This season is bittersweet as far as fresh produce goes. On one hand my backyard urban farm  is just a ghost of its lush summer self and I miss it. But, there are the apples, pears, persimmons, quince and the versatile sugar pumpkin, which are at the height of their season. I also associate the smell of sweet spices; cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and cardamom with cool weather. The mixture of the fruits and spices is baked up in quintessential American classics like apple and pumpkin pies, poached pears and some across-the-pond desserts like persimmon pudding and quince tarts. All of these combinations are pure comfort; warm, sweet and hearty. Another classic pairing that fits this description are prunes & Armagnac . So when thinking about the ultimate fall pudding I layered together pumpkin, spices, the prune combo, caramelized the crust and topped the whole thing with maple spiced walnuts. It is outrageous and something you can eat for dessert, brunch or an after school snack. It was equally tasty hot and served cold.
I used cubes of slightly stale bread, something I always have around, but I have also done this pudding with vanilla pound cake or gingerbread.
*Some big news below!
Caramelized Pumpkin & Armagnac Prune Pudding:
1 1/2 cups chopped prunes
1/4 cup Armagnac, cognac or brandy (pronounced Arm-an-yak)
5 cups half & half
5 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon clove
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling on top
1 1/2 cup walnut halves or pieces
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1 cup heavy whipping cream for garnish, whipped to stiff peak
In a bowl add the Armagnac to the prune and allow them to macerate for at least 30 minutes, but as long as overnight.
To prepare the pudding, mix together the half & half, eggs, yolks, pumpkin, salt, sugars, spices and vanilla,
using an immersion blender  or carefully with a whisk. Set aside.
Layer half the bread cubes in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish and then the prunes ( do not add the liquid with them, save it and add it to the custard).
Top with the remaining bread cubes and then pour the pumpkin custard over them. You may not fit all of the custard in at once, but when the bread absorbs some of it, you can add the rest.
Gently press the bread down into the custard to make sure they are all soaking it up. Let it sit for about 30 minutes to really absorb the custard thoroughly.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325. Place the baking dish in a larger pan, lined with a kitchen towel. Add HOT water to the larger dish to create a water bath. The towel and the water act as insulation and create a more even baking temperature. Bake for about 45 minutes or until just set in the center of the pudding.
Remove from oven and sprinkle generously with confectioner’s sugar.
Turn the oven to broil and return the pan to the oven, just until the sugar is melted and caramelized. If you have a Chef’s Torch  you can achieve the same effect with your torch.
To make the candied walnuts:
Turn the oven to 350. In a bowl combine the nuts, maple, salt and spices. Spread the coated nuts onto a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat . Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until nicely toasted and golden brown. Be careful not to over bake or they will turn bitter.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and the nuts!
Some of you may have noticed a new book at the top of my site. Jeff and I are thrilled to announce our newest book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients , which comes out Tuesday Oct. 27th! That morning I will be on the Martha Stewart Radio Show, Jeff will be on TV and we’ll both be at the Edina Barnes & Noble to sign books. You can find all the details for our book tour and events here . I really hope to meet you if we are coming to a town near you.
You can also learn about the baking group Michelle at BigBlackDogs  is going to be hosting a baking group for HBin5! If you want to join her and a group of other bread enthusiasts read more here ! Jeff and I will be doing some guest posts for her as well.
Last week I got an email from the folks at Saveur Magazine telling me that they had chosen ZoeBakes as one of the “Sites We Love!” Oh my, it is quite a list of fantastic blogs and I am honored to be among them. If you click on the badge, also added to the top of the blog you can see the whole list! I suppose it is one time I wished my parents hadn’t named me Zoë, because I always end up last on alphabetical lists! 😉