cream)
1 cup shredded Comte, Emmentaler, or Gruyere
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Put the leek rounds in a large bowl of tepid water and swish so that any dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl. Set a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, lift the leeks from the water, drain, and add them to the pan. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Ass the leeks begin to soften, lower the heat to medium-low. The leeks will release liquid. Cover the pan, and cook, stirring every 5 minutes, until the leeks are very soft, 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes, until dry and pale gold. Transfer to a large bowl. Leave the oven on.
4. Add the leeks to the bread and toss well, then add the chives and thyme.
5. Lightly whisk the eggs in another large bowl. Whisk in the milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste.
6. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan. Spread half the leeks and croutons over and top with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough of the custard mixture to cover the bread and press gently on the bread so its soaks in milk. Let soak for about 15 minutes.
7. Add the remaining custard, allowing some of the soaked cubes of bread to protrude. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top and sprinkle with salt.
8. Bake for 11/2 hours, or until the pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling.