I'm a fool for bread puddings, so when I snagged a few gorgeous baby leeks from Elmwood Stock Farm I was downright giddy about whipping up a batch of Thomas Keller's savory Leek Bread Pudding. Whether they're sweet or savory, bread puddings seem fairly straightforward. Bread. Cream. Eggs. Stuff. Piece of cake, right? The bread base for Keller's bread pudding was his recipe for brioche. Yep. Brioche. Butter bread. With tons of butter and eggs, brioche is bread pretending to be pastry. What the hell, I embraced the madness.
Two days later, (after mixing the dough, proofing it for 3 hours, punching it down, chilling it it overnight, molding it into loaf pans, proofing it for an additional 3 hours, brushing it with egg wash, and baking it for 45 minutes) I had two small loaves of brioche.
The leek bread pudding didn't happen. Overkill. My two-day romp with Keller hit the proverbial wall, so I scrapped it and re-purposed everything for a riff on onion soup. I reserved one of the buttery loaves and threw the rest of the bread into the freezer for Thanksgiving stuffing.
Michael and I both love traditional French Onion soup. It's hard to resist bowls of deeply caramelized onions simmered in a beefy red wine-infused stock topped with croutons and melted gruyere cheese. That being said, I wanted to lighten it up a bit.
Stock. Chicken stock felt like the way to go with the delicate baby leeks. After thawing hoarded chicken parts from the freezer, I tossed them into stock pot with chopped onions, carrots, celery, green peppercorns, bay leaves, fresh parsley, lovage, and thyme. I filled the pot with water, brought it to a boil, reduced it to simmer, and let it gently rip for 4 hours.
Leeks. I trimmed the leeks by removing the dark green stalks and root ends. Not wanting to waste anything, I tossed the sliced dark leek ends into the stock pot to fortify the leekiness of the stock. After slicing the leeks as thinly as possible, I rinsed them well and patted them dry. I melted 3 tablespoons of butter in a dutch oven, added a drizzle of olive oil, and tumbled the leeks into the pot. When pale rings started to sizzle, I showered them with salt, turned the flame to low, and simmered them for 2 hours. Every 20 minutes or so, I stirred the leeks and skimmed the scum from the stock.
Brioche Croutons. While the stock and leeks mindlessly simmered away on the back of the stove top, I sliced the brioche loaf and used a biscuit cutter to create 2 inch round croutons. After brushing them with melted butter, I sprinkled them with sea salt, and slid them into a 350 oven to toast for about 15 minutes.
When the leeks collapsed into tender pulp, I pulled them from the heat to cool.
After 4 hours, I strained the stock through a cheesecloth-lined colander, quickly cooled the stock in an ice bath, removed the fat, and set it aside.
Soup. I re-warmed the leeks over a medium flame. When they started to spit and stick, I deglazed the pot with 1/3 cup sherry and let it reduce to a glaze before adding the chicken stock.
After simmering the soup for 45 minutes, I ladled it into 2 crocks, floated the brioche croutons on top, and smothered them with grated Boone Creek Creamery Smoked Gruyere cheese before sliding the bowls under a preheated broiler. When the cheese browned, I pulled the soup bowls from the oven and finished them with a scattering of fresh thyme.
It's funny how things can spin on a dime.
Weighed down by the mounds of melted gruyere, the fragile brioche croutons disintegrated in the gelatinous stock and absorbed the leeky broth. As the smoked nutty cheese collapsed into the swollen mix, it swirled through the suspended leeks and puffed croutons. Within seconds, the bread, broth, cheese, and leeks plumped into a wonderfully wet accidental riff on leek bread pudding.