I hesitate to make bread pudding as part of a big holiday meal. It's rather substantial and heavy as a dessert and when you add it to a buffet-style offering, it's almost guaranteed to have your guests undo a notch in their belts. Still, Thanksgiving only comes once a year and is a time to express gratitude for bounty. Plus, there's always stretchy pants.
I went with a pumpkin version of bread pudding as a stand-in for pumpkin pie. No one in my immediate family likes pumpkin pie, including me, so we either skip a pumpkin dessert or I come up with an alternative. Pumpkin praline bread pudding is this year's alternative. The custard is rather thick and doesn't absorb into the bread easily so I would suggest planning ahead so that you give the bread time to soak up the custard, at least an hour or two.
The nice thing about bread pudding is you can make it the day before and serve it room temperature or warmed up slightly. This helps with time management in the rush of Thanksgiving cooking on the big day itself.
This is a very good bread pudding. The pumpkin flavor is present but not overwhelmingly so and pairs well with caramel. The caramel and pecans is what gives this a little extra, worth-pigging-out factor and why I changed my mind about having it as part of our Thanksgiving spread. It's really, really good with the homemade caramel or praline sauce.
Make the sauce at the last minute though as the butter separates when the caramel cools. I would suggest having the warm caramel next to the bread pudding and letting your guests pour it over their portion themselves. Chopped toasted pecans next to the caramel would let them add the finishing touches themselves. And since bread pudding is so heavy, you might want to cut these into small pieces.
Pumpkin praline bread pudding
Adapted from Flavor Mosaic
1 (1-pound) loaf of day-old bread, torn into small pieces (French, Italian or Challah)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans toasted
1. Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray and place torn pieces of bread in the dish.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, half and half, pumpkin, sugar, melted butter, eggs, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice.
3. Slowly pour the batter over the bread pieces in the baking dish, covering them completely. Let stand for at least 1-2 hours.
4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for approximately 1 hour and let cool to lukewarm or room temperature.
5. Right before serving, make the praline sauce: in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the butter, heavy cream and brown sugar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and stir pecans into the cream mixture. (Alternatively, you can leave the pecans out of the sauce and serve it separately to maintain their crunch.) Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes; pour over bread pudding to serve.