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Maybe I will write an ode to bread pudding in all its forms one day. Perhaps I’m too late, and someone already wrote a sonnet to proclaim the beauty of bread in sweets. Regardless, it doesn’t make the joy of sinking a spoon into crispy golden brown nuggets of bread soaked in sweetened milk any less exciting; in fact, I think it makes the anticipation of knowing what is to come even more magnificent. Bread pudding is simply exquisite.
What is Shahi Tukda?
This version of bread pudding was inspired by an Indian dessert called shahi tukda, aka the royal morsel that arose in the kitchens of the Moghul Empire, and it might owe its origin to the Egyptian desert, Um Ali. At its very essence, shahi tukda is a simple yet elegant way to use up bread, just like people make bread pudding in the West. In the original recipe for shahi tukda, pieces of bread are fried in ghee and then served with a spiced concoction of sweetened milk (a lot of people like to use condensed milk), dried fruit, and nuts. Shahi tukda gets its aroma from the ghee, the ground green cardamom, saffron, and rose water.
Shahi Tukda Bread Pudding
I first made a version of this bread pudding for my column at The San Francisco Chronicle a few years ago, but I’ve been meaning to revisit, improve the recipe, and make it easier (fewer dishes to wash). (I should have called this THE NEW IMPROVED SHAHI TUKDA BREAD PUDDING or Shahi Tukda Bread Pudding v2.) Some new ingredients in this avatar make it much closer in flavor to shahi tukda. There’s no frying involved in my recipe, but there’s still some ghee, and I introduced a baking step to achieve the crispy golden brown top of the bread pudding. I like the crunch! There are raisins and pistachios, and of course, I didn’t leave the saffron, cardamom, and rose water out because that is critical to the shahi tukda flavor.
Being a bread pudding, the choice of bread matters in this recipe, and IMO enriched bread like challah and brioche are the best options for bread puddings. The flavor from enriched bread is nicer in comparison to sandwich bread. The bread should be stale and dry; this will help the bread act like a sponge, and it will soak up the milk more efficiently, and the pudding will be crisp on the top but soft on the inside. If you don’t have stale challah, make it “stale” by drying it out at a very low temperature of 200F/95C in the oven. Drying the bread at a low temperature will help drive out the moisture from the bread and make the bread a better sponge.
The Role of Eggs
Eggs are not a standard component of shahi tukda, but they’re essential to forming the pudding structure in this bread pudding. As the eggs' proteins denature and coagulate on heating, they create a network holding the milk and other ingredients together.
The Fragrance Club
There are four prominent members in this “fragrance club” - ghee, green cardamom, rose water, and saffron. Some people like to soak saffron in warm milk before adding it to desserts, but I prefer to blend it directly into the milk for this recipe; the pudding color is more uniform. If you like to see the strands in the pudding, add 5 to 6 strands but don’t overdo it; too much saffron can quickly become a nightmare. You can add the rosewater directly to the milk or add it as I did by directly sprinkling it over the unbaked pudding.
Raisins and Pistachios
I like golden raisins in this dish; the darker ones are too intense for this. As for the pistachios, I use salted or unsalted depending on what I have at home, but they must be toasted or roasted. Toasted and roasted pistachios will give the best flavor.
There are four stages to this recipe. The first step is the drying out of the challah, but if you have stale challah, you won’t need to. The second step is to make the spiced milk liquid, and I prefer the use of a high-speed blender. I add everything that goes into the milk, from the spices to the eggs; it makes a better emulsion, helps combine everything more efficiently, and reduces the number of items to wash. The third step is to soak the bread. If you don’t have time, give the bread pudding 1 hour to soak in the refrigerator, and make sure you press the bread down gently in the baking dish, so it soaks up all the liquid. Now, if you have the time or prefer to plan, let the bread soak with the milk in the baking pan overnight in the refrigerator. The latter gives the best results.
Ice cream takes the place of condensed milk in this pudding. A good quality vanilla or green cardamom ice cream hits the jackpot here. Make sure the pudding is warm when you serve it; the combination of cold and warm temperatures makes this dessert a joy to eat.
Now go make it and enjoy!
Shahi Tukda Bread Pudding
The Cook’s Notes
If your bread is not a day-old or dry, preheat the oven to 200F/95C. Cut the bread into 1 in/2.5 cm cubes and place them on a baking sheet. Dry the bread cubes in the oven on the tray till it is completely dry, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. They shouldn’tCook's turn golden brown. You can also dry the bread cubes overnight at room temperature outside on your kitchen counter.
I prefer pistachios in this dessert because they also add a bit of color, but slivered or sliced almonds will work just as well. Chopped walnuts and pumpkin seeds are good options too.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 lb/455 g day-old challah or brioche (See The Cook’s Notes)
2 Tbsp ghee or unsalted butter, softened to room temperature, plus extra to grease the baking dish
1 ½ cups/360 ml heavy cream
1 ½ cups/360 ml whole milk
3 large eggs
1 cup/200 g packed light or dark brown sugar
½ tsp ground green cardamom
A good pinch/15 to 20 strands of saffron
¼ tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp rose water
½ cup/70 g packed raisins
¼ cup/30 g toasted or roasted shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
Vanilla or green cardamom ice cream, to serve
Lightly grease a 9 in by 12 in by 2 in/23 cm by 30.5 cm by 5 cm baking pan with a little ghee. Place the bread cubes in the pan.
Add the cream, milk, eggs, sugar, cardamom, saffron, and salt to a blender. Pulse for a few seconds over high speed until combined. Pour this liquid over the bread in the baking pan. Sprinkle the pistachios and raisins over the bread in the baking pan, and fold with a fork. Sprinkle the rosewater over the surface. Wrap the surface with plastic wrap and gently press the plastic wrap down to let the bread absorb the liquid. Leave the baking pan in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, for it to absorb the liquid.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325F/165C. Unwrap the baking dish and discard the plastic wrap. Dot the 2 Tbsp of ghee over the surface and bake in the preheated oven until the top is crisp and the pudding is firm, about 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cut into six equal parts and serve each slice with a scoop or two of ice cream.
I'm a sucker for toys that promise to entertain my cats; this "fish" was a poor choice. Based on the comments, I'm not the only one fooled by this fish; the only ones not fooled are cats.
Until next time,
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