I considered a few ways to infuse the whole dish with hazelnut flavor, including using a Torani syrup or Frangelico liqueur, but settled on Nestle's Coffee Mate Natural Bliss creamer with Hazelnut as the way to go. It was the perfect amount of hazelnut flavor, and the Natural Bliss line is just milk, cream, sugar and natural flavorings, so none of the artificial stuff in many creamers. I used that as part of the liquid normally included in any bread pudding recipe.
A key component of any bread pudding is, of course, the bread. I recommend using a challah, brioche, or another quality loaf. My Publix was out of challah and brioche, but had a lovely, soft but substantial Colombian bread available -- it was perfect! A single loaf should be about a pound, and I prefer to use unsliced bread and just tear it up roughly before a light toasting, but that's a matter of taste.
- 1 cup hazelnuts
- 2 large Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped
- 1 loaf bread, preferably challah or brioche, torn in pieces
- 4 large eggs
- 1 bottle Nestle Coffee Mate Natural Bliss Creamer with Hazelnut
- 2 cups half and half
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- Ground cinnamon
- 1 bottle Hershey's Caramel Syrup
Heat the oven to 350. Toast the hazelnuts for 7 minutes and let cool. While the hazelnuts cool, toast the bread pieces on a baking sheet until light brown, between 5 and 10 minutes -- start at 5 minutes and check frequently after that. Don't let it get too dark. While all of that is toasting, chop the apples into bite-sized pieces -- don't bother peeling them unless you really want to.
Whisk the eggs and hazelnut creamer together with the butter, brown sugar and vanilla. Mix the toasted bread with the egg mixture, working it well together. Add 1 cup of the half and half, and mix again, working in as much of the second cup of half and half as needed so that the mixture is quite wet. Layer half of it into a greased three quart casserole or 9x13 pan, then layer on half the apples and hazelnuts. Sprinkle the layer well with cinnamon -- as much as you want! Repeat with the rest of the bread, apples and nuts, finishing with the cinnamon. Bake at 350 for one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzling each serving with caramel syrup. Vanilla ice cream wouldn't hurt, of course! It works as dessert or breakfast! Make it ahead and bake in the morning - perfect with coffee.