A few years ago, I realized that as much as I loved the whole concept of Thanksgiving stuffing, it’s lack of moisture and sometimes-bland flavors just put me off. Perhaps I had tried all the wrong recipes from magazines as well as my library of cookbooks.
Finally, Fine Cooking magazine put out a fantastic issue in 1999 addressing my need for a new type of stuffing. Their January issue featured an article called “Savory Bread Puddings” – I liked the sound of that immediately. I quickly flipped to the story and reviewed the recipes that included Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding with Cambozola, Caramelized Onion and Roasted Garlic Bead Pudding, and Roasted Fennel, Sausage and Apple Bread Pudding.
I’ve tried all three a few times and found the Wild Mushroom recipe to be my favorite. My second choice is the Caramelized Onion with a few changes – 3 large heads of garlic was delicious if you LOVE garlic but almost painful for those who were not as enthusiastic so I usually go with 2; I personally find challah bread a better match than other breads.
You don’t need to save the Wild Mushroom recipe for next Thanksgiving; it goes well as an accompaniment for roasted meats or just on its own.
Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding with Cambozola Cheese
3Tbs. plus 2 tsp. butter
2 cups chopped onions (about 2 large)
1 1/2 lb. mushrooms (mix of shiitake caps and creminis), sliced
1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1/2 cup Madeira
1 can rich beef broth (10 1/2 oz.)
1 cup heavy cream or crème fraiche
2 egg yolks
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
9 oz. peasant or hearty whole-wheat bread, stale or oven-dried, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 6 cups) I usually use Pugliese bread.
8 oz. Cambozola cheese (rind trimmed), cut into 1/2-inch pieces I often cut the pieces even smaller for more coverage. Gorgonzola is also nice with this recipe.
Heat 1 Tbs. of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and season with a little salt and pepper; cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the onions and set aside. In the same skillet, heat another 1 Tbs. butter. Add half of the mushrooms and seasoning with 1/4 tsp. marjoram, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Cook over high heat until the mushrooms are browned and all the liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside with the onions. Repeat with the remaining mushrooms, using another 1 Tbs. butter and seasoning again with 1/4 tsp. marjoram, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. When the mushrooms are brown, add the first batch of cooked mushrooms and the onions back into the skillet. Add the Madeira. Cook, stirring frequently, over high heat until the liquid evaporates and the mixture is a rich brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. I tend to use a little more butter for browning and a wee bit more Madeira.
Heat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, whisk together the broth, cream, eggs, egg yolks, thyme, and the remaining 1/2 tsp. marjoram, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Add the bread and mushroom mixture to the custard; toss. Let sit f or 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, to saturate the bread. Gently stir in the cheese.
Brush a 2-qt. (or 9x13 inch) baking dish evenly with the remaining 2 tsp. butter. Pour the bread mixture into the baking dish, distributing the ingredients evenly. Bake in the hot oven until lightly browned and firm, 40-45 minutes. (Alternatively, butter 8 1-cup ramekins and divide the bread mixture among them. Bake until lightly browned and firm, 30-35 minutes.)