Skip to main content

Apple Bread Pudding is Fall's Coziest Dessert

Granny Smith apples bring tangy freshness to a bread pudding that’s rich with creamy custard—and Americana.
Published Aug. 8, 2022

When Mary Todd Lincoln moved into the White House in 1861, she brought her favorite cookbook, Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery (1853) by Eliza Leslie, with her. The First Lady was an accomplished cook and a fervent believer in the “nourishing” power of sugar, and Abraham Lincoln was quite fond of apples—the President was known to devour the fruit, core and all, with a glass of cold milk as a light lunch—so she likely treated him to the book’s apple bread pudding.

Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter

The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.

Along with Pippins or Bellflowers (tart apple varieties), Leslie called for bread crumbs, brown sugar, butter, and lemon and recommended a “cream-sauce” (dairy simmered with sugar, nutmeg, and bitter almonds) to finish the dessert. Today’s recipes have evolved into casseroles of cubed bread soaked in custard, with flavor permutations to satisfy any whim—from chocolate to rum-raisin to pumpkin—but the apple version endures. It’s unsurprising given the appeal of sweet-tart fruit combined with silky cream-and-egg-drenched bread. 

Doubling Up on Apple Flavor

Not only does our bread pudding feature chunks of sweet‑tart Granny Smiths, but the custard is also infused with the essence of apple: We parcook the fruit, strain off its juice, and incorporate it into the custard before combining the custard with the bread.

Challah was a good starting point for my take on the dessert: The golden, eggy loaf is a test kitchen go-to for bread pudding because of its richness and ability to hold its shape even after being immersed in liquid. Oven-toasting 1/2-inch cubes dried out the bread via evaporation, ensuring that it would drink up every last drop of custard. (Stale bread wouldn’t work as well because its firmness is due to retrogradation: starch molecules slowly rearranging themselves into a crystalline structure that traps moisture already in the bread and limits its ability to absorb more.)

A crisp butter-and-sugar-coated bread topping caps the rich, silky pudding.

Speaking of the custard: I used a fairly standard blend of milk, heavy cream, and two eggs sweetened with brown sugar and spiced with cinnamon as well as (in a nod to Leslie’s recipe) a dash of nutmeg.

To pack in a half pound of apples, I parcooked chunks of Granny Smiths in a skillet with water, butter, and brown sugar until they were just tender, at which point I strained off the juice. The liquid was bursting with buttery, appley flavor, so I stirred it into the custard to imbue it with deep fruitiness. 

The apples and spiced pudding complemented each other beautifully, but the soft casserole begged for a little crunch. For my next batch, I crushed a portion of the toasted bread into bits and mixed it with sugar and butter to create a quasi streusel for the top. The mixture crisped in the oven, creating a sugary, craggy contrast to the velvety interior.

Brimming with bright and tender apples; soft, creamy, custard-soaked challah, fragrant with autumnal spices; and a sweet topping, this was an exceptional apple bread pudding. Presidential, even.

0 Comments

Try All-Access Membership to Unlock the Comments
Don't miss the conversation. Our test cooks and editors jump in to answer your questions, and our members are curious, opinionated, and respectful.
Membership includes instant access to everything on our sites:
  • 10,000+ foolproof recipes and why they work
  • Taste Tests of supermarket ingredients
  • Equipment Reviews save you money and time
  • Videos including full episodes and clips
  • Live Q&A with Test Kitchen experts
Start Free Trial
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.