Add the lemon zest and sugar to a large bowl and toss with your fingers to break up all the zest. Let sit while you gather your other ingredients. You can also mix it 30 minutes ahead of time if you remember. The longer it sits, the more flavorful your custard will be.
Add the half and half, cream and salt and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Whisk in the eggs until completely incorporated.
Layer the bread and raspberries in a 1.5 quart baking dish, and pour the custard mixture over top. You can do this in layers to evenly distribute the lemon zest throughout the bread. I poured it over and then gently lifted the bread and moved it to distribute the zest.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes. [At this point you can stop and refrigerate the pudding overnight but I don’t like to wait much longer because the filling will become mushy and the bread pieces indistinct.]
Preheat oven to 325°.
Prepare your topping while your pudding rests: mix the sugar and the zest together and toss with your fingers to break up the zest. Melt butter, squeeze half a lemon and then add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and butter to the sugar mixture; mix to combine. Add the bread cubes and toss until the bread is coated. Distribute on top of the pudding, pressing down slightly so that the larger pieces are partially submerged.
Bake in preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the custard is set and gives slightly when pressed. It should feel like jello. I also use a toothpick to test the center to make sure it is not still liquid. It will never come out clean like a cake. The cooking time will vary greatly depending on the type and size of your dish. Just watch it.
Let cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes prior to serving.
You can serve it warm, room temperature or cold. I prefer it warm or room temperature – after refrigeration, the topping will begin to soften and lose some of its charm.
Serve with lemon whipped cream, a generous drizzle of brandy lemon sauce, and additional fresh raspberries.
Brandy Lemon Sauce:
Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan and heat gently, stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved and the sauce is warm.
The lemon juice in the topping will cause it to brown faster than the rest of the bread. You can either put it on as directed or you can press it on halfway through the baking time. Both options have negatives but the topping is seriously so delicious, I wouldn’t want you to skip it.Alcohol Free Lemon Sauce: if you want to skip the booze, you can mix the juice from 1 lemon with it’s zest (zest first, then juice!) and enough powdered sugar to make it thick and sweet. This is really a matter of taste. It will thicken as it sits, so be aware!
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