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Eat Feature

Homely but Homey

When it Comes to Authentic Bread Pudding, the Proof is in the Well, You Know

Michelle Gienow

Eat Special Issue 2004

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Eat 2004

By Michelle Gienow | Posted 2/25/2004

I am a late arrival to the cult of bread pudding worship. I don't know why it took until my late 20s for me to appreciate the many fine qualities of this, the most artless of desserts. Maybe it was because mine was a tapioca pudding family, meaning that in formative childhood days I was never exposed to the glorious mélange of old bread, eggs, cream, sugar, and cinnamon that is the basis of any good bread pudding. Or perhaps, in those days of youthful, unburdened arteries and effortless health it just never occurred to me to consume such a dense block of fat and cholesterol, no matter how deliciously slathered in whipped cream it might have been.

Nowadays, however, I'm a shameless and enthusiastic bread pudding proponent. Clearly it's my contrarian soul that drives this lust: In these humorless days of hysterical carbohydrate hate, bread pudding is the anti-Atkins Antichrist. It's nothing but carbs, baby, with a whole lot of saturated fat thrown in just for fun. Ordering bread pudding for dessert these days is practically a revolutionary act. I've had dining companions gasp, "You're actually going to eat that?" as though I'd requested a platter of tripe or a bucket of brains (both of which, by the way, are in the "eat all you want" category of the protein-propulsed Atkins diet. Have at it).

Ah, but what better way to wage caloric battle against such a harsh winter? Warm and oozily, cozily rich, fragrant with spices, and slathered in completely extraneous but oh-so-delicious sauce (from caramel to bourbon to rum and beyond, depending on your pusher, I mean purveyor), bread pudding is the ultimate comfort dessert. There are some very good puddings to be had in Baltimore, notably at Donna's (chunky, hearty pudding set afloat in a sea of custard), Louisiana (unapologetically rich), and Martick's (suave, creamy pudding in a chocolate sauce to die for). And though I have not sampled it, the Prime Rib is also rumored to put on the good pud.

Without a doubt, though, my favorite bread pudding source is Café Hon. You know as soon as you walk in that this is a place that gives bread pudding its propers: There's a dessert case just inside the front door, and given pride of place amid the lovely fluted-crust homemade pies and impressively towering layer cakes is a pan of gnarly, lumpy bread pudding. Let's face it. Bread pudding is not pretty. This is a dish that is hidden in the kitchen until it emerges swathed in toppings designed to conceal its inherent homeliness. Café Hon does gild its very silky, almost cakelike bread pudding with both an extraordinary caramel sauce and an insouciant sombrero of whipped cream, but that's not the point.

The point is that bread pudding is often denied its proper place in the dessert pantheon due to its, well, general unattractiveness. It is both touching and empowering to see this humble, homey treat treated with respect, and so I salute the Café Hon by raising a fork from my well-scoured bread pudding plate and exclaim, "Power to the pudding, right on!"

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