In this healthful version of the classic dessert, dried cranberries and apricots give some nutritional boost as well as added sweet-tart taste and eye appeal. The bright colors of the berries and fruit signal the presence of antioxidants, so vital to good health, and fresh pears lend their tender, mouthwatering sweetness to this satisfying comfort food.
1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup dark rum or brandy
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Bosc pears, cored, and thinly sliced lengthwise
10 slices hearty oat bread, crusts removed, sliced in half diagonally
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
boiling water, as needed
1. In a small bowl, combine cranberries, apricots, and rum or brandy and let sit for 1 hour, then drain, reserving both fruits and liquor separately.
2. Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.
3. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add pears. Cover and cook, turning once, 4 to 6 minutes or until tender. Set aside.
4. Place the bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and use to brush the tops of the bread slices. Toast in the oven until golden, about 8 minutes.
5. In the bottom of the prepared baking dish, spread one-third of the cranberries, apricots, and pears. Top with half of the bread slices, buttered sides up. Spread half of the remaining fruits evenly over the bread slices and top with the remaining bread, buttered sides up. Scatter the remaining fruit evenly over this.
6. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk, cream, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla. Heat, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until hot, then set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 2 tablespoons of the reserved rum or brandy. Slowly whisk the milk mixture into the egg mixture and then pour over the fruit and bread.
7. Place the bread pudding pan in a larger baking dish and add boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the bread pudding pan. Bake in the preheated oven for an hour, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then serve.