banana bread pudding

2 1/4 cups whole milk
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla paste
or pure vanilla extract
1 loaf brioche pullman loaf
or pain de mie
10 whole eggs
3 whole bananas
1/2 cup clarified butter
This is a great dessert for entertaining that would also be a perfect brunch dish. It's very basic - custard-soaked bread - yet rich and elegant, and it can be made up to 2 days in advance. We bake the bread pudding and then chill it, cut it into squares, and cook it in butter, so it's almost like French toast. We use brioche for its flavor, but any good white sandwich bread will work; look for long rectangular loaf called Pullman loaf or pain de mie, which has a soft, uniform interior, or crumb. The banana can be replaced with a similar quantity of dried fruit or omitted altogether - this is a delicious bread pudding without any fruit. It's excellent topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce, mascarpone cheese, maple syrup, honey, or even a berry sauce.
Combine the milk, cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and vanilla paste (not extract) in a large saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla extract, if using.
Preheat the broiler. Cut the crusts from the loaf of bread. Cut the bread in half, then cut lengthwise into slices that are about 1/2-inch thick; you will need 8 slices of bread (reserve the remaining bread for another use).
Put the slices on a baking sheet and toast on both sides under the broiler until golden brown. Remove from the broiler.
Lightly whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Whisk several ladles of the milk mixture into the yolk mixture, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the milk. Strain through a fine mesh basket strainer into a bowl and let the custard cool completely.
Spread about 1/4-inch of the custard in the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Lay 2 slices of the bread in a baking dish and pour in enough of the egg mixture to cover. Soak them, turning once, for about 1 minute; do not soak too long or they will be difficult to move. Lay the slices of bread crosswise in the baking pan. Repeat with 2 more slices.
Cut the bananas crosswise in half, then cut each half lengthwise in the pan, to cover the bread. Soak the remaining 4 pieces of bread in 2 batches, laying them crosswise over the bananas. Pour the remaining egg mixture over the top.
Cover the bread pudding with a piece of plastic wrap and press down gently. Let stand for 20 minutes to allow the egg mixture to soak into the bread.
Preheat the oven for 300°F.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a simmer. Remove the plastic wrap and place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the bread pudding. Cover the pan with aluminum foil.
Put the baking pan in a larger pan, such as a roasting pan. Carefully pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about 2/3 up the sides of the baking pan.
Bake for 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the pudding registers 180°F; a knife inserted in the pudding should come out clean. Carefully remove the baking pan from the water bath (using a turkey baster or a ladle to remove some of the water from the roasting pan first will make this easier), set on a cooling rack, and let cool, still covered, to room temperature.
Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or for up to 2 days.
Preheat oven to 275°F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet and put it in the oven.
Cut the bread pudding into 24 squares and remove them from the pan. Trim them as necessary and scrape off any custard from the bottom of the squares.
Heat about 1/4-inch of clarified butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. Add several pieces bread pudding, cut side down, without crowding. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, to warm and brown the pieces.
Put the browned pieces on the rack to keep warm as you continue to brown the remaining pieces.