Bread pudding that's peachy proves best in bake-off

October 20, 2004|By ROB KASPER

BREAD PUDDING IS one of those dishes that starts out being functional - a good way to use day-old bread - and ends up being delectable - a dessert crowds crave.

Russell L. Jackson found that out recently. Jackson makes a mean bread pudding. It is moist without being gummy; sweet without being sugary and is topped with a refreshing peach glaze.

Jackson used to bake the bread pudding about once a week at three Baltimore shelters, the Baltimore Station on West Street, Bright Hope House on Baker Street and the Job and Housing Recovery center in Walbrook Junction, where he is food services manager.

Two weeks ago, Jackson's bread pudding was judged the best among 16 entries sent in by the cooks in kitchens supplied by the Maryland Food Bank. Since then, Jackson has been flooded with requests for the dessert. "Now everybody wants me to make it all the time," Jackson told me. He feeds about 200 people a day at the three locations.

Bill Ewing, director of the Maryland Food Bank, the nonprofit that distributes donated supplies to 900 food programs throughout the state, said the bread pudding bake-off was dreamed up by food-bank staff members who noted that many area kitchens have excess supplies of bread. There was also no shortage of opinions in these kitchens, Ewing said, about who made the best bread pudding.

So invitations to contestants were issued, and on a sunny autumn afternoon two weeks ago, plates of pudding were served to members of a tasting panel who sat at tables on the loading dock to the food bank's Franklintown Road warehouse in West Baltimore.

Judging was a two-step operation. The initial entries were pared to a handful of finalists by a panel of tasters drawn from the food-bank staff and supervised by nutritionist Jodi Yard. Ewing and I then tasted the finalists and rated them on taste, aroma and texture.

When Yard tallied the score sheets, Jackson's bread pudding was declared the winner. A small crowd had gathered on the loading dock to watch the proceedings. Once the winner was announced, a few converged on the winning entry and a took a few bites, just to be sure.

Jackson told me a few days after the contest that he already had been known in some sections of town as "the bread pudding man."

Raised in the Park Heights section of the city, Jackson, 44, said he attended Patterson High School, worked for a time in the kitchen of the downtown Baltimore Hilton hotel and joined a Job Corps program in Keystone, Pa., where he picked up kitchen skills.

Starting in the early 1980s he worked in a variety of restaurant and institutional kitchens around Baltimore and supplemented his income by selling small servings of bread pudding at local festivals.

"I would set up at AFRAM, Artscape, the Stone Soul Picnic," he said, and offer servings of bread pudding formed into 6-inch pie shells for $3 each. "I didn't have a name for my stand," he said. "People just called me the `bread pudding man.' "

Along the way, Jackson polished the recipe. For example, he said, the idea of topping the pudding with a peach glaze came from a chef, Bobby White, whom Jackson worked with at the Holiday Inn at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

In a brief telephone interview, Jackson shared a few of his bread-pudding secrets. The key to keeping the pudding moist, he said, is to use a mixture of heavy cream and buttermilk.

And he said while some recipes call for using stale white bread, he does not.

"I use old raisin bread," he said. "It already has raisins in it and it blends right in without making the pudding too sweet."

Russell Jackson's Bread Pudding

Serves 10 to 12

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup whole milk

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 pound butter, melted

6 eggs

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon vanilla

2-3 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup raisins

2 pounds raisin bread, torn into pieces

1 can yellow cling peaches, sliced

1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch

In a bowl, combine heavy cream, whole milk, buttermilk, melted butter, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, granulated sugar, brown sugar and raisins.

In a deep 8-inch-by-10-inch pan or a shallow 10-inch-by-15- inch pan, place torn bread pieces. Next, pour the combined ingredients from your bowl over the bread.

Bake for 45 minutes to 55 minutes at 325 degrees. While pudding is baking, prepare peach-sauce topping. Pour peaches into a saucepan and bring to a boil, adding cornstarch as needed to thicken sauce.

When bread pudding is almost done, remove it from oven, and pour peach sauce over it, then put it back in oven to bake for another 5 minutes.

Per serving: 449 calories; 11 grams protein; 18 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 63 grams carbohydrate; 4 grams fiber; 141 milligrams cholesterol; 417 milligrams sodium

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