I can gleefully spend all day baking, but I’m an incredibly lazy cook. In my kitchen, savories don’t get much more fancy than fried rice, huevos rancheros, or spaghetti and salad. It doesn’t help that there’s an array of fantastic and inexpensive take-out food available just footsteps from here. One of my favorites is a little Indian cafe where the curries are succulent, the buttery rice is speckled with saffron, and the tandoor-blistered naan bread is pillowy, warm, and as big as a record album.
It’s a rare occasion, but every once in awhile, there’s leftover naan in my house. It didn’t take me long to turn it into a rich, dense sweet treat — one that I like to serve for brunch on the weekend or dessert after a light meal (or even instead of meal!). Like many bread pudding recipes, it requires 8 hours of soaking, plus 1.5 to 2 hours in the oven, so be sure to make time for that, whether overnight or for a day. The recipe looks long, but it’s really quite easy — and its decadent, flavorful ingredients make it worth every step.
Layered Naan Bread Pudding (makes an 8.5” square pan, 9-12 slices)
For the bread pudding:
• 4 teaspoons ground cardamom
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• ½ cup brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 2 cups heavy whipping cream (plus more for caramel sauce; see below)
• 2 cups milk
• 2 tablespoons softened butter
• 14 ounces naan bread (fresh or day old), from 2-4 naan, depending on size
• 4.5 ounces (about 2 cups) unsweetened dried apple rings (soft; not apple chips)
• ½ cup raisins
• 2 eggs
• 4 egg yolks
• finely grated zest of one orange
• scant ¼ cup turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Place cardamom and cinnamon in a small to medium saucepan over low heat. Toast spices in pan, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, whisk in the brown sugar, salt, cream, and milk. Return to medium heat, whisking regularly and watching closely for about 3-5 minutes, until mixture begins to boil and suddenly bubbles up the sides of the pan. At this moment, remove from heat and cover. Stir occasionally during its steeping time (while assembling the layers; see below).
Generously butter a deep 8 to 9” inch pan. (Mine is 8.5” square and glass. Not to worry if yours is slightly different; bread pudding is pretty forgiving, and the baking time can easily be adjusted.) Set pan aside. Over a cutting board, liberally stab each naan with a paring knife (don’t miss the outer edges), on both sides, to create extra holes. Then cut each naan into 10-12 triangles like a pizza (I find kitchen shears easiest); set aside. Separate any stuck-together apple rings, and discard any hard pieces such as stems or cores. Cut any large rings into halves or thirds for bite-sized ease; set aside.
Place a layer of naan triangles in the bottom of the buttered pan, fitting them together to make a single level of bread. (Tip: If your naan has a darker, more toasted side, it’s best to place this side UP for the bottom layer only, so that the toasted side does not get even more toasted by facing down against the bottom of the pan.) Top with an even layer of apple rings, then sprinkle with half the raisins. Repeat with another layer of naan, apples and raisins, and then a final layer of naan. Set aside.
In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks until even. Gradually pour 1 cup of the warm milk mixture into the eggs, and immediately whisk vigorously until smooth. Add the rest of the milk mixture and mix well. Add the orange zest and stir until evenly dispersed. Slowly pour all of the custard over the layered naan, pressing top down gently to ensure it gets soaked. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar if using. Cover with foil and place in fridge for 8 to 10 hours. (You may opt to make the caramel sauce now – it lasts well — or while the pudding bakes. Recipe follows.)
When ready to bake, keep pudding covered with foil, and preheat the oven to 350 F. For a softer, more custardy bread pudding that takes a bit longer to bake, use a water bath: place the pan of bread pudding inside a larger pan, and the fill larger pan with warm to hot water until it reaches halfway up the pan, then bake. For a somewhat firmer texture with more solid edges and a slightly shorter baking time, skip the water bath. (Tip: If not using a water bath, make sure your oven rack is not too low, so that the bottom of the bread pudding stays soft. The lower the rack, the firmer the bottom.)
More details: With the water bath, the result is creamy edges and a treat soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, whereas no water bath will yield soft but firm slices that can even be picked up and bitten with no utensils (fork optional!). Both versions have their merits, but I admit I prefer the water bath since I don’t mind the extra fuss and am a custard junkie.
In my pans, the pudding ultimately takes an hour and 25 minutes to bake without the water bath, or an hour and 50 minutes with it. No matter your pans, it’s best to bake it for an hour, then rotate it 180 degrees and carefully peel back foil to check how well the custard has set. Push top layer down gently with a heatproof spoon or spatula if more soaking seems needed. Re-cover and continue baking in 10-15 minute increments. When you can tell it’s almost ready, remove the foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking.
Pudding is done when the custard in the center is no longer liquidy; I recommend checking the center with a paring knife and prying it gently to look at the inner consistency. Remove from oven. Just when cool enough to handle, slice into 9-12 squares and serve warm, drizzled with caramel sauce. If not eating it all right away, store covered at room temperature for up to 24 hours, or covered in the fridge for up to 48 hours, being sure to reheat before serving.
For the cardamom caramel sauce:
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 3 tablespoons water
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream
In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cardamom and salt. Add the water and stir gently to combine. Place over medium heat and cook without stirring (you may gently swirl the pan once or twice, being careful not let mixture splash up the sides of the pan). Cook until the liquid is clear, bubbling vigorously, and not at all grainy. Increase heat and boil for 3-5 minutes, staying nearby, and remove from heat just when liquid becomes a dark amber color. (Watch closely; it can burn quickly.) With pan away from heat, slowly pour in the cream. It will bubble and sputter when added, and may initially form a solid caramel ball – but not to worry: this will cook away. Return to low-medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for about 3-5 minutes, until caramel has become frothy and thick (Tip: check its thickness it by dripping a dot on a cool plate).
With its rich layers of creamy, spiced deliciousness, naan bread pudding is a hearty treat that will fill you with scrumptious satisfaction. The cardamom throughout is a nod to the Indian cuisine behind it, as the blankets of custard-soaked fruit and naan are a decadent offering to all who devour it. Whether served as a late breakfast, a robust dessert, or an unorthodox meal, this treat bursts with luscious pleasure in every oozing bite.
Maybe next time… Not a raisin fan? Sub in dark chocolate chips, sultanas, tart dried cranberries, or even cacao nibs if you’d like a crunchy texture. Likewise, dried pears or peaches would work nicely in place of the apples. Fresh fruit is also an option: try fresh blueberries, raspberries, or banana slices for a winning flavor combo. A sprinkle of your favorite chopped nuts might also be nice on top. I like mine with a steaming cup of coffee or, better yet, spiced chai. A melty scoop of ice cream close by is not a bad idea, either.