I’ve never been a bread pudding person, but I think it’s because the versions I’d tried in the past were almost always very, very heavy. But the concept of custardy baked bread appeals to me on so many levels that I knew it was just a matter of coming up with a lighter and brighter version. The lightness here comes from beaten egg whites that are folded into the bread and custard mixture, giving it a souffléed texture, while the brightness is from lemons—lemon curd, more specifically, which is used also as a sauce for the finished bread pudding. It’s so different from the typical dense, cloying bread puddings I’ve had that it almost feels like a different dessert. Mission accomplished.


DIFFICULTY: 3 (Moderate) | ACTIVE TIME: 1 hour | TOTAL TIME: 4 hours, plus time to cool

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: 8 × 8-inch pan (preferably metal), hand mixer, 13 × 9-inch pan


TOR-What's For Dessert Book cover What's for Dessert Claire Saffitz
  • ¾ cup sugar (5.3 oz / 150g)

  • 5 large egg yolks (2.6 oz / 75g)

  • ¾ cup fresh lemon juice (6 oz / 170g), from about 5 lemons (zest 2 of the lemons before juicing and reserve for assembly)

  • ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher

  • salt or ¼ teaspoon Morton kosher salt

  • 1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz / 113g), cut into ½-inch pieces, chilled

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 1 medium challah (10 oz / 283g), crust removed, cut into ¾-inch cubes (about 8 cups)

  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest, from about 2 lemons

  • ½ cup sugar (3.5 oz / 100g), divided, plus more for sprinkling

  • 2 large eggs (3.5 oz / 100g), at room temperature

  • 2 cups buttermilk (16 oz / 480g), at room temperature

  • 1 cup heavy cream (8.5 oz / 240g), at room temperature

  • Butter for the pan

  • 3 large egg whites (3.7 oz / 105g), at room temperature

  • Pinch of kosher salt

BEAT THE SUGAR AND EGGS FOR THE CURD: In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, vigorously whisk together the sugar and egg yolks, making sure no unincorporated sugar is trapped around the sides, until the mixture is very pale, light in texture, and thick, about 2 minutes.

ADD THE LEMON JUICE AND COOK THE CURD: Slowly stream in the lemon juice, whisking constantly and scraping around the sides, until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the salt. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the curd turns opaque yellow, barely holds the marks of the whisk, and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 7 to 10 minutes (see A Word on Curd, page 70, for a photo of curd coating a spoon—if you want a more precise endpoint, it will read 170°F on an instantread thermometer). Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat.

WHISK I N THE BUTTER AND VANILLA: Whisk the butter into the curd a couple of pieces at a time, waiting for the pieces to disappear before adding more, until all the butter is incorporated and the mixture is smooth.

Whisk in the vanilla. Transfer the curd to an airtight container, press a piece of plastic directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble the bread pudding.

PREHEAT THE OVEN: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

TOAST THE BREAD: Scatter the bread cubes across a large sheet pan in an even layer and toast until the pieces are dry and very light golden brown all over, 12 to 18 minutes, tossing halfway through. Set the pan aside and allow the bread to cool. Turn off the oven.

MAKE THE CUSTARD BASE: In a large bowl, combine the lemon zest and ¼ cup (1.8 oz / 50g) of the sugar and massage the mixture with your fingertips until it’s very fragrant and the zest is distributed throughout the sugar. Add the eggs and whisk vigorously until the mixture is pale and slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly pour in the buttermilk, followed by the heavy cream. Remove the curd from the refrigerator, measure out 1 cup, and whisk it into the custard base until smooth. Keep the remaining curd covered and refrigerated until it’s time to serve.

ADD THE BREAD AND SOAK: Add the toasted bread to the bowl with the custard and use a large flexible spatula to fold the mixture gently but thoroughly until combined. Cover the bowl and set it aside at room temperature until the bread has absorbed most of the custard and the pieces are completely soaked through, about 2 hours, gently folding the mixture once or twice.

PREHEAT THE OVEN AND PREPARE THE PAN: Arrange one oven rack in the center position and one in the uppermost position (ignore this if you have a broiler drawer in the bottom of your oven) and preheat the oven to 325°F.

Brush the bottom and sides of an 8 × 8-inch baking pan, preferably metal, with room temperature butter, then line the bottom and two opposite sides with a piece of parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang. Lightly butter the parchment paper and set the pan aside.

BOIL WATER FOR THE WATER BATH: Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a kettle or in a medium saucepan over high heat.

MEANWHILE, BEAT THE EGG WHITES AND SUGAR: In a separate clean, medium, nonplastic bowl, combine the egg whites and salt and beat with a hand mixer on medium-low speed until the whites are broken up and frothy, about 20 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the whites are foamy and opaque, about 30 seconds, then gradually add the remaining ¼ cup (1.8 oz / 50g) sugar in a slow, steady stream, beating constantly. Once all the sugar is added, continue to beat just until you have dense, glossy egg whites that hold a medium peak (see page 339 for what this stage looks like). Try not to overbeat, or the whites will take on a dry, grainy texture and be difficult to incorporate.

FOLD IN THE EGG WHITES: Uncover the bread mixture and fold it a couple of times with the flexible spatula to loosen. Scrape about one-third of the egg whites into the bread mixture and fold gently to combine (for more on the proper technique, see Folding a Mixture, page 351). Fold in the remaining egg whites in two additions, using broad, decisive strokes and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl.

BAKE THE BREAD PUDDING IN A WATER BATH: Scrape the bread mixture into the prepared pan and work it to the sides and into the corners in an even layer, then smooth the top. Place the pan inside a 13 × 9-inch pan and carefully pour the boiling water into the bottom of the larger pan, avoiding any splashing, until it reaches about 1 inch up the sides of the smaller pan.

Cover the entire 13 × 9-inch pan with a piece of foil, crimping it tightly to seal, and carefully transfer the pan to the center oven rack. Bake until the entire surface of the bread pudding is puffed and the center springs back when pressed (it will be pushing up against the foil), 55 to 65 minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and uncover. Leave the bread pudding in the water bath.

BROIL THE TOP: Preheat the broiler. Lightly sprinkle the surface of the bread pudding with more sugar, then place under the broiler, still inside the water bath, and broil until the sugar on the surface is caramelized in leopard-like spots, keeping a close watch and rotating carefully as needed to promote even caramelization, about 3 minutes. Remove the bread pudding from the oven, carefully lift it out of the water bath, and set aside to cool to room temperature.

SERVE: Remove the remaining lemon curd from the refrigerator and stir to loosen its consistency. Slice the bread pudding into a 3-by-3 grid, forming 9 squares. Serve the squares topped with dollops of the lemon curd. 

Can I . . .

Make it ahead? Yes. The bread pudding, tightly wrapped and refrigerated, will keep for up to 3 days, but it’s best served on the day it’s made. Before serving, let the cold bread pudding come to room temperature or cover it with foil and heat in a 325°F oven just until it’s warm. The reserved lemon curd, refrigerated in an airtight nonmetal container, will keep for 1 week.

Use a stand mixer instead of a hand mixer? Yes. Combine the egg whites and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, then proceed with the recipe as written, keeping in mind that the egg whites will whip faster and be easier to overbeat in the stand mixer.

 “What’s For Dessert?” Copyright © 2022 by Claire Saffitz. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Jenny Huang. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.”

When you shop using our links, we earn a small commission. It’s a great way to support public media at no extra cost to you!