A leftover half-loaf of brioche can yield the most rich, yet easy bread pudding, taken over the top with homemade salted caramel sauce. (Jump to Recipe)
You know how on cooking competition shows like Chopped, whenever they do the dessert round, someone invariably makes a bread pudding? Even if they’ve been given the most ridiculous ingredient, like gummy worms or pig’s feet? Always, every time, without fail, somebody makes bread pudding with it. You’ll notice next time you watch.
I always wondered (before we got rid of cable; now I have other things to wonder about but seem to spend no less time in front of the TV) why bread pudding was the default choice. It seemed…a little basic, but also a little finicky, and definitely lacking in the pizzazz one typically associates with such shows. Usually, the contestant got too busy trying to make a bunch of overly complicated sauces or side accompaniments, and burned their gross gummy worm bread pudding or yanked it out of the oven before it was done. Poor choice, I always thought to myself.
This was before I’d ever made bread pudding. Now I have, and let’s just say, if you ever catch me on an episode of Chopped (not likely), I’ll be that weirdo making bread pudding with gummy worms. Why? Because as it turns out, bread pudding is the most easily adaptable, the most forgiving, the most comforting and decadent thing you can make in 30ish minutes with bread, eggs, and milk. It’s like French toast on steroids, because you can do crazy things like douse it in salted caramel sauce and ice cream and call it dessert. Or breakfast. I don’t judge.
This all started because my mother in law had us over for brunch, and she made a lovely French toast with brioche bread. The best French toast always starts with brioche, I think. There were only a few of us, though, so she didn’t use the whole loaf, and somehow the rest of that loaf found its way home with us. Oh, darn.
All week long at work, I was wondering to myself what I was going to do with this half-loaf of brioche. I thought about more French toast, but eh – I’d just had it. I thought about an egg casserole or croutons (brioche croutons, I mean…what can be bad), but it turned out that by the end of that long week, all I wanted was a comforting, carby hug. Then it hit me, as if I’d just pulled gummy worms out of the final Chopped basket…bread pudding. I’d only had it at restaurants before, but since when has that stopped me?
I did a little research and found a solid, simple recipe from the New York Times, from whom I’ve rarely had a culinary venture go awry. But, because I can never leave well enough alone, I had to modify it because I could not get the idea of warmly spiced, sweet, crisp bread pudding combined with salty caramel out of my head. Turns out there was good reason for it – the result was nothing short of spectacular.
This is so simple to put together that I now understand why Chopped contestants can do it without a recipe. 2 cups milk, 2 eggs, 2 tbsp butter, a little vanilla and spices, and half a loaf of bread. Doesn’t get easier than that, and there are very few recipes where you reap so much reward from so little effort. The top part of the bread pudding gets a beautiful, crisply browned lid as it rises in the oven, while the interior stays soft and doughy. When you cover it in homemade salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream, the combination of flavors and textures is quite literally heaven on earth.
If you were intimidated when I said “homemade salted caramel sauce” just then, don’t be. It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds, and I would urge you not to skip it. It makes more than enough for this recipe, meaning you’ll have extra to put on ice cream, cookies, your morning oatmeal, your plain old spoon…
Personally I wanted to drink it. But, for propriety’s sake, I refrained.
This was gone from our kitchen within 2 days, much to our regret. I hope you’ll subject yourself to the same temptation, without or without the gummy worms and professional judges.
Brioche Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce
For the Bread Pudding:
- 1/2 loaf day-old brioche bread (about 6 slices)
- 2 cups milk (I used whole)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch nutmeg
- Pinch salt
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
For the Salted Caramel Sauce:
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon bourbon (optional, but delicious)
For the Bread Pudding:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a medium casserole dish (4-6 cups). Chop the bread into 2-inch cubes and place in the dish.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan on the stove, or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave, heat the milk, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and sugar until the butter melts. This should take 2-3 minutes in the microwave - stop every minute and check. Don't let the mixture boil. Whisk the mixture once the butter is melted to make sure it's all incorporated. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
- Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl. Pour into the cooled milk mixture and whisk until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Pour the milk/egg mixture over the cubed bread in the casserole dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown but the center is still a bit wobbly. Drizzle with salted caramel sauce; serve warm with vanilla ice cream and extra sauce!
- Store any leftover bread pudding in the fridge for up to 2 days. Reheat in the microwave - it'll be just as delicious.
For the Salted Caramel Sauce:
- In a medium saucepan (I recommend a stainless steel saucepan so you can see what's happening) stir together the sugar and water, then heat over medium heat. DO NOT STIR. You can swirl it a little from time to time, but don't stir or whisk it. The mixture will come to a boil and be very bubbly.
- Continue to cook the sugar until it has turned a dark amber hue, about 8-10 minutes. While it's cooking, measure out your heavy cream and butter, salt, and bourbon (if using), and grab a whisk. Things need to happen fast once you reach the right color or else the sugar will burn.
- As soon as a dark amber hue is reached, remove pan from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream - whisk vigorously. It will crackle loudly and seem like it's curdling but keep whisking!! After 10-15 seconds or so of whisking, a glorious caramel sauce will emerge in your pan.
- Whisk in the butter, salt, and bourbon. Pat yourself on the back and serve that sauce with the bread pudding and ice cream.
- Store any leftover sauce in a sealed jar or container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks - slather on ice cream, cookies, cake, oatmeal...or just your spoon.
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Delicious, didn’t make the caramel sauce but the top got nice and crunchy with a sprinkle of 2T turbinado sugar with a sprinkle of ground cardamom before it went into the toaster oven. Served with a bit of whipped cream n top, YUM! It took less time in the toaster oven but very pleased with the texture baked in a long oval pan rather than a round casserole. Will ale it again!
Sounds amazing! Thanks Deanne!
I made this for the first time last year. It was a huge hit and expected every holiday. I won’t make if when it is not a holiday as I would eat the whole pan. This is something that calls you in the middle of the night! I am going to double it this Thanksgiving, I hope it turns out well.
Thank you so much!!
Hi, this looks great. Does the milk in the pudding need to be cow’s milk or would almond milk work?
Hi Eileen – absolutely, you can use any milk you’d like for this!
Do you recommend leaving the bread out overnight to dry out prior to making this? I’ve reviewed other recipes and that seems to be a common step. Thank you!
Hmm, I have never done because I’ve always used a loaf that is already a day or two old. If yours is brand new, I think leaving it out overnight would definitely help it soak up the custard!
This is such a glorious recipe! The breadpudding is simple to make, tastes wonderful!
But then the salted caramel sauce! I was always intimidated but the funny way you described it gave me courage and now “my” famous sauce is in high demand.thanks so much!
Yay! So glad it worked for you!
Thank you for sharing your recipe! I never made bread pudding before but I made this dessert for my husband’s early bday celebration today. I use brioche rolls instead since that’s all I had in hand and it came out delicious! My husband loved it!
Hooray! Thank you so much, Jennifer – so glad he enjoyed it!
Incredible recipe! I made brioche from scratch the other day and went searching for a bread pudding recipe to use it up. This is outstanding and so easy! Even the caramel sauce. I didn’t have bourbon, but I used rum and it is delicious. I will definitely save this one as an all time favorite!
Yay! Thank you so much Nance – I’m so glad you enjoyed it and so impressed you made your own brioche 🙂
I quadrupled this recipe for an event this weekend. I adapted the recipient slightly by using regular loaves of sandwich bread (price), making them individually portioned (in muffin pans), and for the sauce I omitted the burbank and used pink sea salt.
I could not be happier wit the results.
I am sure to sell out this weekend, but this recipe is so quick and satisfying that I will be saving it as a go-to from here on out!
Wow! Thank you for the great review, Nikki! So glad this turned out well for you.
Best caramel recipe ever, ever, ever. I am so popular now with all my friends. The breadpudding was also a great hit, although my oven needed a shorter time. I am following you now from the Netherlands😍
Thank you so much, Desiree! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!! Hope you keep trying more recipes 🙂
Plan on making it tonight. My hubby wants to add raisins. Considering using a pre-made caramel
sauce that is used for ice cream or just a little caramel syrup that is found in Coffe Shops.
Hi Lorre – I hope it turned out well for you! Using pre-made caramel sauce is an excellent shortcut 🙂
This looks absolutely perfect! I am planning to make it as part of my valentines day with my husband.
Would I be able to make the caramel sauce ahead of time and heat it up on the stove when it’s time to dig in?
Hi Hillary – yay! This would be a perfect Valentine’s Day dessert! You can absolutely make the sauce ahead of time, store it in the fridge, and then heat it up when you’re ready to serve. If it were me, I would actually store it in a glass jar and then just reheat gently in the microwave. Hope you love it!
This is not only the first time I have ever made bread pudding, but the first time I have ever eaten it!!! Delicious, I used brioche dinner rolls, my fiance said it is great, make it again!! 60 years, look what I’ve been missing…. Thanks!!
Thank you Debi!! That is so great to hear and I’m so happy you enjoyed it!
My daughter and I made this together, she has finally become interested in cooking, especially baking. This recipe caught her eye because of the salted caramel sauce. I made the bread pudding and then she made the sauce. I don’t know what went wrong but she had a mess of dry sugar! We were able to salvage it by adding water and it eventually came together. It was delicious! I plan to make the sauce next time.
Oh no! Yes, working with caramelizing sugar can be a little tricky sometimes, but I try to avoid that by having water in the pan. I’m glad adding a little more helped! And so glad the recipe turned out well for you. Thanks for the feedback!
I made this tonight and put some Bundaberg caramel liqueur into the caramel sauce, oh my it was good. Thank you for an awesome easy recipe. I had never made caramel sauce before and it came out perfect.
I’m so glad it turned out well for you!
I tried it and it was awesome!!!!!!!!!!! I added some coconut flakes to it and some almond flakes and i did a coconut gold rum sauce it taste like heaven!!!! Love this recipe????
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Dave! I love the additions you made.
This looks like a perfect holiday dessert! Do you think I could make the bread pudding ahead, refrigerate for a day and then cook the next day or will it change the consistency too much?
Yes! The texture will just become more custard-like, which is never a bad thing 🙂
this is one of the simplest recipes I have ever learnt, and tasty too, have tried and loved the item.
Thank you Marsha! It’s one of my favorites!