in which we momentarily retreat to the comfort kitchen as the world wears us ragged, and sometimes our sphere of true influence has shrunken to a concentrated radius of one (maybe two on a good day…)…
the leftover challah called to me, as it so often does. every friday the braided loaf of eggy dough finds its way to our shabbat table, and every morning thereafter the mostly untouched loaf (for we tear off only a few shabbat chunks on most friday nights) whispers louder and louder from the basket where it idles in quasi-retirement.
it begs to be rescued from its shoved-aside status, to be transformed in miraculous ways. bread pudding, most often, is the solution.
this week, once i plunked the getting-staler challah onto the cutting board (my tangible reminder to do something with it) my getting-taller-by-the-hour almost-senior in high school chimed in. “oh, mom, could you make it with peaches and blueberries this time? remember you said you would?”
this was not such a radical advance, this seasonal iteration of the bread-egg-and-milk puddingy pablum. but it was a certain departure from the same-old, same-old in which i chop up apples, throw in handfuls of shriveled-up raisins or cranberries, await cloud-like perfection. this called for summery attention to be paid, called for a trip to the produce bin where i found white-fleshed peaches in all their colorless glory, and blueberries by the bushel-load.
wasn’t long till i was sinking into the familiar rhythm of this recipe i know by heart (though for good measure i nearly always pull mark bittman off the shelf — or, specifically, his “how to cook anything” bright-yellow-covered cookery volume).
once i sliced into the peaches, though, my grandma entered the room. there she was, in pure imagined vapors, standing just behind my shoulder, urging me to reach for the brown-sugar canister, where i would partake of one of my grandma’s signature summery moves: douse the sliced, moist peaches in spoonfuls of deep-brown granular sweetness, allow the peachy juices to swirl with the sugar; tuck aside while golden-hued syrup emerges, the taste of summer defined.
and that was precisely the moment i realized that this comfort food for my sweet boy was just as much comfort for me in the making. there i was alone in my kitchen — me and my bread and my cream and my summery peaches — when all of a sudden i was visited by my long-gone grandma, i was swooped back in time and in space to her cincinnati kitchen in the ivy-covered brick house as sturdy and ample as was my grandma.
i was, for one sweet interval, far far from the news of the day, far from the grown-up worries that some days so weigh me down. it was just me and days-old bread, and the alchemy of sugar and peach. who knew such potency lay just beneath the fuzzy-fleshed skin of the fruit?
it’s the one room where this summer i’ve found a joy that might make me hum. that and the porch where i read.
should you want to play along, here’s my roadmap to summery joy — the blueberry-peach bread-pudding rendition thereof….
teddy’s bread pudding, the peachy summer edition*
- 3 cups milk (or cream)
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, more for greasing pan
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
- Pinch salt
- ½ loaf sweet egg bread like challah or brioche, torn into 2-inch cubes (about 5 to 6 cups)
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 3 peaches, sliced
- 3 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 cup blueberries
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Over low heat in a small saucepan, warm milk, butter, 1/2-cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and salt. Continue cooking just until butter melts. Meanwhile, butter a 4-to-6-cup baking dish and tear the bread into bite-sized bits. Place the bread in baking dish.
- Slice peaches into separate medium-sized mixing bowl; stir in brown sugar. Set aside (wherein magic ensues, and syrup emerges). Rinse blueberries, and allow to drain.
- Once peaches are bathing in their brown-sugary juices (anywhere from five to 10 to even 15 minutes should do it), dump fruits atop bread chunks. Stir gently.
- Pour hot milk over bread, peaches, and blueberries. Let it sit for a few minutes, poking down the occasional chunk of bread that rises to the top. Beat the eggs briefly, and stir them into bread and fruit mixture. Mix together remaining cinnamon and sugar, and sprinkle over the top. Set the baking dish in a larger baking pan, and pour hot water into the pan, to within about an inch of the top of the baking dish, effectively making a bath for your bake.
- Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until custard is set but still a little wobbly and edges of bread have browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.
inhale the endless comfort vapors….
*thank you, mark bittman, for your endless guidance and your recipe on much-splattered page 662.
what foods bring you as much comfort in the making as in the consuming?