Apples are a particular favorite of mine this time of year. Varieties range from sweet to tart, they can be used for snacking out of hand, baking, mashing, or even braising, and they pair equally well with sweet or savory ingredients.

They’re extra-delicious in caramelized apple bread pudding, too. What’s not to love?

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recipe after the jump

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Caramelized Apple Bread Pudding

I prefer bread pudding that isn’t very sweet, and this recipe reflects that. If you want something a little more dessert-like, feel free to add more sugar to the apples and/or to the bread. For a richer dish, substitute heavy cream for some of the whole milk. Or go completely nuts and swirl in a little dulce de leche, if you have some languishing in your refrigerator. Basically, just consider this a template and play around with it.

5 spicy-sweet, crisp apples (Crispin, Jonagold, Honeycrisp), peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges apiece
3 tablespoons butter
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar, depending on the sweetness of the apples
cinnamon to taste
sprinkle of ground mace
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1 day-old loaf of challah bread or equal amount of croissants, broken into 2-inch pieces
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons pure cane syrup (I use Steen’s)
splash of bourbon or Tennessee whiskey
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a medium-sized baking dish.

Heat butter in nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add apple slices and sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar, cooking and stirring occasionally for a few minutes until apples just begin to turn tender. Sprinkle with remaining brown sugar, a few dashes of cinnamon, mace, cardamom and lemon zest. Cook for a few minutes longer, until apples are soft but not falling apart and edges are golden brown. Spoon apples into the buttered baking dish in an even layer and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together, eggs, milk, vanilla and almond extracts, cane syrup, and bourbon. Add bread, pressing down so it absorbs the egg mixture evenly. Once all of the liquid has been absorbed, break apart a piece of bread to make sure it’s uniformly moist inside, not dry at all. If it is dry, add a little milk and let it sit until absorbed.

Spoon bread mixture over the apples in the baking dish. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour, or until top is lightly browned and toothpick inserted into the center of the dish comes out clean. (It could take longer than an hour, depending on how moist the bread mixture was to begin. This is a dish you have to play by ear a bit everytime you make it.)

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