Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, so I had to gild the lily by topping the pudding with spiced apples and butter pecans. AMAZING! Naturally, I could have added chunks of apple and pecans to the bread pudding before baking (which is a very fine idea, I must say). But Tom likes his plain, I like mine with nuts only, Jen doesn't like nuts, Cyd likes hers with toppings sometimes, other times, unadorned, and June and Vicky like all the bells and whistles on theirs. So by serving some of the elements of the dessert as condiments, it's easy to please everyone. But the flavors work so well together, I advise you to try them all together in one magical dessert.
Caramel Croissant Pudding with Spiced Apple Compote and Buttered Pecans
(Source: adapted from Nigella Lawson via the Food Network)
Caramel Croissant Pudding:
4 stale croissants
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons bourbon (or rum, or I used 1 tablespoon vanilla)
1 cup whole milk
4 eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Tear the croissants into pieces and put in a greased/sprayed 13x9-inch baking dish. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, and swirl around to help dissolve the sugar before putting the saucepan on medium to high heat. Caramelize the sugar and water mixture by letting it bubble away until it all turns a deep amber color; this will take 3 to 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it, as caramel can quickly burn (for everyone except me whose kitchen defies the laws of physics or chemistry, as it may be).
Take the pan off the heat and add the cream - ignoring all spluttering - followed by the bourbon and milk. Whisk to mix, then still whisking, add the beaten eggs. Pour this quickly over the croissants and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden (this took 30-35 minutes for me). Top with warm spiced apple compote and buttered pecans (recipes follow).
Spiced Apple Compote:
6 tart/cooking apples, peeled, cored, and thickly sliced
3/8 cup apple cider
3/8 cup brown sugar, loosely packed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
Place all ingredients in a saucepan over low heat and cook for 30 minutes or until apples are tender. (May be prepared a day ahead.)
Cook about a cup of whole pecans in two tablespoons of melted butter until just a little browner-looking and a lot toastier-tasting. This takes just a few minutes (a few minutes more than that, and they'll be burned and bitter!), so keep an eye on them and taste as you go to get them to the right stage! ;-) Sprinkle with a bit of salt.
I may not have had my own picture of the final product to share, but here are some snaps from outside my office window at school. Dont'cha wish you were here?