Always in Season

Blueberry Bread Pudding

by Erin Haggerty

Blueberry Bread Pudding

Kelley DeBettencourt

So good he made it twice? Almost. Kevin Crowell created another inspired bread pudding at his second restaurant, the Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs. Using the same potato bread base, this one incorporates dark chocolate and Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt.  

During the four years that I waitressed at Détente, guests would ask me for menu recommendations all of the time. Responding always made me feel a little bit uncomfortable. (How do I know if you love squid as much as I do?) And anyone who has ever waitressed will tell you that it’s always awkward to go on a passionate tirade about your favorite dish just to have the customer order something else.

But with dessert at Détente it was easy, and my response was always the same: “If you’ve never had the blueberry bread pudding, you have to try it. It’s our signature dessert, and the only dish that’s been on the menu since Détente opened.” That was enough for most people. But sometimes a customer would shoot back, “I hate bread pudding.” And then I would explain, patiently, how this one was different.

Some, or most, of the bread pudding’s iconic stature is due to its hits of distinct flavors—sweet (blueberries), salty (caramel sauce) and sour (lemon curd). Each element is delicious in its own right. They are otherworldly together.

It all started in the summer of 2005 with a crop of North Tabor Farm blueberries, which usually make their Island debut in July. “I was looking for a new dessert to show them off,” said Kevin Crowell, the head chef and owner of Détente. He knew that he wanted to integrate them into an original bread pudding recipe—using the potato bread that precedes each meal at Détente—but Kevin didn’t want the dessert to be so sweet and syrupy that the blueberries would get lost. So, he soaked the bread and blueberries in buttermilk for a tangy richness before baking it. When it comes out of the oven, the pudding is portioned into circular molds, drizzled with warm salty caramel-rum sauce and a dollop of elderflower liquor-infused lemon curd, and served piping hot.

The dessert’s permanent post on the menu is anomalous for Détente, a restaurant that prides itself on seasonal offerings and an ever-changing menu. A few years ago, the blueberry bread pudding was almost retired. Kevin was tweaking the dessert menu and thought that it was time to give the bread pudding a facelift. He knew that he had a winning combination with the bread and the buttermilk, but he wanted to try something in place of the blueberries, caramel, and lemon curd. “That didn’t last long,” he said. “There was a quick and loud response from the customers: ‘Bring it back! Now!’” So he did.

No dish is ever truly safe from a chef’s creative whimsy. But after all they’ve been through together, Kevin regards his blueberry bread pudding with absolute respect. “Some dishes are just right and yell out to you, ‘leave me alone!’” he said. “It’ll be around for a while. It’s going to age gracefully, I think.”

Never in my time at Détente was a customer disappointed with the dessert. Sure, there were a staunch few who refused to leave their “I hate bread pudding” comfort zone. But whenever I checked on a table after convincing a group to give it a try, the response was the same: “Oh. My. God.”