I know it’s pretty bold to call this the best bread pudding, but let me tell you what’s in it, and I bet you’ll agree this is one fine bread pudding recipe!
Even though bread pudding is pretty much any kind of bread soaked in custard and then baked, there are some things about this particular one that make it The Best.
This is an upside-down dessert that ends up with a crown of whole pecans in a brown sugar and butter mixture. Spiced custard poured over cinnamon swirl bread completes the recipe, and I’ll show you how to make it all as well as offer variations and substitutions.
If you’re a bread pudding lover, this post is for you, friends. And you may also want to check out my apple butter bread pudding. That one is delicious too.
For ease of browsing, you can find all my custard recipes in one place. Thanks so much for being here. Let’s get to it!
You can watch my best bread pudding recipe web story here.
Why You Need to Make This Bread Pudding
Subjectively (and even objectively), this really is the best bread pudding.
The ratio of custard to bread is perfect so that it completely soaks into the bread without leaving any dry bits.
Have you ever had a bread pudding where there is too much custard? So there is a layer of plain custard underneath the chunks of soaked bread?
There is a time and a place for smooth custard (like my creme brulee cheesecake), but a bread pudding should be all about the texture of the bread and custard together. No dry bread and no solid custard.
What Sets This Apart?
I think what sets this homey dessert apart from other bread pudding recipes–even other ones on my site like my chocolate glazed donut bread pudding–is its balance.
It’s not too sweet, and the baking spice, which I absolutely love, is perfect in it.
If you like cinnamon in your baked goods, you definitely owe it to yourself to give Baking Spice a try.
- The perfect blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice
- No one spice outshines the others
- Brings added dimension to fruit pies, gingerbread, fruitcake, and more
Another characteristic of this custardy, bready dessert that makes it a bit unique is that it’s an “upside-down” bread pudding, meaning it’s turned out onto a platter for serving so that the bottom becomes the top.
While you can do this with pretty much any bread pudding, as long as it is firm enough, this guy gets a topping that almost tastes like pecan pie.
When you turn the pudding out, the butter and brown sugar in the topping sauces the pudding while the toasted pecans add visual appeal and a mellow, nutty flavor.
How to Make
In this section, I’ll walk you through everything you need to make this dessert, show you how to assemble it, give you some variations and substitution ideas as well as tips to make sure your guy really is the best.
If you don’t need or want this information, feel free to skip straight to the recipe.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Here are all the ingredients you need. I will list substitutions where I can.
- Brown sugar: Used in both the pecan topping and the custard, I use dark brown sugar for the most flavor
- Butter: Butter carries flavor and the water in it helps to dissolve the sugar in the topping so that it makes a nice sauce once the pudding is turned out.
- Baking Spice: This has fast become my favorite spice for sweet baked goods. I even put it in my coffee. It contains: Saigon cinnamon, Indonesian cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, and ginger. You can substitute any combination of these spices depending on your preference
- salt: Brings out all the flavor and snaps the spice into focus
- pecans: If you want to have a pretty design on top of your pudding, place pecan halves individually in a pattern. Otherwise, just use toasted pieces. The pecans are optional, and you can also substitute walnuts if you prefer
- Cinnamon swirl bread: I used my homemade cinnamon swirl bread, adapting it with baking spice in the dough and swirl and dried cherries and chocolate chips in the dough. Substitute any cinnamon raisin bread or your favorite bread enriched with nuts, chocolate, and/or dried fruit. You can also use day-old French or Italian bread
- Whole milk: I used a mixture of 3 parts whole milk to 1 part heavy cream. You can use all whole milk or substitute half and half for the milk and cream
- Heavy cream: Not strictly necessary as you can make the custard will all-milk Heavy cream adds a bit more richness to the custard
- Sugar: Use a mixture of granulated and brown sugar in the custard for sweetness and texture
- Eggs: Eggs help to thicken and set the custard
- Egg yolks: Add a touch more richness. As well, they add subtle flavor and body. You can also just use 4 whole eggs and leave the yolks out entirely
- Vanilla: Rounds out the flavor and introduces some floral and woody notes
- The perfect blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice
- No one spice outshines the others
- Brings added dimension to fruit pies, gingerbread, fruitcake, and more
You’ll make this bread pudding in 3 “phases:”
- The upside down “topping”
- Preparing the bread and filling the pan
- Making the custard and baking
First, make the topping:
Put your brown sugar, salt, and baking spice in a medium bowl.
Melt the butter, pour it over, and mix evenly.
Dump the topping in your baking pan and pat it in evenly with an offset spatula.
Arrange your toasted nuts, tops sides down, on top of the brown sugar mixture
Jenni Says: Save a bowl by melting the butter and then dumping the rest of the topping ingredients on top. I never think of these things as I’m working, so hopefully I’m saving you a step.
Next, get the bread ready:
You’ll need about 1 1/2 pounds of bread. You can see I used my cinnamon swirl bread shaped as cinnamon rolls.
Cut up the bread in 1″ to 1 1/2″ chunks.
Then just pack the bread in right on top of the pecan-topped brown sugar layer. Place those first pieces pretty carefully so you don’t end up dislodging the pecans.
You could cut off the crusts, but the whole point of making bread pudding is to not waste anything. So as far as I’m concerned, the crusts stay on.
Jenni Says: One or two-day-old bread works best for bread pudding. Since it has had a chance to dry out some, it can soak up more custard. If your bread is fresh, cube it and put it in a 200F oven for an hour or so to dry it.
Make the custard then bake:
Whisk all the custard ingredients together in a large bowl.
Strain the mixture to get out any eggy bits and to make sure there are no “clumps” of egg white.
Whisk again for a moment to make sure the batter is evenly combined.
Gradually pour custard evenly over the bread, making sure that it soaks in well. Press the bread down into the custard with an offset spatula.
Once your pan is full of custard, carefully cover it tightly with aluminum foil, put it on a baking pan to avoid spills, and refrigerate for 4 hours and up to 24.
A good 12 hours or overnight works just fine, though.
Bake the Bread Pudding
After its rest in the fridge, it’s time to bake the world’s best bread pudding.
I put a square of parchment, folded to fit, on top of the pudding as a buffer between the aluminum foil and dessert.
To keep from having to bake in a water bath, I baked at 300F. Here’s the baking schedule:
- 1 hour at 300F, covered with foil
- 30-45 minutes uncovered at 300F, or until the internal temperature in the center of the pudding is about 165F
- Broil the top (which will be the bottom) of the pudding until deep golden brown. This will give the base a bit more structure and help it hold up when you turn it out. It also adds some extra caramelized flavor
Once the pudding is finished, run a thin knife or small spatula around the inside of the pan to make sure there is no sticking.
Let the pudding cool for about 20-30 minutes. Then place a serving platter on top of the baking pan.
Wearing oven mitts or using towels, carefull grasp the whole contraption and quickly flip over.
Pull the pan off and away from the pudding. Scrape any topping that may still be in the pan out and spread on top of the dessert.
Jenni Says: If you don’t have an instant read thermometer, a good way to tell that your bread pudding is done is that it will rise up (souffle) in the oven when the eggs are completely cooked. Still, please invest in a good instant read to say goodbye to guesswork like that.
The easiesst way to vary bread pudding is by changing the bread you use.
The crumb of the bread has a subtle yet noticeable effect on the final texture, and honestly, all bread pudding is delicious.
Some bread choices that you may not have thought of:
- English muffins
- Hawaiian bread (see my Hawaiian rolls baked French toast)
- Cinnamon rolls
- Irish soda bread
- Babka, including my chocolate pecan babka
- Spongecake or angel food cake
If you can find a chocolate bread, or if you make one, consider using that as your bread component.
You can also add any mix-ins you like.
My bread had dried cherries and chocolate chips in it already, but you can certainly tuck some of each in between your cubes of bread.
Equipment You May Need
You don’t need a lot of specialized equipment to make this dessert, but you do want a pan that will hold everything.
I used my 8″ square baking pan from USA Pans. I love this pan, and since it is super non-stick, I didn’t bother lining it with parchment. I have an 8″ and a 9″ square pan and I use both often.
Otherwise, you’ll need a couple of large bowls, a good whisk, a bread knife to cut your bread into chunks, and a small offset spatula.
I do love a small offset spatula for all sorts of jobs in the kitchen, but they really shine in spreading layers into a confined space like a pan with high sides. I have 3 small ones and a couple of larger ones. So useful!
Tips and Tricks for Success
Take the time to put your filled pan on a cookie sheet or half sheet pan to catch any potential spills, either in tridge or the oven when baking.
Bread Pudding Q & A
Bread pudding has the most flavor and best texture when at room temperature or slightly warm. While you can eat it cold, the flavors become muted at refrigerator temperatures.
It needs to be kept in the fridge because of the eggs and dairy, not to mention all the moisture. Once cool, get any leftovers in the fridge as soon as possible and reheat pieces as needed.
Best served warm, bread pudding keeps well in the fridge for up to five days. It reheats well either in the microwave for a few seconds or in a low oven.
Serve warm, maybe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream.
It’s also nice with some powdered sugar sifted over the top. Because this is a very moist dessert, regular powdered sugar will dissolve very quickly, so consider getting some “sugar snow” (powdered dextrose like I use in my Lemon Coolers).
Dextrose doesn’t melt like regular sugar does, so it will stay white and lovely on top of your pudding for days.
Other Bread Pudding and Custard Recipes
If you are a fan of a custardy dessert, you’ll want to check out my butterscotch bread pudding I made with angel food cake.
If you’d like something a little more chocolatey, dark chocolate pudding is a decadent and very easy custard to make right on the stove top.
Or consider a chocolate or coffee panna cotta. While not technically a custard because it doesn’t contain eggs, panna cotta still gives you that smooth, creamy mouthfeel.
If you have any questions about this or any other recipe or post on the site, there are a few ways to get in touch.
You can leave a comment on the post, and I’ll be back in touch within 24 hours.
If your question is more pressing, don’t hesitate to email me, and I should be back in touch within 4 hours (unless I’m asleep) or often much more quickly than that.
A Note About Measurements
This is the kitchen scale that I recommend for home cooks and bakers. Using a scale will help you be more accurate and consistent in your measurements.
It is lightweight, easy to store, accurate, and very easy to use.
Don't let its small price and small size fool you. The Escali Primo is an accurate and easy-to-use food scale that I have used for years. It's easy to store, easy to use, has a tare function, and easily switches between grams and ounces/pounds for accurate measurements.
I hope you’ve learned something from this post or that you’ve decided to make the recipe.
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The Best Bread Pudding
The best bread pudding starts with brown sugar, butter, and pecans in the baking pan. Top that with cut up cinnamon swirl bread soaked in a warmly-spiced custard and baked to perfection. After baking, turn the pudding out onto a serving platter so the brown sugar pecan mixture is on top. This is one magical dessert you can enjoy any time to turn any meal into a celebration.
For the Upside Down Topping
- 198 grams (7 oz or about 1 cup) dark brown sugar
- 57 grams (2 oz or 1/2 stick) melted butter
- pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons baking spice (see post for substitutions)
- 113 grams (4 oz or about a cup) pecan halves, lightly toasted
For the Custard
- 680 grams (24 oz or 3 cups) whole milk
- 226 grams (8 oz or 1 cup) heavy cream
- 85 grams (3 oz or a scant 1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 85 grams (3 oz or a lightly packed 1/2 cup) dark brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 Tablespoon baking spice
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (I use Morton's)
To Finish and Bake
- 680 grams (1 1/2 pounds) cinnamon swirl bread (see post for substitutions)
- Get out an 8" or 9" square baking pan. If it is not nonstick, fold a piece of parchment to fit into the bottom and up two opposite sides. Set aside.
- Toast your pecans. Spread them out on a small pan and toast in the toaster oven or in the oven at 350F until fragrant. Be careful not to burn them. Once toasted, slide them onto a plate to cool down.
- Cut the cinnamon swirl bread into 1 1/2" chunks. Set aside.
Mix Up the Topping
- In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, melted butter, salt, and spice. Mix until evenly moistened.
- Dump the brown sugar mixture into your prepared pan and press evenly into the pan.
- Arrange the pecans in a decorative pattern on top of the brown sugar, top sides down.
Make the Custard
- In a large bowl, whisk all custard ingredients together very well.
- Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and whisk again for a moment.
Filling the Pan
- Fit the chunks of bread into the pan, trying to fill it completely without leaving any gaps. If using an 8" pan, this will fill it all the way to the top and maybe even a tiny bit over. Worry not.
- Place the bread-filled pan on a half sheet pan to catch any drips.
- Pour custard evenly over the bread in four additions, allowing ten minutes or so between additions so the custard can soak into the bread.
- Carefully press the bread down into the custard with a small offset spatula.
- Cover the pudding with foil and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.
- Heat the oven to 300F/150C and place a rack in the center of the oven.
- Remove the foil and place a square of parchment on top of the pudding. Replace the foil.
- Place the pudding, still on the half-sheet pan, into the oven and bake for an hour.
- After an hour, remove the foil and parchment and continue baking until the pudding is puffed up all over and the internal temperature in the center is 165F/74C, about30-45 minutes more, depending on your oven. Do not bake in a hotter oven, because you risk curdling your pudding. That results in an unpleasant texture, so take time to bake low and slow.
- Once the pudding is done, turn off the oven and turn your broiler on high. Broil until the top of the pudding is deep golden brown.
- Remove the pudding from the oven and allow it to cool on a cooling rack for 20-30 minutes.
Turning the Pudding Out
- Run a thin, offset spatula or small knife around the inside of the pan to make sure the pudding didn't stick.
- Place a serving platter on top of the pan, and wearing oven mitts or using thick kitchen towels, carefully flip the pan and serving plate so the plate is on the bottom for serving. NOTE: If you lined your pan with parchment, make sure the two ends that hangover the edges of the pan are not folded in on top of the pudding.
- Carefully remove the baking pan, scraping out any pecans or topping that may have stuck in the bottom of the pan and spreading it on top of your pudding.
- Serve warm, and enoy.
What is Baking Spice
Baking Spice is a proprietary blend of warm spices produced and sold by Savory Spice Shop.
The blend includes two types of cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, and ginger
For best results, bake in an 8" or 9" square pan.
If all you have are round pans, use a 9" x 2" cake pan or a 9" springform pan or pushpan with the bottom wrapped in foil.
Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to five days. Reheat to serve.
Q & A
Should I serve this warm? Bread pudding has the most flavor and best texture when at room temperature or slightly warm. While you can eat it cold, the flavors become muted at refrigerator temperatures.
How long will this keep in the fridge? Best served warm, bread pudding keeps well in the fridge for up to five days. It reheats well either in the microwave for a few seconds or in a low oven.
Can I leave bread pudding out? It needs to be kept in the fridge because of the eggs and dairy, not to mention all the moisture. Once cool, get any leftovers in the fridge as soon as possible and reheat pieces as needed.
Nutrition InformationYield 16 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 373Total Fat 17gSaturated Fat 7gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 8gCholesterol 87mgSodium 107mgCarbohydrates 62gFiber 23gSugar 27gProtein 6g
The stated nutritional information is provided as a courtesy. It is calculated through third party software and is intended as a guideline only.
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Thanks so much for spending some time with me today.
I hope you enjoy the bread pudding. After making it, I bet you’ll think it’s the best bread pudding, too.
Take care, and have a lovely day.
What Others Are Saying...
Shan Brown says
What exactly is baking spice??
Jennifer Field says
Hi Shan. In the section of the post about ingredients and substitutions, I tell you exactly what is in Baking Spice. There is also a prominent link in the post. But I will link in the ingredient list as well for people who don’t care to read the whole post.