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I’m sorry in advance for ruining your day. You will have no peace until you make this. I know because that’s what happened to me when I first stumbled upon this recipe. I dreamt of caramel, I had egg custard visions, and I wandered the grocery aisles buying every ingredient I needed to make this bread pudding, because….oooohhh, yes, I was going to make it. No matter that I didn’t have an occasion – I would create one. And that’s how I came to invite our next door neighbors over for a summer brunch, you know, just because! (insert wicked grin) As we tasted our first forkfuls of bread pudding, silence descended over the backyard. And all was well.

Now, this may look like dessert, and it probably could be, but in technique and flavor it most resembles an extremely luxurious french toast. And aside from the salted caramel lid, it is not excessively sweet, so makes the perfect finale to a lazy weekend breakfast or brunch spread. Its real beauty comes from the fact that all the effort is made the night before, which allows you to wake up late, and take a nice long bubble bath (or chase your toddler frantically around the house to please put some clothes on, your choice) while this puffs up golden and beautiful in the oven.

I will leave you now to figure out when you’re going to make this, because you know you must. As for me, I think it’s been an awfully long time since we saw the nice lady who lives across the street from us.

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Salted Caramel Breakfast Bread Pudding

Recipe from Amanda Hesser via Smitten Kitchen

3/4 cup plus (optional) 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt or just 2 or 3 pinches of a coarse one
10 to 12-ounce loaf brioche or challah bread (cut into slices about 1/2-inch thick and about 3 inches square or round, which sounds really persnickety, but they really do fit better in the pan this way)
8 large eggs
1 cup mascarpone cheese, divided (1/4 cup for custard; 3/4 cup for serving)
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

First, choose your baking vessel. Options include a 10 inch cake pan, 9- to 10-inch cast iron skillet, 2-quart casserole dish or a deep-dish pie pan.

If your vessel is safe for the stovetop, use this to make the caramel. If not, use a small, heavy saucepan. In either, place 3/4 cup sugar, butter and sea salt and heat over medium heat. The butter will melt and, after 7 to 10 minutes, the sugar will dissolve and begin to brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir with a spoon or spatula so that it browns evenly. You will find that the butter separates from the melting sugar and this is just fine. Do your best to keep them stirred together but know that it will all work out in the end even if it’s split.

If you’re using a saucepan, your caramel is done when it reaches a copper color. Pour it into the base of your baking vessel. If you’re making the caramel in your final baking vessel, your caramel should be taken off the stove a step sooner, a shade more pale than copper, something of a medium brown; this is because it will continue cooking and darkening for a minute off the stove.

Regardless of baking vessel, place dish in refrigerator and chill until caramel is cold and solid, about 30 minutes. Once chilled, arrange the bread slices. Place the heel of the bread in the center and do what you can to fan the slices around it, overlapping each slightly.

In a large bowl whisk together eggs, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar (if using; I skipped this) and 1/4 mascarpone cheese (save rest for serving), until very smooth. Add milk and almond extract. Pour this over the bread, making sure to saturate all of it. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight. If you bread seems too high in the vessel to get a good soak, you can weight it with a plate in the fridge.

In the morning, take your dish from the fridge an hour before you want to bake it. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove plastic from dish and bake 30 to 35 minutes, until moist but not wet in center. Remove from oven and run a knife around edge of dish, loosening bread from sides. Place a serving plate over top of dish (bottom side up), and, using potholders, hold pudding over sink and flip pudding onto it. Lift baking dish off plate; scrape any extra caramel from pie dish over pudding. Serve, cutting it into wedges at the table and spooning a healthy dollop of mascarpone onto each plate.

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