Spring is the perfect time for brunch. With Easter starting things off, there always seems to be an explosion of daytime events. Graduations and weddings and all the celebrations that go with them. And I love a good family brunch. You can wear a nice dress, but don’t have to worry about high heels and punitive undergarments and retouching your lipstick every ten minutes. I still look forward to finding my fun spring dress like I did when I was kid. And the food. A generous buffet spread, with everyone roaming around and eating and chatting – and eating some more. This may be my favorite form of entertaining.
This dish fits the bill perfectly. It is rich and elegant, but with a light, fluffy texture that will amaze. And you can make it ahead and just pop it in the oven before the brunch, so no early morning scrambling in the kitchen. Leeks, brie and wine bring up the sophistication level, and it is a happy change from a typical egg-cheese-sausage morning casserole. And it also has no meat, which is great if there is a ham, bacon or sausage on the table too. Now, I have given you lots of reasons this is a perfect brunch dish, but in the recipe testing process, I served it to my book club for dinner and it was a hit. A little green salad on the side and a glass of crisp, cold white wine…you’re in for a treat.
Leek and Brie Bread Pudding
16 ounce loaf soft Italian bread (no hard crusts)
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts
4 Tablespoons butter
¼ cup white wine or vermouth, plus 2 Tablespoons
8 ounces brie
1 Tablespoon salt
Generous grinds of black pepper
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1 Tablespoon chopped marjoram or thyme
4 cups milk
Cut the bread into rough, bite-sized cubes and spread out on a baking sheet or tray. Leave to dry for a few hours (but not until crisp or hard).
Meanwhile, slice the white and palest green parts of the leeks in half, then into thin half-moons. Place in a colander and rinse very well under cold running water. Melt the butter in a sauce pan with a lid, shake most of the water off the leeks and add them to the pan. Stir to coat, then add ¼ cup wine or vermouth and ¼ cup water. Stir well, cover the pan and cook the leeks, stirring frequently, until they are wilted and soft, about 20 minutes. Make sure the leeks don’t brown – you can add a bit more water if needed. When the leeks are soft and jammy, leave them to cool.
Trim the rind off the brie, removing as much of the white rind as possible without sacrificing too much cheese. I find a long serrated knife works best, and the cheese needs to be very cold and firm. Cut the brie into small pieces. Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Spread the bread in the dish. Spread the leeks out over the bread, tucking them in between the cubes and distributing them evenly. Distribute the brie pieces throughout the bread and leeks, tucking them down between the cubes of bread and leeks.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly. Add the salt, pepper, the remaining 2 Tablespoons wine or vermouth, mustard and herbs and whisk well. Add the milk and whisk until completely blended. Pour the milk mixture over the bread cubes slowly, making sure it is evenly covering the bread cubes. Push them down under the liquid if needed. Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°. Take the dish out of the fridge to take the chill off while the oven is heating. Cook the bread pudding, covered, for 50 minutes to an hour until it is set and puffed up.
Serves 8 – 10