Forget kugel, break the fast with bread pudding

End the fast this Yom Kippur with a welcoming mushroom, cheese and butternut squash bread pudding that screams coziness.

Mushroom, cheese and butternut squash bread pudding 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mushroom, cheese and butternut squash bread pudding 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I have never been a kugel enthusiast. I like the idea of comforting warm noodles baked with savory or sweet fixings, but the paradox is that I am not a fan of soft-mushy pasta. I guess it is because, as a chef, I struggle to serve perfect al dente pasta that is toothy, with a little bite left in it. 
Somehow my dislike for soft noodles does not translate to soft bread. I know this is not logical, but I will be breaking my Yom Kippur fast with a warm, welcoming bread pudding. Even the name, Bread Pudding, screams coziness, and that is what I need after the fast.
I like the thriftiness of using leftover bread versus cooking noodles just for a dish that I know will cause them to become bloated and soft. I also enjoy the versatility of bread pudding with its ability to make any combination of vegetables and cheeses taste like a gourmet treat. Sure, it is peasant food, but a more sincere dish does not exist. This year, when you break the fast, try this delicious bread pudding.
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Mushroom, cheese and butternut squash bread pudding
1 (1-pound) loaf crusty country-style white bread or leftover halla1/4 cup olive oil4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme1 large garlic clove, minced6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (such as crimini, button, portobello, and stemmed shiitake), thinly sliced1 cup finely chopped onion1 1/2 cups thinly sliced fennel1 1/2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley3 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream8 large eggs2 teaspoons salt1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F.) Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.
1. Cut bottom crust and short ends off bread and discard. Cut remaining bread with crust into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups loosely packed). Place cubes in very large bowl. Add oil, thyme, and garlic; toss to coat. Spread cubes out on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Return toasted bread cubes to same large bowl.
2. Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, fennel, and butternut squash. Sauté until soft and juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add sautéed vegetables and parsley to bread cubes.
3. Whisk heavy cream, eggs, salt, and ground pepper in la arge bowl. Mix custard into bread and vegetables. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish. Sprinkle cheese over the top. The bread pudding can be prepared 1 day ahead to this step and can be stored covered in the refrigerator for one day.
Bake pudding uncovered until set and top is golden, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes.
Scoop the bread pudding on to serving plates and serve piping hot.
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