Time: 2 1/2 hours (1 hour for preparation and 1 1/2 hours for baking)
2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and rinsed
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
12 cups 1-inch-cubed crustless brioche or Pullman loaf
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded Comté or Emmenthaler cheese.
- Place a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, drain excess water from leeks, and add to pan. Season with salt, and sauté until leeks begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in butter. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft, about 30 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While leeks are cooking, spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake until dry and pale gold, about 20 minutes, turning pan about halfway through. Transfer to a large bowl, leaving the oven on.
- Add leeks, chives and thyme to the bowl of bread; toss well. In another large bowl, lightly whisk the eggs, then whisk in milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste and a pinch of nutmeg.
- Sprinkle 1/4 cup shredded cheese in bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread 1/2 of bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Spread remaining bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough milk mixture to cover bread, and gently press on bread so milk soaks in. Let rest 15 minutes.
- Add remaining milk mixture, letting some bread cubes protrude. Sprinkle with salt and remaining cheese. Bake until pudding is set and top is brown and bubbling, about 1 1/2 hours. Serve hot.
Yield: 12 servings as a side dish.