Nick Roumel: Leek Bread Pudding

 Today I thought I’d go where no man had ever gone before. Or at least no lawyer who writes a food column on the side. As we endure this long winter, what better way to stay sane than by eating mass quantities of comfort food? And what better comfort food than bread, cheese, eggs, and heavy cream?

Think of this as eating solid fondue with a fork. I think it would be excellent. My thought is to vary the recipe by adding roughly hewn chunks of a savory sausage, and then to round out the meal with a nice, bright salad with endive and frisee, to make you feel light enough to float away after the meal.
A couple of notes on the recipe. For the bread, the idea is to use something where the crusts are easy to slice away. A “Pullman loaf” was widely utilized by the Pullman Railway cars, which had minimal kitchen space, and enabled three long, perfectly rectangular loaves of bread to stack up on top of each other in the space of two loaves with rounded tops. Today’s sandwich loaves derive from that.
Additionally, got to love any recipe that begins with a direction to let the “dirt fall to the bottom” when washing the leeks. Sarcasm aside – Thomas Keller is the owner of the famed French Laundry in the Napa Valley. “Ad Hoc” is his “comfort food” restaurant which originally opened as a temporary pop-up, but became so popular that it is now a permanent fixture. Keller was once named “America’s Best Chef” by Time Magazine, so if he tells you to wash the dirt off the leeks, you’d darn well better do it!
Leek Bread Pudding 
Adapted from “Ad Hoc at Home” (Artisan Books, 2009), by Thomas Keller with Dave Cruz 
Serves 12 as a side dish, 6-8 as a main course
• 2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices leeks (white and light green parts only)
• Dash of Kosher salt
• 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
• Dash of freshly ground black pepper
• 12 cups 1-inch cubes crustless brioche or Pullman sandwich loaf
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
• 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
• 3 large eggs
• 3 cups whole milk
• 3 cups whipping cream
• Dash of freshly grated nutmeg
• 1 cup shredded Comté or Emmentaler cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Put leeks in a large bowl of tepid water and swish so that dirt falls to the bottom. Set a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, lift leeks from water, drain, and add to pan. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. 
As leeks begin to soften, lower heat to medium-low. Stir in butter to emulsify, and season with pepper to taste. Cover pan with parchment and cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until leeks are very soft, 30-35 minutes. If at any point the butter breaks or looks oily, stir in about a tablespoon of water to re-emulsify. 
Meanwhile, spread bread on a baking sheet and toast in oven for about 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through until dry and pale gold. Transfer to a large bowl. Leave oven on. Add leeks to the bread and toss well, then add chives and thyme.
Lightly whisk eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread half the leeks and bread in the pan and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Scatter remaining leeks and croutons over and top with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough custard mixture to cover bread and press gently so it soaks in the milk. Soak for about 15 minutes.
Add remaining custard, allowing some soaked cubes of bread to protrude. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top and sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling.
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at

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