Back when I was working at Windows on the World, general manager Alan Lewis, never know for his diplomatic ways, walked into the pastry shop one day and said, “Why don’t we have a [expletive] bread pudding on the lunch menu?” After a failed attempt by the assistant pastry chef, I bought a copy of James Beard’s American Cookery. Next morning we tried his recipe for bread and butter pudding from the Coach House, which happened to be right across the street from my first apartment in New York City. We cut into one as soon as they came out of the oven and there was a thick layer of custard topped with a thin layer of buttery toasted bread. This excellent bread and butter pudding is loosely adapted from James Beard’s recipe. At the Coach House, this was always served with a raspberry sauce, but I think it’s best plain.

Makes about 6 servings

3 cups whole milk

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 vanilla bean, split

5 large eggs

4 large egg yolks

1 baguette, sliced 1/4-inch thick

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

One 8-cup oval gratin dish, buttered and set in a larger pan

  1. Set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 325˚F.
  2. Whisk the milk, cream, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan; add the vanilla bean and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  3. Whisk the eggs and yolks just to break them up in a large bowl.
  4. Whisk the boiled mixture into the eggs a little at a time. Pout it back into the pan, quickly rinse and dry the bowl, and pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer back into the bowl.
  5. Dip a piece of bread into the butter and arrange it, buttered side up, at one end of the baking dish. Continue with the remaining pieces of bread, overlapping them slightly, to fill the dish.
  6. Skim any foam from the surface of the custard and pour it over the bread in the baking dish—the bread will float to the surface of the custard.
  7. Carefully place the pan containing the baking dish into the oven and quickly add about 3 cups of hot water to the larger pan. Bake until the bread is deep golden and the custard has set, about 45 minutes. Test the custard in the center of the pudding with the point of a small paring knife—the knife should emerge moist but clean.
  8. Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven without splashing water into the pudding and lift the baking dish out to a rack. Cool the pudding to room temperature and serve the day it is baked. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers and bring to room temperature before serving again.