Many bread pudding recipes call for stale bread, or ask you to leave your bread out on the counter to dry it out a bit before using it in a recipe. This stems from the fact that bread pudding was originally intended to be a way to give new life to bread that was a little stale, soaking it in a flavorful custard and baking it until it was moist and tender. French toast is the same idea, actually. But do you need to use stale bread for a bread pudding? No, you can simply start with a fresh loaf of bread if you have one, even if the recipe tells you to use stale bread or to leave your bread out to “stale” on the counter for a few hours.
When bread becomes stale, the moisture inside of the bread is lost, causing the bread to become somewhat stiff and dry. In theory, this bread should be able to absorb more liquid than fresh bread – and this is often cited as the reason to try to “stale” your bread before using it. But when it comes down to it, only a very small amount of moisture is leaving your bread (you don’t want to use something so stale that it feels like an old sponge, after all!) and that isn’t enough to make a significant difference in a bread pudding recipe. Fresh bread will perform just as well as stale bread, no matter what the recipe calls for. It may even give you a better result, as fresher bread often as a fresher flavor that will carry into the bread pudding.
The bread pudding pictured above is Eggnog Bread Pudding with Bourbon Cranberries, and it’s a great recipe to try with some leftover holiday ‘nog!