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Apple Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel – Upside Down Style

There are few desserts less fancy than apple bread pudding, but also few that are as tasty.  This apple bread pudding with bright bits of apple and intense bourbon caramel on top is not your average buffet bread pudding, and you can serve it without embarrassment at a party or holiday.  

Bread pudding is a dish that goes back at least a millennium in England.  It was called poor man’s pudding and was considered a lower-class dish because it used leftover bread that may otherwise go to waste.  

Apple Bread Pudding Recipe

I myself was beyond shocked as a child when I learned that my beloved buffet bread pudding was, according to my mother, just the restaurant’s attempt to prevent yesterday’s bread from being thrown away.  The takeaway is that when you are eating bread pudding, you should commend yourself for preventing waste and doing your part to help the environment. 

Apple bread pudding is generally served in a 9×13 dish or a baking sheet, so although I love bread pudding, I rarely served it at parties or brought it to potlucks. A thousand years later, I seem to suffer the same embarrassment as my ancestors regarding my favorite dessert.  

I experimented with cutting it into rounds, but the waste mitigated my feel-good thoughts of saving old bread from the garbage.  My now preferred method is to assemble it like an upside down cake and display it on a cake plate prior to serving.  I use a Springform pan, but a cake pan is perfectly fine; it will just produce a shorter final dish.  

One of my favorite things about bread pudding as a dish is how flexible it is to make.  Feel free to use this recipe as your base and explore customizations to meet your preference or your pantry availability.  After the recipe, read some tips I have for substitutions and additions.

Apple Bread Pudding Ingredients

Apple Bread Pudding

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • ¾ cup brown sugar – light or dark
  • 2 large apples
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 dash of salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 10 ounces bread

Bourbon Caramel Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream at room temperature
  • Bourbon to taste – several tablespoons to ⅓ cup

To prepare the apple bread pudding:

Apple Bread Pudding Ingredients
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place the butter cubes in the bottom of the Springform pan.
  3. Place the pan in the oven and allow the butter to melt.  Remove the pan when the butter is melted.
  4. Sprinkle ½ cup of the brown sugar over the melted butter.
  5. Thinly slice one of the apples and arrange it in a pattern in your pan on top of the butter and sugar mixture.  The petal pattern is easiest because it uses the natural shape of a cored apple, but be creative.
  6. In the bowl of a stand mixer or mixing bowl, combine the granulated sugar, remaining brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt.  Gently mix in the milk, and then beat in the eggs.  It’s not a bad idea to add a bit of bourbon to this mixture as well.
  7. Gently fold in the cubed bread pieces so that they are all coated, and continue to fold to work in the custard mixture.  Stale bread absorbs liquid faster than fresh bread.  Either 
  8. give your fresh bread cubes plenty of time to soak up the custard or dry out the bread in the oven for a few minutes. You can also do this step in advance and let the bread and custard mixture set overnight in the refrigerator. 
  9. If you have any leftover apple pieces, add them to the custard and bread mixture.  This is optional.
  10. Transfer the bread and custard mixture to the pan and pat to make it even throughout the pan.  
  11. Bake for 15 minutes.
  12. Reduce heat to 300 and bake for another 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  
  13. Remove the pan from the oven, and allow it to cool for 30 minutes.
  14. Run a knife around the pan, and then flip the pudding onto your serving dish.   

Prepare the caramel while the apple bread pudding is cooking:

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Stir in water and 1 cup of sugar.  
  3. Cook without stirring until the mixture is a dark, nutty brown, or about 5 minutes.
  4. Whisk in the heavy cream.  
  5. Remove from heat.
  6. Whisk in bourbon to taste.  

Either drizzle the caramel over the apple bread pudding after the pudding has cooled, or save it for application to individual portions after slicing.  

Apple Bread Pudding

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips

You can usually pre assemble an apple bread pudding and leave it overnight in the refrigerator before baking it the next day. Because of the upside-down nature of this bread pudding, that method is not ideal.  You can, however, make the bread/custard mixture ahead and refrigerate it overnight.  

Another timesaving option is to fully prepare and bake the pudding, and then wrap it in a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of aluminum foil.  After that, you can leave it in your freezer for several months.  Prior to serving, warm in an oven heated to 300 degrees.  Be sure to allow time for cooling before eating.  

After serving your pudding, be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.  They keep well in the refrigerator for many days of yummy snacking.

Make It Yours

Just about any apple will do the trick for this recipe, although they can lend different results.  Baking apples, which are apples that maintain their form when baking, are best with the upside-down preparation.  It will look a little less appealing if your apple turns into mushy globs rather than nice slices. 

I used brioche bread in this recipe, but you can easily use Italian bread, baguettes, King’s Hawaiian bread, and Challah.  Some people even mix in old cinnamon rolls for a really decadent apple bread pudding.  Steer clear of thinly sliced sandwich bread; it is generally too soft and has a tendency to turn to very unappetizing mush.

Instead of apples, you can also use bananas, blackberries, or firm plums.  Add nuts, currants, and raisins if you like.

Serving Ideas

Ice cream and chocolate sauce also make excellent accoutrements for apple bread pudding.  For this particular presentation, you can simply dust the top with confectioner’s sugar if you prefer to leave off the caramel topping.