Bread pudding is one of my favorite throw-together, quick and easy recipes. If you have at least these three items on hand, you can make the base pudding: bread (preferably day old and dry), eggs, and milk or heavy cream. It’s also a great go-to because it works for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. It just depends on the extra ingredients you throw in: sweet for breakfast or dessert, savory for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Plus, prep time is ten minutes or less. How great and versatile is that?

For this version of bread pudding, I had a ton of strawberries on hand because they were on sale at the grocery store, and needed to use them up, so I just threw them in the mix. I had also picked up a gorgeous and aromatic loaf of French bread (the smell of good bread is heaven to me) and let it sit out for a day to get a bit stale (not moldy, there’s a difference) so it wouldn’t get too mushy in the liquid egg/milk mixture. Thus, strawberry bread pudding was born.

I wanted a garnish or topping for my bread pudding, so, thinking about what I had in my pantry, I decided to top it with a brown sugar “caramel” sauce. (I swear, I’m like the Iron Chef of cleaning out the refrigerator and pantry.) This sauce takes just two ingredients, butter and brown sugar, and cooks in just minutes on the stove top while your bread pudding bakes away in the oven. The actual bread pudding just has a hint of sweetness, so this sauce complements it by adding an extra kick of sugar (if you’re into that).

For a sweet bread pudding, use the following base recipe; for savory, omit the sugar, vanilla, and spices. Then get creative with your additions: chocolate chips, fruit, liqueurs (for sweet); pre-cooked sausage, fresh herbs, vegetables (for savory). I hope you’re inspired now, so get baking and bon appetit!

Strawberry Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce
(makes one 8×8 square baking dish, 8-10 servings)

Strawberry Bread Pudding:
4 eggs
2 cups milk (or half milk, half heavy cream)
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or complementing flavor of your choice)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
4 cups crusty, day-old bread (I used a 12 ounce French loaf), cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup (or more) fresh or frozen (thawed) strawberries, sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, sugars, extract, and spices until blended.
2. Put bread pieces into a large bowl; pour egg/milk custard mixture over the bread, tossing to combine (use your hands- free tools). Let sit for a few minutes to soak in.
3. Evenly fold in the strawberries and pour the mixture into the pre-greased baking dish.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until raised and puffy. Insert a toothpick into the center and if it comes out fairly clean, it’s done. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Caramel Sauce:
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup of brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar)

1. Put butter in a small pan or sauce pan over medium heat and let it melt.
2. Add the brown sugar and stir until it’s combined. Lower heat a bit, stir constantly, and let it slightly simmer.
3. When the sugar is completely dissolved and it’s of sauce consistency (about 5 minutes), remove from heat. Serve drizzled over the warm bread pudding.

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