pan dulce can be used to make very good bread pudding -- the textures and flavors are very well-suited. I like to buy a variety of different conchas (chocolate, cinnamon, anise -- they're fairly subtle in flavor) specifically for bread pudding, and allow them to get a bit dried-out in the refrigerator for a few days. sometimes I augment the pastries with plain white bread if I don't have enough on hand. in this recipe, the measurements for pan dulces and bread are flexible -- any ratio will do, as long as you keep the total volume the same (I'll measure the volume of torn pastry/bread pieces next time I make this recipe). if you have only fresh pan dulce or bread and don't want to wait days to make this pudding, just toast the pieces lightly in the oven at about 250°F for 10 minutes or so. you don't want them to get browned, just a bit dry to ensure a bread pudding with the proper texture -- firm, but not dry; definitely not goopy or wet. below, I've also included my recipe-in-progress for caramel sauce, which is quite scrumptious drizzled generously over bread pudding or just about anything else.
4 pan dulces, torn into pieces approximately 1" on all sides (torn pieces are more aesthetically appealing to me than slices or cut cubes, but won't affect the final outcome, so tear, slice or cut as you prefer)
1 thick slice plain white bread, torn into pieces (same size as pan dulce pieces)
1 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons cinnamon
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed (increase to 3/4 cup if using plain white bread only)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use Mexican vanilla; bourbon or other liqueur also works well)
2 tablespoons softened butter
preheat oven to 350°F. butter a medium-large covered baking dish (if you don't have a covered baking dish of the proper size, you can cover your dish tightly with foil). scatter half of the pan dulce and/or bread pieces in the dish, sprinkle with half of the cinnamon and half of the raisins, then repeat. thoroughly whisk together the milk, cream, sugar, salt, eggs and vanilla (or liqueur) in a large bowl and pour evenly over all, pressing down with a slotted spoon to ensure all the pastry and/or pieces are soaked. dot the top of the pudding with the softened butter, cover with lid or foil, and bake for 25 minutes. remove cover or foil and continue to bake for about 20 more minutes, until the top of the bread pudding is golden brown and center is firm (a toothpick inserted in center should come out clean).
the above bread pudding is *very* good served with caramel sauce. I'm working on perfecting my sauce recipe; in the meantime, here's the recipe-in-progress, which produces caramel candy when cooled. my goal is to produce a thick caramel syrup when cooled. however, this caramel is delicious, and is the perfect texture when warm. more notes: candy-making is basically kitchen chemistry; the temperatures specified are very important, and I've found it essential to use a candy thermometer. many cookbooks and websites describe various methods for testing the sugar syrup to determine the stage (thread, soft-ball, firm-ball, etc.), but I've gotten the best results when using a candy thermometer. it's also important to be aware that you'll be working with VERY hot sugar syrup (which can produce severe burns), so take all necessary precautions: turn all saucepan handles in so they don't protrude where the pan could easily be knocked over; let other people in the house know what you're doing so they'll be careful around the stove, etc. that said, candy-making is a great way to watch physics/chemistry in action as sugar syrup changes physical states, browning reactions take place, etc., so I think it's good to encourage those who are interested to watch and participate. enough warnings -- *do* try making this; it's a lot of fun!
2 cups white sugar 2 cups heavy cream 1/4 cup invert sugar syrup (sugar syrup boiled to the soft ball stage with a bit of cream of tartar or lemon juice, which will convert it to glucose & sucrose -- check this link for a detailed recipe) OR corn syrup 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (again, I use Mexican vanilla; you can also substitute bourbon or any other liqueur)
place sugar, cream, invert sugar syrup (or corn syrup) and salt in a large saucepan -- make sure it's deep enough that the mixture can boil up to well over twice the original volume without boiling over. stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. when mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring if you haven't already. clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, immersing bulb in the boiling liquid (and ensuring that the bulb is not touching the bottom of the pan). adjust heat down to medium-low -- keep it boiling, but not boiling over. continue to cook until mixture reaches 235°F - 240°F -- this will take a while, as the sugar syrup is passing through several phases to reach the "soft ball" stage. at the same time, the proteins in the cream are undergoing the Maillard Reaction, which you can observe directly as it turns a creamy golden brown in color. when the mixture reaches the proper temperature, turn off the heat, remove the candy thermometer, add the vanilla (without stirring), cover the pan and remove from the burner. allow it to cool for a few minutes, then stir in the vanilla. spoon a bit out, make sure it's not too hot and taste. the mixture should be nicely thickened and deliciously caramel-y. use it warm to drizzle over the bread pudding (or any other dessert). you can also *pour it into a buttered glass dish, cover with buttered wax paper and refrigerate to cut into caramel candies, or you can *pour it into a jar to keep for future use -- you'll have to warm it up to scoop it out. *note: when pouring caramel, DO pour while it's still quite warm. do NOT scrape the sides of the pan with a spatula or spoon to get it all out -- the mixture that adheres to the sides of the pan can contain sugar crystals that can ruin your entire batch of caramel. AFTER pouring, feel free to scoop any remaining syrup and use it immediately over your dessert, nom it straight off the spoon, etc.; just don't include it with any caramel you store.