An unusual choice creates a flavorful surprise.
By J.M. HIRSCH
CONCORD, N.H. -- What do you do with the crusts from nearly two dozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
As my wife and I learned following a party for 20 toddlers for whom we dutifully removed the crusts from as many sandwiches, not much. I refrigerated the remnants, but not even my voracious 2-year-old could pack them in before they went stale.
Which got me thinking. I'd been trying without much luck for about a year to make a good bread pudding, which essentially is a heap of stale bread tossed with beaten eggs, spices and sugar, then baked to a cake-like consistency.
Most of mine were coming out gummy, or had little flavor. I'd been aiming for something reminiscent of French toast, a little crispy, a little tender, moderate sweetness, and maybe just a little something unexpected on the tongue. It wasn't working.
But those crusts gave me an idea: What if instead of stale bread, the base of the pudding was chopped-up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
I suddenly had visions of warm, gooey peanut butter inside bread that was at once cakey and eggy and crispy. And drizzled with maple syrup. Or dusted with powdered sugar. Or both.
I started by making some new sandwiches. I cut each into 16 bite-size pieces and piled them into a shallow baking dish. I then topped those with a simple mix of milk, eggs and pumpkin pie spices and popped it in the oven.
To finish it, I scattered the pudding with sugar, then broiled it for just a minute to a crisp the top and caramelize the sugar. For variety, you also could sprinkle dried fruit or chocolate chips into the pudding.
It was delicious. The peanut butter and jam melted into the bread, infusing the pudding with flavor. It's perfect for brunch, or a cool fall night when warm comfort foods are needed.
And maybe the next time my home is invaded by an army of tots, I'll try doing it with their rejected sandwich crusts.
PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY BREAD PUDDING
8 slices whole wheat sandwich bread
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup fruit jam or jelly
1/2 cup chocolate chips, raisins or dried cherries (optional)
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon can be substituted)
2 tablespoons sugar
Maple syrup, to serve
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a 9x9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
Using the bread, peanut butter and jam, make four sandwiches. Cut each into quarters, then cut each quarter into four more pieces. Arrange the pieces in the baking pan. They should be slightly jumbled. If using, scatter the chocolate chips or dried fruit among the sandwich pieces.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and pumpkin pie spices. Pour the egg mixture over the sandwich quarters. Press the bread gently with a fork to help it absorb the liquid.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until egg is nearly set. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the top of the pudding with the sugar. Increase the oven to broil and cook until the sugar on top begins to caramelize, about 1 minute. Watch it closely to prevent burning. Serve drizzled with maple syrup.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
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