In July, just about any dessert that starts with “preheat oven to xxx degrees” gets passed over in my kitchen. Like so many New England homes, I don’t have central air conditioning, and the AC unit in my living room window is already working overtime to keep the heat and humidity at bay. I don’t need to add to its workload by running my oven for an hour.
That doesn’t mean I don’t crave delicious baked berry desserts! I’d love a cobbler, a crisp, or a pie filled with berries that are local and fresh right now.
So, I went in search of a stove top skillet recipe that would deliver on all my summer berry cravings. Sadly, many skillet desserts are deceiving. Just because “skillet” is in the title, doesn’t mean it’s a stove top dessert. Most put the skillet right in the oven just like a baking dish, which has its merits but just wasn’t what I was looking for. I decided to wing it and see what I could come up with.
Instead of wrangling a pie crust, or mixing together myriad ingredients for a crisp topping, I grabbed a loaf of Challah bread with the idea of a stove top bread pudding in mind. I wanted something that was heavy on the berries and light on the bread, with just enough custard to hold it all together. Splitting the bread between the berry mixture and the custard mixture ensured all the liquid was absorbed without making the finished dessert too heavy. After my first batch, I realized exactly why I couldn’t avoid the oven entirely. The stove top cooked my custard just fine, but I needed the browning effect of top-down heat to get the nicely browned crust I wanted. Thankfully, just 5 minutes under the broiler did the trick, and my oven was off before it could heat up my whole kitchen.
This recipe is best made with a mixture of fresh, ripe berries. Strawberries are most abundant right now so they made up half my volume, then I added one cup of blueberries and one cup of blackberries. Softer berries will break down faster while firmer berries will stay whole, creating a variety of textures in the finished dessert. Since the berries aren’t cooked for very long, they retain their fresh flavor. If your berries are particularly tart you can add more sugar to taste. This recipe definitely crossed the line into breakfast/brunch territory in my house, but if you’re serving it as dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream would complete this perfect summer treat.
Skillet Berry Bread Pudding
Serves 6 to 8
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 cups mixed fresh berries (such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and chopped strawberries)
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
- 4 cups Challah bread or brioche, cut into 3/4" cubes (about 3 large slices), divided
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1. Melt butter in broiler-safe 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add berries and 1/2 cup sugar and bring to simmer. Cook until some berries begin to soften or burst and liquid in pan is syrupy, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in half of bread cubes and let sit for 5 minutes off heat.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together half-and-half, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Stir in remaining bread cubes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Spread mixture evenly over berry mixture in pan. Return to medium heat and bring to simmer. Cook until custard around edges begins to set, 5 to 8 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat oven broiler to high with rack 8 to 10 inches from element. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over bread mixture. Place skillet under broiler and cook until evenly browned (bread will puff up slightly), about 5 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm or chilled.