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Butternut Squash and Bacon Bread Pudding

Butternut Squash and Bacon Bread Pudding
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         Last October, when I was out in California visiting my son Alex’s family, I picked up a freebie publication called California Home Design.  In it was an article about a wine making family in Healdsburg who, with the help of local chef, put together one of those classic wine country dinners.  Held in the middle of a vineyard, these parties are wildly photogenic as you can see in this photo from the magazine.  And the menus tend to contain things that this Easterner has never heard of before or at least in combinations that I’ve never even imagined.  California Cuisine, as defined by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Michael McCarty of Michael’s in Santa Monica, emphasizes freshly prepared local ingredients incorporated into recipes that are often a fusion of cooking styles as diverse as the population of the Golden state itself.  Among the items on the menu at the Healdsburg dinner was a very different take on a Bread Pudding.  In fact, the ingredient list made me wonder whether this was savory or sweet, a dessert or a side dish.   So I set out to make it and to figure out when to serve it once I had.

Eish es Serny, the Middle Eastern Bread Pudding
Om Ali, Egypt’s Bread Pudding 
India’s Shahi Tukra
Bread Pudding is as old as time itself.  For most of human history, wasting food was unthinkable so recipes for stale bread were commonplace.   Stale bread was used to make stuffings, to thicken soups, and as edible food containers. (Think of present day bread bowls filled with soup, to say nothing of carbohydrates.)  The Romans used eggs as a binder but Custard, an essential part of bread pudding, wasn’t invented until the Middle Ages.  Early bread puddings were made simply for milk, stale bread, fat and, sometimes, a little sweetener.  But the Romans were hardly alone in their bread pudding making.  The Egyptians had Om Ali, made from bread, milk or cream, raisins and almonds.  In the Middle East, Eish es Serny combined dried bread, honey, rosewater and caramel while in India Shahi Tukra was made from bread, ghee (clarified butter) saffron, sugar, rosewater and almonds.  Lately, bread pudding seems to be everywhere in recipes both sweet and savory.  But nothing I’d seen recently came close to the one served at the Wine Country dinner.
Our Butternut Squash and Bacon
Bread Pudding 
         Bread Puddings are not at all difficult to make.  You can use virtually any day old bread, float it in a custard of egg yolks and milk, either season it or sugar it, add in almost anything your could imagine—raisins, nuts, fruits or vegetables–bake and serve.  We’ve already shared a fantastic recipe for a Crabmeat Bread Pudding https://chewingthefat.us.com/2012/02/buttery-crab-bread-pudding-from-river.htmland one made with Tomatoes https://chewingthefat.us.com/2010/08/tomato-bread-pudding.html.  But today’s recipe is completely unique.  Bacon has reached a point of obsession in this country and the generally held belief is that it makes absolutely everything taste better.  So in goes the bacon as a crispy counterpoint to the sweet squash and the layers of puff pastry created by using Croissants as the stale bread element.  Once the bread pudding has been baked and cooled to room temperature, hot caramel sauce is poured over it.  And hot caramel sauce, like bacon, never hurt anything it was ever poured over.  Ahah! So this is a dessert!  Well, maybe, but in the picture of it in California Home Design, the square of Bread Pudding is pictured with a large strip of bacon and the caramel sauce is in one those minimalist platings that make the whole dish look more like art that something you would actually eat.  But if you don’t eat it, you’re missing something completely unique and intriguing.  The original recipe called for Blue Hubbard Squash.  That’s not a squash that’s readily available in the East.  The California cook allowed as how you could substitute any fall squash and in the East nothing is more ubiquitous than good old Butternut Squash.  Here’s the recipe.

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