LUSTING IN TENNESSEE
Earlier this month, right after the hard drive on my home computer crashed, I went to Nashville, Tennessee, for a conference. Afterwards, my father joined me for a weekend to visit some of the area’s Civil War battlefields. That Saturday night, we headed into downtown Nashville for the early show of the Grand Ol’ Opry, where it crossed my mind that Garrison Keillor must have had this in mind when he created his long-enduring “Prairie Home Companion” radio show. (And indeed he had, as confirmed in an interview I happened across shortly after returning home.)
One of the battlefields we visited—Chickamauga—is in northern Georgia, just across the Tennessee border. Driving from Nashville through the colors of the forested borderland mountains took me back to southeastern Missouri, where we picked persimmons with my mother's parents in a similar vista one long ago Thanksgiving. The Civil War battlefields breathe history too, though I found myself seduced instead by the omnipresent Baptist billboards announcing all manner of saving grace and redemption. One church offered a Seven Deadly Sins weekly series from its pulpit. The sin of this, Week Three: “Avoid the Lure of Lust!”
Regional linguistic flair is enchanting, and this euphonic admonishment stayed with me all day and through dinner, where our waitress insisted we sample the restaurant’s famous bread pudding slathered with Jack Daniels whiskey sauce. Not normally enamored of bread pudding, I chose a different dessert, but the sighs of pleasure from my father were too much to ignore. One bite convinced me. Impossible to avoid the lure of this lusty bread pudding!
Below are approximate recipes for the pudding and a sauce, adapted from the waitress’s orally rendered version, from Betty Crocker, and from a must-have regional desserts cookbook by Richard Sax called Classic Home Desserts (Chapters Publishing, 1994). Unlike many recipes for bread pudding, the pudding that lured us in Nashville relies on day-old sweet rolls instead of bread as the base. You can easily double the pudding and sauce recipes if you want a larger amount.
4 cups cubed day-old sweet rolls, sugar doughnuts, croissants, and/or raisin bread
1-1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
1) Put the cubed sweet rolls in an 8 x 8 pan and set aside. Heat the milk and cream in a large saucepan until hot.
2) In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugars, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Slowly whisk in the hot milk.
3) Pour the hot egg-milk mixture over the sweet rolls and let stand for 15-20 minutes to allow the rolls to absorb the liquid.
4) Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the pudding until the custard is set but not too dry (about 40 minutes). Make the whiskey sauce while the pudding is cooling outside the oven.
Serves about 6 people.
½ cup sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup whiskey (Jack Daniels is the whiskey of choice in Nashville, where this whiskey is made; you can use any whiskey or bourbon to your liking)
1) Whisk the sugar and egg together in a double boiler until warm and a little fluffy.
2) Whisk in the melted butter and add the whiskey. Pour the warm sauce over servings of warm bread pudding.
*If this recipe doesn’t appeal, you can also make a classic hard sauce and add whiskey or bourbon to that recipe. Or, you can make crème anglaise and flavor it with bourbon or whiskey. Any such butter-based sauce will be excellent over the pudding.