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Who's Cooking: Patti Grabel of Water Mill

Blueberry challah bread pudding as made by Patti

Blueberry challah bread pudding as made by Patti Grabel in Water Mill. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Patti Grabel, a visual artist, lives in Water Mill.

How does your cooking relate to your work?
I pride myself on the fact that I love to feed my family and friends and fill my house with familiar smells. The spoon is a beautiful symbol of nurturing, so I use it in my work, exploring what a spoon can do. My upcoming show [at the Chase Edwards Gallery in Bridgehampton, now through Aug. 4] is called “Causing a Stir.” The works feature photographic compositions depicting wooden spoons. Each piece is a thread of the narrative, representing nourishment, sensuality, creative expression and more. I’m so grateful for the opportunity, I wanted to give something back. I called City Harvest and we agreed that a portion of the proceeds from the show would go to them.

Where does this recipe come from?
Shabbat dinner at my beloved Nana Norma’s Brooklyn apartment was always celebrated with her homemade challah. We could smell the sweet aroma as soon as we stepped off the elevator.  After dinner, we’d take a large tote and go door to door to collect leftover challah from a few of her dear friends in the building. This was also my Nana’s way of checking in on them and a very loving way to show off her adorable grandchildren. Back in her kitchen, she’d tear up the communal bread and soak it overnight in cream, vanilla, sugar, eggs and butter. In the morning, she would bake her delectable challah bread pudding and we would divide it up when the neighbors came over.

How have you adapted the recipe?
I always knew what went into her recipe, but I never felt like I quite nailed it, even though I made it over and over again. I’d make it for my kids’ birthdays, when they came home from college. It became my signature dish. I started to play with it. Her recipe had sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. I lightened it up a little, although it’s still pretty rich. But just like when I made her version, I still make mine by feel. Sometimes if the bread is very dry, I need to add more liquid or eggs. And I vary it depending on the season. In the summer I’ll add a cup of fresh blueberries or diced fresh peaches to the bread mixture when it comes out of the refrigerator. For the winter, I like a 1/2 cup of golden raisins soaked in rum or a 1/2 cup of white or semisweet chocolate chips.

Serving suggestions?
You can serve the bread pudding with fresh whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or caramelized apples. For the apples, dice 3 apples, sauté them in butter and mix in 1/8 teaspoon of apple pie spice, some brown sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. It’s delicious over the pudding. Add a little vanilla ice cream and it’s heavenly. For a delicious breakfast, serve it with warm maple syrup or strawberry jam.


1 large loaf challah bread, torn or cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg

3 large egg yolks

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and divided, plus more for pan if needed

4 tablespoons turbinado raw cane sugar 

1. Place the challah pieces in a larger glass mixing bowl. Set aside.

2. Combine the cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt in a blender. Add the egg and egg yolks and blend, starting on low and increasing speed to high, until mixture is light and foamy, 20 to 30 seconds. Pour over bread and gently toss to coat.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour and up to 12; this gives bread time to evenly soak up custard.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Grease bottom and sides of a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan with 2 tablespoons of butter. Scrape the bread mixture into the pan. Drizzle the top of the pudding with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

5. Bake until the pudding is light golden, puffed and pulling away from the edges of the pan and butter is bubbling, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 1 hour before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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