June 6, 2007 - 9:00 pm
How popular is bread pudding on Las Vegas buffets?
"We run bread pudding seven days a week," said Richard Cino, executive chef at Sam’s Town.
"Every day, lunch and dinner," said Wade Daughters, executive chef at Main Street Station.
"It’s very popular," said Frederic Robert, executive pastry chef at Wynn Las Vegas.
"Very," said Brenda Hitchins, corporate executive pastry chef for Station Casinos.
And why would that be? This time, we’ll save you the echoes and condense the universal response to two words: comfort food.
"It’s just something people grew up with, and they gravitate toward it," Hitchins said. "I think the flavors and the textures in the mouth just make you feel like it’s what Grandma or Mom used to make."
There’s another factor that makes bread pudding beloved not only of buffet customers but also buffet chefs and food and beverage directors: In keeping with its origins, bread pudding is an effective way to put leftovers to good use by combining various ingredients into something that’s much more than the sum of its parts.
And those leftovers extend far beyond plain ol’ bread. Cino said the bread pudding on Sam’s Town’s Firelight Buffet might be apricot, banana, peach, coconut — peach-coconut is particularly popular — or chocolate.
"Anything we don’t want to serve to our guests" — for example, bananas that are just a little too ripe — "goes into our bread pudding," he added.
Even other types of breads, from egg bread to day-old Danish and doughnuts.
For the egg bread that makes up the bulk of Sam’s Town’s bread pudding, Cino uses the Texas toast that is the base for the buffet’s French toast. The buffet also offers sauces on the side, such as vanilla, champagne, caramel, butterscotch and the crowd favorite bourbon sauce, Cino said.
Variations abound from chef to chef, but there are a few basic rules.
"Only a white bread; never a sourdough or rye," Hitchins said. "You can use croissant or Danish dough but not muffins; they just get too crumbly and mooshy. The drier the better, because then it absorbs and it’s not so wet when it’s baked.
"You can use fruits, that’s where the chefs can get creative. White chocolate, chocolate chips, vanilla, cherry filling, apple filling — the sky’s the limit as far as what flavor you want to go with."
Daughters said he uses a "standard cinnamon custard base. Some raisins are added. We use a variety of flavored pastries to make ours. We use doughnuts, we use Danish, we use croissants, we use biscuits. We specifically order enough on a daily basis to have enough to make bread pudding.
"It has a unique texture, ours does. It’s a firmer texture. It’s not runny like some of them are."
Ah, but moistness is part of the appeal of the bread pudding on the Wynn Las Vegas buffet, said Robert, who describes his as "very moist, a little crispy on the top."
The Wynn bread pudding is said to be based on the recipe of Steve Wynn’s mother; there’s that homey appeal.
"That recipes goes back many, many years," said Amy Rossetti, senior public relations manager for food and beverage. "I think Fred put his twist on it."
"I use the rest of the croissants and some brioche, something more sweet," he said. "And I keep it a long, long, long time in the milk before I bake it in the oven. I put some golden raisins, some apricots — something just to be more elegant, more sweet when you eat it." The result is said to be the favorite of Elaine Wynn.
But while bread pudding has a lofty role as one of the most popular buffet desserts, it’s not the only popular buffet dessert.
"Right next to the bread pudding is a cobbler of the day," Cino said. "And we’ve got the standard run-of-the-mill desserts: cheesecake, chocolate cake, pies — fruit- and cream-filled. Senior citizens love that our sugar-free station is just as big as our nonsugar-free station."
"You have to have something chocolate," Daughters said. "You have to have ice cream these days. You have to have assorted pies. You have to have carrot cake."
"Carrot cake, strawberry shortcake — everybody loves the strawberries," Robert said. "Ice cream; every ice cream is homemade. Mango sorbet is the most popular. And chocolate cookies. Peanut butter cookies."
"Most popular would be eclairs," Hitchins said. "And then cheesecake, and then our fudge cake. And then it peters off from there to the cream pies and sometimes fruit pies. At Red Rock and Santa Fe it’s our gelato; at Sunset it’s our ice cream. Ice cream is always the number one favorite American dessert."
"Hard-pack ice cream," Cino agreed. But even that comes back to bread pudding.
"One of the best things in the world," he said, "is that nice warm bread pudding and then they take it over to the ice-cream station and get a nice scoop of vanilla or butter-pecan ice cream."
1 quart half-and-half
4 whole eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 cup raisins
About 4 pounds of bread, predominantly egg bread
Fruit, to taste
Butter a casserole dish. Mix all ingredients, making sure bread is well soaked (for about 20 minutes, especially if the bread is hard and stale) so that the flavors intermingle. Mixture should be "custardy, but not too thick."
Add any kind of fruit desired — bananas, apricots, peaches or blueberries — or chocolate.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes.
— Recipe from Richard Cino, executive chef, Sam’s Town
1 quart half-and-half
8 ounces sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 pounds of assorted pastries, broken up
Mix together eggs, half-and-half, sugar and cinnamon. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick spray and fill with broken pastries. Pour egg mixture over pastry mixture and press like a sponge to soak up mixture.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
— Recipe from Ward Daughters, executive chef, Main Street Station
BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING
1 loaf stale brioche, or 10 croissants
Raisins, to taste
Dates or dried apricots, to taste
Dried figs, to taste
Lemon zest, to taste
9 egg yolks
5 1/4 ounces sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
Remove the crust from the brioche and cut into large cubes, or cut croissants into large cubes. Chop the dried fruit, if necessary.
Whisk egg yolks and sugar until the mixture becomes pale and creamy. Mix milk and cream. Split the vanilla bean and scrape it into the mixture. Bring to a boil and pour into the creamed eggs and sugar. Strain.
Dip bread cubes into the batter. Using a buttered mold, begin filling with bread cubes, alternating with dried fruit until mold is filled. Pour batter generously over mixture. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for about 40 minutes, checking doneness by pricking with the tip of a knife.
Cool and refrigerate finished pudding. Slice into good-sized portions. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and caramelize with a kitchen torch. Serve each serving with Creme Anglaise and a fruit kebab.
— Recipe from Frederic Robert, executive pastry chef, Wynn Las Vegas