The 15 Best Ingredients To Elevate Your Bread Pudding

Bread pudding is one of those dishes that you have to eat to truly appreciate. This dessert was believed to have been created in 11th-century England as a way for cooks to transform leftover, stale bread into a delicious, sweet treat. Although there have been many variations on bread pudding, the standard recipe remains the same: Cubed pieces of dry bread are mixed with a sweetened custard and baked until firm. The recipe is considered a pudding because it's made with a cereal base (the bread), which softens like a sponge when baked. 

Bread pudding doesn't have to be a bland dessert. Instead, it can be infused with flavorful fruity ingredients, nuts, and confections to transform the dish to a new level. The proof is also in the pudding — in this case, the bread of the pudding. We've collected the best types of bread to use for bread pudding, as well as novel components you can add to upgrade your dessert. 

Leftover dinner rolls

Getting the perfect bread pudding always starts with a good base bread. The secret ingredient that will change your bread pudding forever may already be in your drawer. We recommend using dinner rolls because of their texture. The inside of the roll is plush and soft, while the outside is slightly tacky. When the rolls are cubed and soaked in the custard, the inside has the same texture while the outside gets a little crispy — and most importantly, not soggy. 

You can utilize any type of dinner roll for this recipe, but we recommend using a pack that is slightly past its freshness prime. A drier roll will soak in more of the custard, just like how using stale bread is preferable for French toast. Once your dinner rolls are packed with a sweet cinnamon custard and a drizzle of caramel, you won't be able to recognize them. 


There's no feeling like biting into a crisp baguette slathered in salty butter. But, when bread pudding is involved, we can think of an even better use for this French staple. Stale baguettes are the ingredient you need for better bread pudding because they can effectively soak up moisture and provide some texture that's not just a bland and mushy mess. If you opt to use a sandwich bread or a smooth Italian loaf for your autumnal bread pudding, you'll find that the bread just tends to turn into a sweet, sugary slop rather than a dessert with defined bread pieces. 

The crusty part of the bread will provide a little bit more to bite onto, while the sourdough undercurrent of the loaf will provide a more flavorful contrast to the recipe. Like other breads, you should let your bread stale for a few days before cubing it and adding it to your recipe for maximum moisture uptake. 

Pullman bread

Getting breakfast ready quickly can be tough, especially if you're cooking for a crowd. And bread pudding usually isn't everyone's quick go-to meal because it is laborious and time-consuming to soak the bread for several hours before baking the tray. But, there's a loophole to making a bread pudding in a jiffy — and it involves choosing the right kind of bread. 

You can skip soaking if you use Pullman bread for your bread pudding. This type of bread, also called pain de mie, is enjoyed for its square shape and soft texture. Since the bread is already so soft, soaking it may make it too wet and cause it to fall apart. If you opt for this kind of bread, you can source it from a local bakery or the grocery store — just be sure to ask for it in a whole loaf rather than sliced. You also might be able to find a loaf that includes raisins already in it, as it will save you a trip down the baking aisle. 

Ice cream

The custard is a component of bread pudding that's almost as important as the bread itself. This custard is usually made with a blend of egg yolks, milk, cream, melted butter, and a bit of sugar to make it sweet. But this ingredient list will not only require a whole shopping basket full of ingredients, but it will also take a lot of time spent measuring and mixing the ingredients. 

Instead of making your own custard, make a simple swap and use melted ice cream instead. You'll need a pint of ice cream for every three cups of bread in the recipe. Put the frozen dessert in your microwave until it's melted, and then pour it on top of your bread and let it soak. Add any extra seasoning, like cinnamon or nutmeg, and proceed with your recipe as follows. You can also use Ina Garten's simple trick for topping bread pudding by substituting a difficult crème anglaise with melted vanilla ice cream. In the words of the Barefoot Contessa, "How easy is that?" 

Cocoa powder

Most bread pudding takes on a vanilla undertone, but you can easily go a little darker and make a chocolatey rendition of the classic dessert instead. Although the recipe for this bread pudding often calls for baker's chocolate, there's another ingredient you should be using instead. Cocoa powder is the ingredient you need for making chocolate bread pudding. Since melted chocolate tends to have a thick consistency, it's not ideal for adding to an already thick custard. Cocoa powder has a much finer texture (without skipping out on the chocolate flavor), so the bread will more readily absorb it. 

You'll want to add this powder to your recipe with the eggs and the milk, stirring well to combine. If you're going to amp up the chocolate and confectionary flavor of your dish, you can add semi-sweet chocolate chips to the bread mixture before baking it. The dessert is bound to be a new dessert favorite. 

Orange zest

Let's face it, bread pudding can be a very dense dessert. The stick-to-your-ribs custard and chunks of bread can fill you up with just a few spoonfuls. If you want to lighten up your bread pudding, turn to orange zest. It's a must-have ingredient for bread pudding because it will both brighten the flavors of your custard and balance the overwhelming sweetness with a bit of tang. You'll also find that the taste of the orange complements other ingredients in the pudding well, like vanilla, raisins, and cinnamon. 

When grating your citrus fruit, it's important to only grate the orange part of the peel rather than the bitter pith. You can also add a stronger orange flavor profile to your dessert by adding a splash of orange juice or substituting some of the vanilla extract in the recipe with orange extract. Just be sure not to go too overboard with the flavors since orange takes over a sweet dish relatively quickly. 

Butternut squash

Bread pudding is an autumnal dessert, so it's no surprise we're also looking at other autumnal ingredients to help make its flavor and texture a little more robust. One of these unconventional ingredients not often used in bread pudding is butternut squash. Butternut squash bread pudding is the brainchild of Chef Levon Wallace from Lousiville, Kentucky's Proof on Main. It's made with a cast iron skillet with chunks of crusty baguette, sweetened sorghum syrup, and roasted and caramelized pieces of squash. Wallace shared with us that the squash dish is a modern twist on a Mexican-style bread pudding called capirotada, which uses similar autumnal ingredients and flavors. 

We love that the decadent hunks of butternut squash get slightly soft in the recipe and provide a sweet reprieve from the density of the bread and custard. If you're making this recipe variation at home, be sure to roast down the squash first so it's soft as the bake time of the pudding won't be enough to transform a hard, raw piece of produce.

Dried cherries

Raisins often steal the spotlight when it comes to bread pudding. But, the ingredient you should use instead for a flavorful recipe is dried cherries. Most recipes won't specify what kind of dried cherry to use, but we recommend tart or sour dried cherries. Unlike other types of dried fruits, tart cherries have a unique flavor profile that helps balance the sweetness of other ingredients. You'll want to pick the cherries that are unsweetened since some can come with a sugary coating that defeats the purpose of tart cherries in the first place. 

You can make a banana, cherry, and roasted cinnamon bread pudding with cubes of challah and rum-soaked dried cherries. The soak is critical to ensure that the cherries are plump and soft in the pudding rather than rubbery discs. The rum helps infuse more flavor into the dried fruit but won't impart a bitter, boozy aftertaste on the finished dessert. 


One of the best ingredients to include in bread pudding can be found in your liquor cabinet. Whiskey is the secret ingredient in The Pioneer Woman's bread pudding. Instead of adding the alcohol directly into the bread pudding, she concocts a whiskey sauce to pour on top by combining Jack Daniel's, butter, heavy cream, and sugar in a saucepan until it reaches a low boil. Once the pudding is baked to perfection, she streams on a little bit of the whiskey sauce to the top of her bread pudding and digs in without regrets. We love that this boozy addition provides a bourbon, adult undertone to an otherwise sugary dessert.

To make her bread pudding even more robust, she uses a sourdough loaf as her base bread. She notes that the loaf crisps up on the edges as it bakes while maintaining a soft, delectable interior. She also adds pecans to her bread pudding for a little bit of a Southern flair and standout crunch. 

Pumpkin puree

Pumpkin is the star ingredient of the fall, so it's no surprise it makes its way into a delicious bread pudding, too. Pumpkin bread pudding with caramel sauce is the autumnal dish you will want to have on your table for the season. This recipe uses canned pumpkin puree (which you can buy from the store), bourbon, chopped pecans, and pie spice. This pudding also uses a unique combination of bread — cubed croissants and a soft, absorbent bread of your choice — to help ensure the texture stays buttery and deliciously moist. 

You'll want to add the pumpkin puree and pie spice to the other custard ingredients and allow the mixture to sit for at least six hours (preferably overnight) to allow the flavors to meld together. Once you're ready to bake the pudding, you can start crafting your homemade bourbon caramel sauce on the stovetop. This recipe is so good you might have to replace it with your bland pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving.


Raisins are a staple ingredient for many classic bread pudding recipes, but they come with a lot of slander from people who do not appreciate the fruity element and chewy texture. But we think that raisins really make a great bread pudding and are an essential ingredient to have in it. Like other types of dried fruit, you'll want to soak your raisins in a bit of warm water (or rum) while you're preparing the rest of your ingredients. Add the soaked raisins to the pudding with the bread and custard — and be especially careful not to crush your bread as you mix everything together. Your diligence will be rewarded by a soft, fruity bread pudding jam-packed with plump raisins. 

There are several raisin variations you can make to your recipe. For example, add cinnamon raisin bread for a less fruit-forward flavor, or consider using soaked golden raisins for a unique color. 


Move over apple pie — there's a new, much better dessert taking the spotlight. Apples are the star ingredient for Martha Stewart's apple bread pudding. Rather than slicing the fruit into small, thin pieces, the queen of entertainment cuts the fruit into thick wedges. This strategic shape decision prevents the pieces of bread from overpowering the apple flavor and texture. In her Instagram post, she shared that she used chunks of brioche for her rustic apple dessert, which looks as beautiful as it does tasty. 

If you make an apple bread pudding at home, you will want to choose your apples strategically. The best kind of apples to use are baking apples, like Cortlands and Granny Smiths, because they don't tend to get mealy and mushy when baked in the pudding. We recommend topping your apple dessert with a hefty portion of vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of caramel sauce to bring out the fruity undertones of the apples.


Bread pudding has a lot of soggy ingredients — like the soft, mushy bread and custardy coating. You need a couple of ingredients thrown in there to help make the dessert's texture more diverse. Pecans are the perfect nut to add to bread pudding because they crisp up in the oven but don't lose their rustic flavor or complementary nature with other ingredients. You should finely chop your pecans before adding them to the pudding to ensure you get a little crunch of the nuts in every bite. In addition, always look for raw pecans since using roasted nuts can cause bitterness when the nuts are baked. 

Besides adding the nuts directly to the pudding, you can make a crisp topping on the top of the pudding with the nuts, too. Once you've assembled the base of your bread pudding with the sliced loaf and custard, add a crumble of chopped pecans and brown sugar to the top and slide it right into the oven. 

Sparkling sugar

Everyone wants a dessert that excites their eyes as much as their tastebuds. Coarse sparkling sugar is the genius ingredient Martha Stewart adds to make her bread pudding sparkle. This sugar has a much coarser texture than standard granulated sugar, so it keeps its coarse texture when baked — rather than disintegrating back into the bread. These sucrose crystals can come in standard clear, or you can source out dyed ones to give your recipe a colorful hue. Sprinkle on the crystals after you've assembled your dish to ensure that the crystals sit right on top of the dessert. 

Besides making the dessert shine, Martha Stewart also uses sugar to complement the other flavors in her recipe. She adds brioche bread cubes, prunes, cranberries, and cherries for a fruity flavor, along with a boozy twist from orange-and-Cognac custard. It's like an adult Christmas morning in a baking dish. 

Cinnamon rolls

Everyone should keep a can of cinnamon rolls in their refrigerator. Not only can you make a freshly baked tray of cinnamon rolls, but you can also make a cinnamon roll bread pudding with your canned rolls. Instead of using small wedges of brioche or Pullman, this recipe utilizes baked cinnamon roll pieces. You'll want to bake the rolls according to the package directions rather than adding them raw to the custard to ensure that everything bakes perfectly. You can also use leftover cinnamon rolls from the baking aisle. 

Add the cubed cinnamon roll pieces, pecans, and custard filling to a bowl. Once the pieces have sat in the custard for about 20 minutes, you can add them to the baking dish and cook until the center is solid. If you're using canned cinnamon rolls, you can drizzle the leftover icing on the bread pudding and dig in. This is the perfect dish to serve for a special occasion, or whenever your sweet tooth calls.