Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding with warmed Cinnamon Syrup is a great fall dessert that begins with a can of pumpkin and a loaf of Challah bread.
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
Challah is a braided bread that is recognizable for being very large and having a shiny appearance. Challah is symbolic in the Jewish faith in that it refers to a blessing or good deed known as the mitzvah. A portion of the dough is pulled or separated prior to braiding and baking. This piece is a contribution to the Kohen or priest and is a commandment called the hafrashat challah. This bread is special in that it is sanctified in this specific way.
In terms of food and cooking, Challah is renowned for its mildly sweet flavor and for being highly visible right around major Jewish and Christian holidays. Similar to Brioche, but with an eggy and beautifully shiny exterior, Challah is that familiar ‘braided’ bread. It’s enriched, so tends to be a nice evenly chewy bread, and it is PERFECT as the main ingredient in many dishes including bread puddings.
Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding
This easy dessert is going to be the one that will garner the rave reviews, oooh’s, and ahhh’s from your eaters. It is a ‘make ahead and bake later’ for those busy in the kitchen and juggling plans for a crowd.
I refer to this as a pantry bake meaning it’s made with what’s already in my pantry. Pumpkin puree, sugar, pecans or other nuts, dried fruits, and warm spices.
Do You Have What You Need to Bake Up This Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding? Check the List!
- Brown sugar
- Whipping cream
- Ground cinnamon
- Unsalted butter
- 1 loaf Challah bread or a large Panettone
- Large eggs
- Vanilla extract
- Pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling
- Pumpkin pie spice
- Golden raisins
- Whole milk
- Granulated sugar
How This Recipe Came About…
My own grandmother always told me this is the best thing I make. I always worked it into the menu when she came over, so often that it continues to be ‘THE DESSERT’ every year on Christmas Eve for my family.
The biggest investment you will make in the ingredients for this bake will be in both the number of eggs, and the amount of time it takes to find a nice loaf of Challah. Trust me when I tell you that I baked my way through close to eleven different types of bread in this dessert just to be able to say that I narrowed it down to Challah.
That said, if you are absolutely unable to source Challah, you can substitute Panettone bread and simply cut the amount of dried fruit the recipe calls for in half. Panettone for those not in the know, is a rich Italian bread made with eggs, fruit, and butter and is typically eaten at Christmas so finding it should not be the least bit difficult.
Is one bread better than the other? No, I go either or, but specify Challah here because of the sentimentality and connection to my great grandmother, Rosa.
Hence how this recipe ‘came about.’ I’ve always known Challah as I associate it visually with my great grandmother, a Ukranian immigrant who arrived in America in 1908. Rosa is a story for another day…
Isn’t Bread Pudding Dry?
HECK NO! In this method, and regardless of which bread you use, the pumpkin mixture bakes into a sweet, cinnamony custard keeping everything delicate, moist, and luscious.
As if this dessert were not amazing enough on its own, Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding gets topped with a warm cinnamon sauce. I swear to you, this will likely be one of the best things you bake this fall.
What Varieties of Dried Fruits Work Best in Bread Puddings?
Over the decades, I’ve had people ask me to make this recipe because the aroma and taste reminds them of bakes their mom or grandmothers used to make. During the bake, my kitchen becomes a waft of warm cinnamon and sweet vanilla, so I get that associative connection to childhood. But what about the fruits?
Really, go with what fruits resonate with your eaters. They must be dried as they will moisten and swell during the bake so nothing fresh, jarred, or canned. Think dried cherries, apricots, golden raisins, glacé cherries, glacé pineapple, and even toasted coconut chips if you can find them. Oh, and pecans.
Can Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding be Made Ahead?
Yes! And this is a wonderful thing given how busy all of us tend to be in the days leading up to holidays and holiday feasts.
I personally think that this dessert gains something from being assembled and refrigerated ahead of time. Just know that you will be using a 13 x 9-inch baking dish, so assembling in advance means needing space in your fridge. Plan accordingly.
I’ve Heard of Bread Pudding, but Pumpkin Bread Pudding?
Now that the weather has turned a chilly cheek, I like everybody else, am hyper-focused on ‘pumpkin spice.’ There is no better way to shout pumpkin spice from the rooftops than to add pumpkin to a dessert.
Pumpkin, and pumpkin’s besties, some good vanilla, a dash of pumpkin pie spice, and some cinnamon, flavor an already mildly sweet bread like no other. Let’s describe this as ribbons of pumpkin pie swirled around warm French toast.
And while I might be hungry for a slice of pumpkin pie, I don’t always embrace the work that goes into making a pie crust, so a hearty bread pudding can easily take the place of pie and give me the same satisfaction…it’s even better if I’m honest.
How to Make Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding?
As always, gather all of your ingredients and pre-measure everything out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, stopping mid-recipe to hunt down an ingredient is so much more labor intensive. Who needs that?
About an hour before assembling, tear the Challah into varying sizes of between 1-inch and 2-inch pieces. Do this by hand rather than using a knife to cut.
Spread out on a baking sheet or other surface and allow the bread to begin to stale up a bit. The bread needn’t be stale before you begin however it does tend to better ‘drink’ the pumpkin custard mixture when it’s given an hour or so to dry out.
Make a Warm Cinnamon Syrup
Combine brown sugar with some filtered water in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar completely dissolves. Boil gently so as not to burn.
Cook until the syrup reduces to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in both heavy cream and cinnamon and keep warm on the lowest heat setting.
Pro tip: the syrup can be made one day ahead, cooled completely, then covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. To re-warm, remove from refrigeration and pour syrup into a non-stick saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is warmed through.
Assembling the Bread, Fruits and Nutmeats
Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking dish liberally with two tablespoons of unsalted butter. Arrange the torn bread in the baking dish.
Using a 1-cup dry measure, scoop a mixture of the dried and/or glacé fruits and nutmeats and toss together with the torn bread. Ensure the fruits are well distributed.
Make the Pumpkin Custard
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs with heavy cream and whole milk. To the egg mixture add vanilla extract, some canned pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, granulated sugar, and the remaining fruits and nutmeats and whisk thoroughly.
Pour the pumpkin custard over the bread and press the bread gently to submerge momentarily and soak completely. All of the pieces of bread should be soaked.
Let stand for 30 minutes, occasionally pressing the bread pieces into the custard mixture to re-soak. After 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Pro tip: if making ahead, allow to stand for 30 minutes at room temperature pressing the bread pieces into the custard mixture to re-soak every so often. Cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to fit the baking dish. Spray with cooking spray and cover the baking dish. Refrigerate up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigeration 1 hour before baking.
Place the pudding on the center rack and bake until it puffs and is set in the center, about 45 to 55 minutes. Ovens and baking times may vary.
My pudding went an hour and 5 minutes, so test your center – center of pudding should spring back slightly to the touch. That’s how you’ll know it’s done.
Cool slightly before spooning the bread pudding into shallow dessert bowls. Drizzle with the warm cinnamon syrup.
If you want more variety, serve with a scoop of French vanilla bean ice cream. Toast and chop additional pecans if desired and garnish.
If You Like This Recipe…
…you might also like:
- Magic Cake With Autumn Apples
- Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake Recipe
- A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe
- Southern Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding
- 13 x 9-inch baking dish
What You’ll Need For the Cinnamon Syrup
- 1 cup water filtered or tap
- 1 cup brown sugar packed
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
What You’ll Need For the Bread Pudding
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 1 large loaf Challah bread torn into 1 and 2-inch pieces to equal roughly 8 cups; may substitute a Panettone loaf
- 7 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 can pumpkin puree NOTE; NOT pumpkin pie filling
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
- ½ cup golden raisins or dried black currants
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup pecans lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
- One hour before assembling, tear the Challah by hand into varying sizes of between 1-inch and 2-inch pieces. Spread out on a baking sheet or other surface and allow the bread to begin to dry out. Butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish liberally with 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Set aside.
- Combine 1 cup of water and brown sugar in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar completely dissolves. Reduce heat slightly and boil gently so as not to burn. Reduce to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons of the cream and cinnamon. Keep the syrup warm. NOTE: the syrup can be made one day ahead, cooled completely, then covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. To re-warm, remove from refrigeration and pour syrup into a non-stick saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is warmed through.
- Arrange the bread pieces in prepared dish. Using a 1-cup dry measure, scoop a mixture of the dried and/or glacé fruits and nutmeats and toss together with the torn bread. Ensure the fruits are well distributed.
- In a large bowl, whisk together eggs with remaining 1 cup heavy cream and whole milk. To the egg mixture add vanilla extract, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, granulated sugar, and the remaining fruits and nutmeats and whisk thoroughly. Pour over the Challah. Gently submerge the peaks of Challah momentarily to soak completely. All of the pieces of bread should be thoroughly soaked.
- Let stand for 30 minutes, occasionally pressing the bread cubes into the custard mixture. NOTE: if making ahead, allow to stand for 30 minutes at room temperature pressing the bread pieces into the custard mixture to re-soak every so often. Cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to fit the baking dish. Spray with cooking spray and cover the baking dish. Refrigerate up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigeration 1 hour before baking.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the pudding on the center rack and bake until it puffs and is set in the center, about 45 to 55 minutes. Pudding is done when center springs back slightly when pressed.
- Cool slightly before spooning the bread pudding into shallow dessert bowls. Drizzle with the warm cinnamon syrup.
- Optional: serve with a generous scoop of French vanilla bean ice cream. Toast and chop additional pecans if desired and garnish.
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