The name of this dessert is as poetic as its taste. Even the exact translation from french sounds lovely and inviting: “tenderness with apples.” The dessert itself is meant to be a humble bread pudding. More precisely, it’s an Alsatian beggar’s bread pudding (a “bettelman”) made with apples and day-old croissants.
The recipe and what I know about tendresse comes from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris, a book I found absolutely indispensable the last time I went to Paris (which was in 2008, sadly). The book not only provides rock solid recommendations for where to eat, but also includes recipes from some of the featured destinations. I suppose the idea is to visit a place, fall in love with a dish, and be able to come home and make it. I did the reverse for this particular recipe. I remember reading the recipe and going to Du Pain et Des Idées specifically for the tendresse aux pommes. And a pistachio escargot (puff pastry rolled with pistachio cream). And a savory croissant. As I was writing this post, I couldn’t remember what kind of croissant I had, so I thumbed through my journal from that Paris trip and found the entry from my second to last day in the city, when I finally made it to the bakery:
All I can say is I’m glad I just discovered this place or even my roomy “travel” jeans wouldn’t fit. I got 3 things because what the heck: (1) tendresse aux pommes (apple bread pudding for which there is a recipe in Clotilde’s book) (2) an “escargot” – swirl pastry w/ pistachio cream and dark choc chips (lawd help me) and (3) a savory mini-pain w/ sesame, feta, & honey. Yes. All three were off the charts. Best I’ve had. The savory thing was such a perfect blend of crunchy and soft, I didn’t know such a wonder could be baked. The escargot was the best. Buttery, soft, yet flaky. Again – a miracle of pastry science. If I could complain, I would say the dark choc was a little overpowering – but that was only due to its high quality. The tendresse was delish also – especially the bites of apple and raisin. I vowed to return every day for the rest of the trip.
Ordinarily, the pastries in Paris are of the highest, most perfect visual order. The éclairs are as straight and as thin as the french women, the fruit tarts are perfectly symmetrical, and les bonbons belong in a gallery. This dessert is an exception. I remember looking for the treat in the small shop and being a little surprised to find it tucked among the precisely shaped croissants and chaussons. It’s undeniably homey. Humble. Brown and lumpy.
What it lacks in typical french good looks, it more than makes up for in typical french flavor: delicate, nuanced, je ne sais quoi. At first bite, it’s sweetly spiced and the apple is bright and juicy. The best part is the aftertaste, though. Imagine a buttery vanilla cinnamon bun that wasn’t cloyingly sweet. The bourbon pulls the flavors together and demands that you have another bite.
As for texture, this is unlike other bread puddings I’ve had, which were either meltingly silky or chewy with patches of squish and some crispy edges. This is a bread pudding that has body and is uniformly soft, but not gooey or wet at all. There’s nothing jiggly here, but nothing crunchy, either (except for the apples). I found this texture very satisfying.
Although the recipe for tendresse aux pommes is not on Clotilde’s blog, she shared it with The Kitchn. A couple of notes: I swapped Knob Creek bourbon for the rum and I decided against raisins (but according to my 2008 self, the raisins are quite good, so next time, I will add them). The recipe calls for stale brioche, challah, or croissants. I look forward to the day when I have so many of those treats that they have a chance to get stale. Until then, I will have to buy them expressly for turning into bread pudding. I used about 3/4th of a challah from Whole Foods, which worked perfectly. Clotilde recommends leaving the bread to soak for at least 8 hours, but preferably for an entire day. I let mine chill for about 18 hours and it was worth it. You can enjoy this room temperature, but it’s even better warmed a little.