Sorghum Syrup Bread Pudding

Bread pudding it quite literally a combination of two of my favorite things: bread and dessert. I like to make it for dinner guests because with minimal labor and a loaf of stale bread (or cinnamon rolls, croissants, etc) an elegant and damn impressive dessert is only around an hour of bake time away. This means I get an hour to drink and visit with my guests before dessert! You could alternatively make the pudding in advance and then reheat it in the oven while you prep the sauce, but I rarely have the forethought for that.

I have made several variations on the basic pudding including adding fresh fruits into the pan with the bread before pouring the custard, tweaking the recipe with orange or lemon zest, or by adding toasted almonds or pecans. In the past I have substituted some of the sugar in my recipe with honey, but I had never all-out replaced the sweetener until I got my hands on some sorghum syrup made locally here in Memphis, Tennessee from my friends at the Bring It Food Hub. My first thought was to use it in the place of sugar in a bread pudding. My second thought was to candy some pecans with it, and my third was to make sorghum sweetened whipped cream. I tried all three, and then I tried combining them all, and let me tell you I was NOT disappointed.

Although I was born and raised in Tennessee, I honestly knew nothing about sorghum syrup except that it is one of those classic Southern things that I missed out on because my parents were Yankees. I knew people ate it on biscuits with butter, but that is about all I knew it was good for, so I did a little research. As it turns out, sorghum is grown and harvested as a grain, and fall into the “ancient grass/grains” category. It is a drought tolerant crop that was initially brought to the Americas via the Atlantic slave trade from Africa.  Sorghum syrup is made from a variety called “sweet sorghum” that is grown for its cane. The cane stalks are pressed and the resulting juice is cooked down and processed like maple syrup to become a thick, dark, viscous syrup. Sorghum syrup is commonly referred to as “sorghum molasses” but this is a misnomer because molasses is a byproduct of the cane-sugar refining process, where as sorghum syrup is a pure distillation of sorghum-cane juice, and it contains no molasses whatsoever. I assume this nick-name comes from the visual similarities between the two traditionally Southern sweeteners but I personally hate the comparison because in my opinion the taste of molasses it quite awful on its own, while the flavor of sorghum syrup is sweet and pleasant.

When I tasted the sorghum syrup I found it to be sweet but not sickly sweet the way maple syrup or corn syrup tastes sweet. There is a depth of flavor that evolves in your mouth as the thick viscous syrup melts on your tongue. The flavor goes from sweet to earthy and mineral, ending with an umami-like richness. I definitely don’t hate it. In fact, I love connecting with flavors that are classically Southern that I missed out on during my childhood.

My step-mother is from a Southern family and she grew up in Memphis. By the time she married my father I was 17 and almost out of the house, so I didn’t grow to appreciate her Southern culinary traditions until more recently. My step-mother was the first person to serve me a bread pudding. She is also the first person to serve me a hot banana pudding (because once the custard is cooked, why wait?). These Southern desserts were revolutionary for me. The recipes use such simple and and affordable ingredients that you usually already have them on hand (like milk, eggs, sugar, and butter). These recipes take such simple things and turn them into something extraordinary.

To say that bread pudding is my go-to dessert would be an understatement.  It is not only a fantastic use of dry bread, it is also the perfect vehicle for a variety of fruit and boozy caramel-y sauces. The flavor possibilities are practically limitless, especially if you consider going the savory route. The first time I made bread pudding I followed the Tartine recipe exactly. Once I had made it following a recipe I realized that like quiche, as long as you understand the method you can suit the custard to your tastes and available ingredients.

First of all, you need some bread. The better the bread, the better the pudding, so I would recommend using something on the enriched end of the bread spectrum like challah or brioche. I have made this recipe twice now with Peter Reinhart’s “Portuguese Sweet Bread” which is a recipe that is the grandfather of what is known as “Hawaiian Bread”. It is absolutely rich and sweet and holds up particularly well to this custard.

The second thing you need to do is figure out your custard. It was simple for me to make a sorghum syrup sweetened pudding because the relative sweetness of sorghum is a bit higher per volume than sugar or honey. This means that you can use a little less syrup to replace a slightly larger quantity of sugar. I like to top my bread pudding with a boozy buttery caramel sauce that is over-the-top sweet, so I usually go easy on the amount of sugar added to the custard. In this case I replaced all of the sugar in the custard with sorghum syrup, and reduced the amount slightly.  I tasted the custard before baking and it was sweet enough that I decided not to add any extra sugar.

Sorghum Sweetened Bread Pudding
(Pudding recipe adapted from Liz Prueitt’s book Tartine)
Preheat your oven to 350°f and prepare a greased 9×5″ loaf pan.
16 oz (1 lb) Day-Old Bread (I used a loaf of home-made Portuguese Sweet Bread, but any kind will do.)
3 oz (1/4 C + 2 Tbsp) Sorghum Syrup
4 Eggs
16 oz (2 C) Whole Milk
1/2 oz (1 Tbsp) Vanilla Extract
*Optional* 1/2 oz (1 Tbsp) Pecan Liqueur (or Amaretto) 
*Optional Lemon or Orange Zest to taste*
1/8 tsp Fine Sea Salt 
4 oz (1/2 C) Unsalted Butter 
1/4 C Brown Sugar, “Packed” 
2 oz Heavy Cream
2 oz Sorghum Syrup
1-2 oz Pecan Liqueur (Or Amaretto) 
Pinch Salt
Cut the bread into large cubes. If your bread is not day-old and stale, simply toast the cubed bread in the oven while it preheats for about 10 minutes. Assemble your bread cubes into the loaf pan fitting snugly but not so tight that the bread is being squished, and set aside.
Whisk the eggs and sorghum syrup together, then whisk in the rest of the ingredients. (You could also put all the ingredients into a blender and blend until just combined if you prefer.)
Pour the liquid custard over the bread cubes slowly, filling as up the pan as much as possible. Let the bread soak for about 10 minutes, and it if has absorbed all of the custard you poured in, and you have some remaining, top it off with as much more of the liquid as possible.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil (to keep the top from drying out) and put the pan onto a sheet tray. Slide it into the preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes and then remove and uncover. Check the done-ness of the pudding by sliding a knife into the center and pushing apart the bread cubes. If there is still liquid at the bottom, recover and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes. When the majority of the custard has at the bottom has solidified, but is still jiggly, the pudding is done baking and will continue to set up as it cools.
While the pudding is cooling, make the sauce.
In a small saucepan, heat the butter and brown sugar on low until melted and slowly increase the heat to boiling. Add in the cream, sorghum syrup, liqueur, and salt and whisk until smooth. (You can omit the liqueur if you don’t like a boozy sauce, or you can add a shot of whiskey along with the liqueur if you really like a boozy sauce.)
Cook for about 1 minute and then pull off of the heat to cool. Pour over the top of the pudding, and serve with Sorghum Candied Pecans and Sorghum Sweetened Whipped Cream (recipes follow).
Sorghum Candied Pecans
3 oz (3/4 C) Pecan Halves (about 2 handfuls)
1 oz (2 Tbsp) Sorghum Syrup 
1 oz (2 Tbsp) Brown Sugar
1 oz (2 Tbsp) Water
Flake Sea Salt, to taste
In a small saucepan combine the water, sorghum syrup, and brown sugar. Whisk over low heat until melted. Add in the pecans and increase the heat to medium, or until the mixture boils. Stirring frequently, cook until all of the water has evaporated out and the pecans start to stick to each other while stirring. Quickly remove from the heat and sprinkle with flake sea salt while still in the warm pan. Stir and turn the pan out onto a silicone baking sheet or a piece of parchment paper. Sprinkle with more sea salt if desired. Use to garnish once cooled.
Sorghum Sweetened Whipped Cream
8 oz (1 C) Heavy Whipping Cream 
1 oz (2 Tbsp) Sorghum Syrup
In order to make the best whipped cream possible your cream, bowl, and beaters must be cold. Put a deep metal bowl and your whisk or beaters attachments into the fridge for about 10 minutes. Once chilled, pour the sorghum syrup into the bowl and about 2 Tbsp of the cream, and beat together to combine. Stop your mixer and add in the rest of the cream, and whip on high until you get stiff peaks when you pull out your beaters. Do not over-whip, as the cream can separate. Taste your whipped cream, and if it is not sweet enough for your liking, you can add a little powdered sugar and whisk to combine. I personally prefer a less sweet whipped cream to compliment this sweet saucy pudding.


All Photos by Simon Hua, 2017


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