Bread pudding pancakes: a tasty mystery

Recently I had taken a closer look at Southport Grocery’s walleye pike sandwich , and discovered some fascinating things. Now, I turn my attention to the breakfast side of the menu and examine the bread pudding pancakes. I initially assumed that these pancakes, being a simpler dish than the walleye pike sandwich, would bear a straightforward background as well. Nothing could have been further from the truth!

First, I wanted to explore the category of pudding in general. What exactly is pudding? It turns out to be quite a mysterious substance, encompassing any number of ingredients. Then, there are foods clearly identified as a ‘pudding’, such as our subject of inquiry, bread pudding, plus others like rice pudding, instant pudding, plum pudding, blood pudding and more…

If you aren’t familiar with these variations, be assured that some of them harbor a night-and-day difference.  Compare two different types of pudding. On one hand you have blood pudding, which is pig blood, oatmeal and assorted vegetables made into sausages.  On the other hand, you have instant pudding, which is a mix of sugar, modified food starch, and a host of other unpronounceable items. If that doesn’t affirm diversity, I don’t know what does.

Second, if that isn’t confusing enough, consider the foods that we also identify as pudding or pudding-like, such as: custard, flan, crème brulee, etc. Thinking that there must be some quality linking all these foods, some universal condition that, if met, means a food is clearly a pudding. I turned to the latest edition of Larousse Gastronomique. This hefty tome hails itself as “the world’s greatest culinary encyclopedia.” Even chef Anthony Bourdain, one of my foodie heroes, proclaimed it as “[t]he bible of cooking. The all time argument ender. Early in my cooking career I wielded my Larousse like a weapon and it never let me down.”

If Larousse could end Bourdain’s food arguments, then I was confident it would also ease my pudding woes. I anxiously flipped through the pages and browsed the alphabetized topics. At last I arrived at page eight hundred and thirty nine, where the entry for pudding is written. “This is it!” I thought. “I’ll finally understand pudding at last!” I eagerly read on.

Larousse reads, “Any of numerous dishes, sweet or savoury, served hot or cold, which are prepared in a variety of ways.”

WHAT??

Now, I don’t doubt the overall prowess of Larousse – but according to this definition, it seems like anything could be considered “pudding” – going to show you that even the most sage of culinary experts cannot mitigate its mystique.

So what do we know about pudding, and bread pudding specifically? Unfortunately, not too much. The concept of pudding is quite old, dating back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Most food historians agree that early puddings were savory and sausage-like, similar to the blood pudding described earlier. In fact, the word pudding hails from the French word boudin (pronounced BOO-dahn), which means “blood pudding.” Larousse notes that the sweeter concoctions we now associate with pudding didn’t gain widespread popularity until the 17th century.

Bread pudding itself first emerged as a creative way to use stale bread. Resourceful cooks would soak stale bread in milk to soften it, add a sweetener, and then bake the result. Bread pudding was considered a health food and commonly appears in antique cookbooks under the “Invalid Cookery” section (i.e. healthful recipes for the chronically ill).

Southport Grocery not only embraces but adds to the the pudding mystique by offering its bread pudding in pancake form. It’s made by soaking slices of bread in milk and sweetening them with just a few tablespoons of sugar. Then flour, eggs and butter are added. The mixture is cooked on a griddle, resulting in a pancake that is firm on the outside, yet surprisingly gooey and moist like bread pudding, on the inside.

The bread pudding pancakes are accompanied by a generous dollop of homemade cinnamon-sugar butter and a side of vanilla custard sauce, which is served slightly chilled and is bursting with flavor from real vanilla beans. “It tastes like melted vanilla ice cream!” exclaimed Katie, a member of the Southport Grocery team.

Just how did this mysterious breakfast treat earn its place on our menu? Fortunately, that history is pretty clear. According to Lisa, Southport Grocery’s owner, the bread pudding pancakes were introduced in the fall of 2003, back when the cafe wasn’t open for breakfast. “I’d been thinking about adding some breakfast items…I wanted a pancake with a different texture,” says Lisa. “That is my food style. I like taking classic dishes and adding a twist.”

Ultimately she decided to offer her bread pudding pancakes as a special one weekend. There was one small problem in doing so: Lisa didn’t have a griddle to prepare the pancakes en masse and ended up purchasing a small home griddle just for the occasion. The special was hugely successful. “I remember there was one customer who requested two orders of the pancakes, because he was afraid they’d never be available again!” says Lisa. “That was enough evidence for me to add them to the regular menu.” She went out and bought a twenty-four inch professional griddle and started offering the pancakes on weekends only. A few years later, the bread pudding pancakes were featured on an episode of Check, Please! and their popularity exploded. “After Check, Please! everyone wanted to try the pancakes! We bought a forty-eight inch griddle and reconfigured the whole kitchen line to accommodate it,” recalls Lisa. The bread pudding pancakes are now available daily.

The best way to indulge in this delectable dish? Opt for a full serving when you’re exceptionally hungry; otherwise many Southport Grocery staff (like Jake, pictured above to the right) recommend ordering a tasting portion of the bread pudding pancakes and pairing them with something savory, perhaps with bread pudding’s distant cousin, sausage? Curious cooks can also try making the recipe at home from scratch or purchasing Southport Grocery’s bread pudding pancake mix.

4 Comments
  1. Michael Uzmann - November 12, 2010

    Thanks for posting this recipe, folks. I wrote up my lengthy/wordy review for the ol’ foodblog here and will spread the word – future visits to chicago demand a return to Southport.

    http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/11/southport-grocery-and-cafe-chicago-il.html

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