Kris Kringle Bread Pudding
To make vanilla sugar, put vanilla beans and sugar into an airtight container; let stand one week, shaking occasionally.
- Unsalted butter, softened, for bowls and parchment paper
- 3/4 cup vanilla sugar or granulated sugar, plus more for bowls and sprinkling
- 1 1/3 cups Armagnac or other good-quality brandy
- 7 ounces assorted dried fruits, such as peaches, apricots, and pears
- 7 ounces pitted prunes
- 5 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 whole cinnamon sticks
- 2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise; seeds scraped to loosen
- Zest of 1 orange
- 12 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 2 large loaves day-old brioche (1 pound each), cut into 1 1/4-inch cubes (18 cups)
- Boiling water, for roasting pan
- Sour Lemon Sauce
Brush two 1 1/2-quart ovenproof bowls with butter, and sprinkle with sugar, tapping out excess; set aside. Bring brandy and dried fruits to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fruits have softened and absorbed the brandy, about 10 minutes. Transfer fruits to a work surface and coarsely chop; set aside.
Bring cream, half-and-half, sugar, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and seeds, and orange zest to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Put egg yolks into a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, gradually ladle half the hot cream mixture into the yolks. Pour yolk mixture into saucepan with remaining cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly and scraping sides of pan, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Pour through a large sieve into a large bowl; discard solids.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put bread into a large bowl. Add soaked fruit, reserving 1/2 cup. Pour in custard; toss to combine. Divide bread mixture between prepared bowls. Top each with half the reserved fruit. Sprinkle with sugar. Let stand until bread is saturated, about 20 minutes.
Set bowls in a large deep roasting pan. Brush two pieces of parchment paper with butter; place, butter side down, over bowls. Tightly cover with foil. Transfer pan to oven; add enough boiling water to come 3 inches up sides of bowls. Bake 1 hour. Uncover; bake until set, about 30 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature with lemon sauce.