Well, it’s that time of year again, the time when I throw all caution to the wind and offer you something a little richer, a little more decadent, a little more sinfully delicious than my usual fare. I consider Thanksgiving to be a time to relax and enjoy cooking for and eating with family and friends. And because I’m often put into the position of feeling like a “vegan ambassador”–someone whose job it is to spread the glory of veganism to everyone she meets–I try to come up with something that everybody will enjoy, not just those of us who are used to following a low-fat, low-sugar whole foods diet. That’s why some of my holiday recipes, such as Double-Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake or Vegan Green Bean Casserole, contain ingredients I wouldn’t normally use. I don’t advocate eating these delicious dishes every day, but I think they can be very special as a part of a celebration and feast once a year.
For this year’s holiday extravagance, I decided to commit culinary heresy and take my husband D’s signature dessert, the New Orlean’s style bread pudding he learned to make years ago, and give it a fat-free makeover. It was a huge challenge. The original recipe for just the sauce contained a stick of butter, a cup of sugar, and a cup of rum. D, of course, had veganized it with margarine and cut down the amount, but it’s still one of the richest desserts ever to come out of my kitchen. And it’s the dessert that my daughter now asks for on her birthday. So I knew I had better do it justice, but I decided to go a step further and make it…unrecognizable.
The original was, essentially, French bread soaked in sugar, margarine, and alcohol. I decided to replace the margarine with pumpkin and pumpkin spices, replace the 3 cups of sugar with a lot less maple syrup and just a tad of organic dark brown sugar, and reduce the alcohol to just a taste. I held my breath as my family members sampled it and gave their verdicts: “It’s different but delicious.” And then they proceeded to eat it all up!
If you like pumpkin pie and bread pudding, I think you’ll love this combination. It’s full of the aromatic flavors of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, combined with the rich, amber taste of maple syrup. It’s just sweet enough without being too sweet, just decadent enough without being loaded with fat. You can serve it to your family and not feel guilty when they eat the entire pan.
- 1 16 ounce loaf French bread
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 1/2 cup soymilk (or other non-dairy milk), vanilla or plain
- 1 cup pumpkin (canned or cooked and pureed)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer, packed (may substitute 2 1/2 tsp. starch (tapioca, potato, or corn starch) plus 1/2 tsp. baking powder)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 1/2 cup apple cider or juice
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon apple juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup brandy, rum, or bourbon (add to taste)
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
- Cut or tear the bread into bite-sized pieces. If the bread seems moist or dense, spread it out on a cookie sheet and toast it for a few minutes in the oven. Place it in a large bowl and add the raisins.
- Put the non-dairy milk into the blender along with the pumpkin, maple syrup, sugar, Ener-G, vanilla, spices, and salt. Blend until smooth. Pour it over the bread, using a silicone spatula to get out every drop. Stir well to completely coat all of the bread. Set aside to soak for a few minutes while you ready the pan and preheat the oven.
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8-inch baking dish with parchment paper or oil lightly. Pour the bread pudding into the pan in an even layer. Bake for about 45 minutes or until top is set and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.
- While the pudding is cooling make the sauce. Place the apple cider and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer, stirring often, until reduced to about half.
- Carefully add the cornstarch mixture, bring to a boil, and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture is no longer cloudy and thickens slightly. Remove from heat and add the brandy or other spirits a little at a time, to taste. Stir in the nuts. Poke a few holes in the top of the bread pudding with a toothpick, and pour the sauce over the top, distributing nuts evenly. Cut into squares and serve warm.
I know someone is going to ask about making this gluten-free, but I just don’t know. The French bread I used was quite sturdy and dense, and it’s the gluten in the bread that keeps it from dissolving into mush. I fear that gluten-free bread might not work, but since I don’t have any experience with gluten-free bread, I can’t say for sure. It could be that breaking down into mush isn’t such a bad thing in a bread pudding, so I will let my gluten-free readers experiment with this and report back.
If you’re planning your holiday meal, start right here with my collection of Thanksgiving recipes.
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