Poached dried apricots is my favorite candy, probably because of the way it makes my kitchen smell and the way it recalls a warmer day in June. As much as I love bleak January and the bowls of citrus on my counter, today I craved the sweet tang of stone fruit. Placing its flavor in a bread pudding is the perfect way to blur the line between winter coziness and California sunshine (which I can experience now that I've left SF).
This recipe is a variation of one that appears in the Chez Panisse Cafe cookbook. If I was in the city I'd use brioche or some Acme "peasant"-type bread, but since I'm in the sticks it's supermarket challah. It's delicious either way.
Apricot Bread Pudding
1 cup mix of chopped dried apricots, currants, and golden raisins
1-1/4 cups sugar, divided
7 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
4 cups half-and-half
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/8tsp nutmeg 1 tbl brandy 1 pound brioche, pain-de-mie or good day-old white bread, cut into cubes 2 tablespoons butter, melted 2 tablespoons brown sugar
In a small saucepan, simmer the apricots in 1 cup water and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Poach the fruit until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain the fruit, saving the liquid, and set the fruit aside to cool. Return the poaching liquid to the saucepan and add the remaining 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Boil this mixture, and when it begins to brown, swirl the pan so that it caramelizes evenly. Cook to a medium amber color. Very carefully pour the hot caramel into a 2-quart gratin dish or divide it evenly among 6 small ramekins. Cool.
Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl. Slowly add 1/3 cup sugar and mix well. Whisk in the half-and-half . Add the orange zest, salt, vanilla and almond extracts, nutmeg and brandy. Gently fold in the poached apricots and the bread cubes. Transfer the pudding mixture to the gratin dish or ramekins. Let rest at least 1 hour or refrigerate overnight. When ready to bake, pour melted butter over the top of the pudding and sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake until nicely browned and puffy, about 55 minutes.