All good things must come to an end -- in this case, tomato growing season in Southern California. But before we head into fall, you can have one last summer fling, with Sweet Arleen's heirloom tomato bread pudding. Cheesy and toasty on top, dense and rich inside, with bursts of home-grown heirloom tomatoes -- the savory seasonal dish is singing its swan song this month.
"We have customers come in and they get a savory bread pudding and a cupcake and that's their meal," says Arleen Scavone, president and founder of the Westlake Village bakery. (Scavone is also a two-time Food Network Cupcake Wars winner.)
Scavone says the bakery, launched in 2009, sells some 10,000 cupcakes a week and also does a brisk business with sweet and savory bread puddings. Demand for the puddings skyrocketed after an appearance last spring on the Cooking Channel show Unique Sweets.
"We launched the savories about a year after we opened. I was a little hesitant with the name being 'Sweet Arleen's' to then introduce a savory product, but that hasn't caused any constraint with customers loving the savories," says Scavone.
For the heirloom tomato bread pudding, Sweet Arleen's teamed up with long-time San Fernando Valley grower Laura Taylor.
"I knew that Arleen was an expert in cupcakes and bread puddings and I was an expert in tomatoes, and it just seemed like a really good match," says Taylor, who grows 150 varieties of organic heirloom tomatoes at her Woodland Hills home and in a nearby community garden.
Taylor, who has a blog and also teaches classes, says she began growing tomatoes about 17 years ago: "I had three little boys and needed something fun to do with them. We decided to start vegetable gardening. It happened quite innocently -- hey, let's put up a little garden. And I fell in love with tomatoes, with the colors and the flavors, and the rich stories that go behind all of the heirloom tomatoes."
Most of Sweet Arleen's bread puddings come with a sauce on the side. But Scavone said that with Taylor's heirlooms, a sauce seemed superfluous and masked the tomatoes' intense flavors.
Taylor points out that "heirloom tomatoes have a flavor that you can't get in a hybrid tomato. There's a depth and a richness and a character to each tomato variety that's so unique."
In addition to the Westlake Village store, Sweet Arleen's also has a "cupcake suite on wheels", which covers Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.
Heirloom Tomato Bread Pudding
From: Sweet Arleen's
Makes: 24 large muffin-size portions or a large rectangular casserole.
3 pounds heirloom tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 ¼ teaspoons Herbs de Provence
¾ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
½ teaspoon ground pepper (or to taste)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut each tomato into four pieces. In a large stainless steel or glass bowl, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper.
2. Place the tomatoes onto a cookie sheet with the cut side up. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50-60 minutes. After baking the tomatoes, let them cool, then cut each quarter into four pieces. Put these aside while you make the pudding.
10 cups sourdough baguette, cut into bite-size cubes
2 cups whole milk
8 large eggs
2 cups grated fontina cheese
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1 ½ teaspoons ground pepper (or to taste)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 to 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese for the topping
1. Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper and garlic powder.
2. Fold in the fontina cheese and bread cubes. Then fold in the tomatoes (see above).
3. If you're using a large rectangular pan, grease the pan and pour in the batter. Generously sprinkle the top with the grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45-55 minutes, or until the custard is set.
4. For large muffins, either use paper cups or grease and flour the muffin tins. Generously sprinkle the tops with the grated parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes, or until the custard is set.
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5. Serve the bread pudding warm. Store any leftovers in the fridge or freezer.
Sweet Arleen's: 960 South Westlake Boulevard, Suite #4, Westlake Village; (805) 373-7373.
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