2 cups leeks, 1/2 inch slices rinsed and cleaned white and light green bits only
6-8 strips of bacon, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
fresh ground black pepper
1 large loaf of Challah bread (about 10 cups), cut into 1" cubes
1-2 teaspoons fresh chives chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
3 large eggs
3 cups heavy cream
a pinch of fresh nutmeg (1/8 teaspoon of less)
1 cup shredded emmenthaler or comte cheese
Place a large saute pan over medium high heat and add the bacon bits and leeks. Cook them gently for 2-3 minutes, until the leeks have softened. Reduce the heat to low, add the butter, some salt and pepper, and cover the pan. Allow the leeks and bacon to caramelize together over the heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. The leeks will be very wilted and the bacon will be soft, but cooked through.
Meanwhile, if your bread is not a day-old, slightly stale loaf, now is a good time to toast the bread and dry it out - put it in a 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes and it'll be crispy, as though stale. Leave the oven on. When the leeks are cooked through and the bread is dried out nicely put them aside. Find the biggest bowl you have, add the bread cubes to that bowl, add the leeks/bacon saute mix, thyme, and chives to the bread cubes. Toss well.
In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, eggs, nutmeg, and some salt and pepper. Line a 13"x9" baking pan with some parchment paper, or at least grease it lightly. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese into the bottom of the pan evenly. Spread 1/2 the bread mixture over the cheese, spread another 1/4 cup of cheese on this, then the other 1/2 of bread and another 1/4 cup of cheese.
Add enough of the milk/egg mixture to cover or nearly cover the bread. Press on this gently with your hands and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. Pour the rest of the milk/egg mix over the bread, sprinkle it with some salt and the rest of the cheese. Cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 1/2 hours, until the top is a deep golden brown and bubbly.
Let the pudding sit for 10 minutes before eating. Eat it while it's still warm.
bacon recipe courtesy of: Kathy Day, Kathy Can Cook | The Clean Plate Club, April 4, 2011