You might say that bread puddings are as old as ovens and were invented not just to use up stale loaves, but to fill bellies. By the time modern cooks wove them into their repertoires, they were eggier. Some are sweet with chocolate and other dessert-table favorites, others savory, presented on the brunch table with all kinds of vegetables and cheeses. They're ideal on the spread that follows the day-long Yom Kippur fast at the Jewish New Year, a meal that tends to be more like brunch (bagels and lox are standard fare), than like dinner. Even with a loaf of challah or brioche, a pound of mushrooms, and a pound of ricotta, this bread pudding isn't particularly rich or heavy, which these puddings can be. Layered in a large baking dish and left overnight to absorb the eggs, the pudding bakes and puffs up, its top a lovely golden brown, with eggy bread cubes, sauteed button mushrooms, sharp cheddar, and pockets of herb ricotta tucked inside. You may need to invent an occasion, just to have an excuse to make it.
|Butter (for the dish)|
|1||loaf (1 pound) challah, brioche, or brioche rolls, cut into 1-inch pieces|
|1||pound button mushrooms, thinly sliced|
|Salt and pepper, to taste|
|2||tablespoons chopped fresh thyme|
|1½||cups whole milk|
|1||pound whole-milk ricotta|
|3||tablespoons chopped fresh parsley|
|1½||cups grated sharp cheddar|
1. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch (3 quart) baking dish. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Spread the bread out on the baking sheet to dry a little while you prepare the mushrooms.
3. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the 2 tablespoons butter. Add the mushrooms with plenty of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms release their liquid. Turn up the heat and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes more, or until the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms look dry. Set aside to cool.
4. Stir 1 tablespoon of the thyme into the mushrooms.
5. In a bowl, whisk the eggs to scramble them. Whisk in the milk with salt and pepper.
6. In another bowl with a spoon, stir the ricotta to lighten it. Stir in all but 1 teaspoon of the remaining thyme with the parsley.
7. Lay half the bread cubes in the baking dish in one layer. Sprinkle with the mushrooms. Dot the mixture with spoonfuls of ricotta. Add the cheddar, then top with the remaining bread cubes, setting them in one layer. Pour the egg mixture over the dish evenly so all the bread is soaked.
8. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for up to 2 days. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking; discard the plastic wrap.
9. Set the oven at 400 degrees. If the pudding comes to the top of the dish, set the dish on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
10. Bake the pudding for 30 minutes, or until the top is starting to brown. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees and continue baking for 20 minutes, or until the pudding puffs and is golden on top. (Total baking time is 50 minutes.) Sprinkle the remaining thyme on top. Use a large spoon to serve the pudding from the baking dish.