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Apple Bread Pudding with a Lavender Twist

In this recipe, the milk for the custard is infused with the flavor and scent of sweet lavender. This bread pudding is especially delicious made with raisin bread. The dried cherries and brandy give it a luscious extra dimension.

2 teaspoons butter
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons dried lavender florets
1/2 cup halved, dried pitted cherries
3 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon brandy
4 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
8 slices day-old (stale) raisin or cinnamon raisin bread
3 eggs slightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter

GARNISH
1 tablespoon apple jelly or orange marmalade, melted; heavy cream or vanilla ice cream

Use the 2 teaspoons butter to thoroughly grease a 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.

Combine the milk, sugar, and lavender in a medium saucepan and heat until hot, but not boiling. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow the lavender to steep for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, soak the cherries in the 3 tablespoons of brandy for 30 minutes.

In a large bowl toss the apples with the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange zest, and brandy-soaked cherries. Tear the bread into 2-inch pieces and add to apple mixture.

Stir the beaten eggs and salt into the milk and lavender mixture, then strain through a sieve over the bread and apple mixture, pressing down on the lavender to release its flavor. Discard the lavender. Add the melted butter to the bread mixture, stirring to combine all the ingredients. Pour the bread mixture into the prepared baking dish and allow the pudding to stand for at least an hour or more before baking.

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Bake the pudding for 55 to 60 minutes, or until set and golden brown. Drizzle with the final tablespoon of brandy. Brush the top with warm jelly. Serve warm with heavy cream or good vanilla ice cream.

Serves 6 to 8

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