Friday, February 10, 2012

Women Game-Changers in Food - #34 Ella Brennan - Creole Bread Pudding

  Conventional wisdom says, "If there's bread pudding on the menu, order it."  Now that I've made Brennan's Creole Bread Pudding, I know why.  I won't say who it is, but someone in my house is saying, "Please let me stay out of the frig as long as that bread pudding is in there."

Creole Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

For number 34 on Gourmet Live's List of Women Game-Changers in Food, there's the infamous and famous Ella Brennan, New Orleans restauranteur extraordinaire.   Hailed as the most influential person in the American restaurant business ever,

  Ella Brennan, at center, seated with family.  (courtesy Commander's Palace)
... Brennan has made her mark with a series of fresh and innovative concepts: She pioneered the notion of nouvelle Creole cuisine. She elevated the profile of Louisiana cooking throughout the world. She forged a level of service that was the match of any anywhere. And she used her kitchen at Commander's Palace as a kind of de facto New Orleans culinary academy, turning out dozens of the city's finest chefs and thereby enlivening the local food scene beyond measure. (courtesy Elizabeth Mullener, Times-Picayune.)
 Part of a large restaurant family,  Ella Brennan began as a teen in the business with her brother Owen at Brennan's, home of the famous "breakfast at Brennan's."   She went on to travel the world to learn about great food and better service, returning home to put the knowledge to work building one successful restaurant after another.  Not only that, she brought the tourists home with her, putting New Orleans on the map as a center for food and some say the most beautiful restaurant experience available in the United States.  After the family bought The Commander's Palace in 1969, Brennan proceeded to hire and train chefs who went on to be famous in their own right, among them Paul Prodhomme and Emeril Lagasse.  Business woman and lover of perfect meals, she was an expert in the world of food though she never cooked at all.  "I never took to the kitchen," she says.   My thought is she never needed to "take to the kitchen," with the kind of talent she hired.                                           
Order a copy of The Commander's Palace New Orleans Cookbook here.

Famed  food (editor, writer and) restaurant critic Ruth Reichl commented that her first visit to Commander’s Palace combined “upscale fun” with “the most extraordinary service [she]’d ever had in an American restaurant,” service which she credited to Brennan’s exacting standards. (courtesy Encyclopedia of Louisiana)

Read all about The Commander's Palace or make a reservation.  25 cent Martinis if you go!
More info:  read a short biography of Ella Brennan here

Want to try one of the most famous recipes?   Since Ella herself didn't cook much I thought I'd make one of the cornerstones of the Brennan empire-- bread pudding  Here it is:  (Note: Have salad for supper; this is Decadent with a Capital D and worth every calorie.)

Invite friends.  What fun!   This makes a  huge pan of bread pudding.

Creole Bread Pudding
“Much as we all love Commander’s Bread Pudding Soufflé, sometimes plain
Creole Bread Pudding is the most soul-satisfying taste of all. But do it right.
One day, while my mother [Ella Brennan] and I were nibbling on some bread
pudding, I watched her eyebrow go up as she discovered a morsel of dry bread.
I hadn’t soaked thoroughly, a cardinal sin. When pastry chef Tom Robey
walked by, Mom pointed to the dry morsel. She didn’t have to say a word.
Tom shook his head and went off to explain to a protégé how we don’t
rush things at Commander’s. Originally created as a way to utilize day-
old bread, this dessert, along with
pecan pie and crème caramel, is a must
for any New Orleans restaurant.”

Cook's Note:  Make Whiskey Sauce (recipe below) while pudding bakes; it must cool.   Fyi: The Bread Pudding Soufflé is served in ramekins with  meringue and hard sauce.
1 tablespoon butter
12 medium eggs, beaten
3 cups heavy cream (I used half and half  since my arteries were yelling, HELLO?)
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (use
a high-quality extract, not an imitation)
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
*4 ounces day-old French bread, sliced 1 inch thick (I used a lot more bread; see note.)
1 cup raisins
--Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
--Butter a large (11 x 8 1/2 x 3 inches) casserole dish and set aside. (Once in the oven, the casserole will sit inside a large pan. A roasting pan would be good.) Mix the eggs, cream and vanilla in a large bowl, and combine the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl. This helps to evenly dis- tribute the spices. Add the sugar mixture to the egg mixture, and combine thoroughly.
--Place the raisins in the bottom of the buttered casserole, and add the bread slices in a single layer. Gently pour the custard over the bread, making certain that all the bread thoroughly soaks up the custard. [We let ours stand for a while before baking.] (Turn the bread over in the custard to make sure each piece is well-coated.)

--Cover the casserole with foil, place in a large dish (the roasting pan, if that’s what you decided to use) partly filled with hot water, and bake for 2 1/2 hours. Remove the foil, and increase the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. Bake for 1 hour more, or until the pudding is golden brown and slightly firm. Use a spoon to make sure the custard is fully cooked; it should be moist but no longer runny. If you’re unsure whether it’s done, remove it from the oven and let it cool while it remains sitting in the water bath; the carryover effect will keep it cooking.
--Serve slightly warm with whiskey sauce, recipe below (made ahead.)
Whiskey Sauce 
  • 1 cup(s) heavy cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon(s) cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon(s) water
  • 3 tablespoon(s) sugar
  • 1/4 cup(s) bourbon
·           For the whiskey sauce: Place the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Whisk cornstarch and water together, and add to cream while whisking. Bring to a boil. Whisk and let simmer for a few seconds, taking care not to burn the mixture on the bottom. Remove from heat.
Stir in the sugar and bourbon. Taste to make sure the sauce has a thick consistency, a sufficiently sweet taste, and a good bourbon flavor. Cool to room temperature.

*4oz of French bread is a bit less than 1/4 of  the baguette I got from Whole Foods, which seemed like way too little bread to me; it didn't cover half of the bottom of the casserole.  Typo in the recipe?   Wrong kind of bread??   I increased the amount to approximately 12 ounces; my baguette was 15 oz. total.   I don't make bread pudding from a recipe usually; I just combine milk, eggs, and nutmeg and sweeten it to taste--which isn't nearly as much sugar as this recipe calls for.  I did leave the amount of sugar the same in order to try and get a true test of the recipe. It was the right thing to do!

Other bloggers writing about Ella Brennan this week are:

Val - More Than Burnt Toast, Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed, Susan - The Spice Garden, Heather - girlichef, Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney, Jeanette - Healthy Living
Mary - One Perfect Bite, Kathleen - Bake Away with Me, Sue - The View from Great Island Barbara - Movable Feasts , Linda A - There and Back Again, Nancy - Picadillo
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits, Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Annie - Most Lovely Things, Claudia - Journey of an Italian Cook, Alyce - More Time at the Table, Amrita - Beetles Kitchen Escapades

Scroll on over!
If you liked this, you might like:

Sing a new song and make some bread pudding--Two-Dog Kitchen returns next post,


  1. Wow, that's quite a dessert. I might have to skip dinner altogether to justify that one. Your Amaretto Peach bread pudding sounds pretty good, too!

  2. Don't eat dinner; eat this bread pudding. Lord.

  3. Yum! I love this recipe you picked a great one. You cant go wrong with a bread pudding. Thanks for sharing with us.

  4. I think her version of bread pudding is the ultimate - nobody makes bread pudding like a southerner! She is just remarkable - her achievements from an insatiable curiosity and hard work.

  5. I would eat salad every meal for two days just to have a big helping of this. It is so decadent and my mouth is watering at the thought. Delicious choice!

  6. So that Dave and I wouldn't eat the entire pan, I took the leftovers (including the whiskey sauce) to an early-morning meeting. No problem getting rid of it; I think they thought it was a great breakfast!!

  7. Super recipe, Alyce, and I love the whiskey sauce! I better not have that around here though, I'd be picking at it all day long and well into the night.

  8. This was my first choice to make, Alyce but since I'd made a bread pudding just a couple of days before, I picked another one. This bread pudding is absolutely sinful and to die for!

  9. Wow, this bread pudding is a powerhouse. It must be very delicious. I've never tried a whiskey sauce with cream—it's always been a butter version, so I'll have to keep this one in mind.

  10. Unlike other bread puddings, this one has a judicious amount of custard available between pieces of bread and is made with 12 eggs. That's why I suggest it for a meal! Definitely a special occasion otherwise.

  11. I bought french bread and couldn't remember why I did - it was to make this! Looks and sounds so fabulous, I will have to make it this weekend.

  12. This sounds like a reason to celebrate all by itself.

  13. You know; it might be nice for Valentine's Day at that!


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