'Food52 Cookbook' collects website readers' favorite dishes

'Food52 Cookbook' collects website readers' favorite dishes
Savory bread pudding from the book "The Food52 Cookbook." (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

If you want to know which recipes home cooks like best, the surest way to find out is to ask them. Simple and direct as it is, that's the theory behind the website Food52. And now, after a year of questions and answers, they've collected the results in a cookbook by the same name.

The brainchild of former New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser and recipe tester Merrill Stubbs, Food52 functions as a combination amateur cooking competition/crowd-sourcing machine/food community. Each week there is a theme ("Your Best Stew With Olives"), and members submit their recipes. The members vote and a winner is selected. The book includes testing notes from Hesser and Stubbs, a brief bio of the authors (who in the main seem to be bloggers) and comments from members of the community.

So what do home cooks like? At least on Food52, the answer is something like "Bon Appetit before the makeover." Rich always does well, and why shouldn't it? So do dishes that are just a little different from what you might expect. And there is an admirably sensible focus on getting the most flavor with the least effort.

The savory bread pudding is an example of all three. The texture (after adding five eggs and a cup of cream) is voluptuous. The flavoring with a combination of prosciutto, mushrooms, goat cheese and Gruyère gets a nice lift from what seems like a LOT of fresh thyme (1 teaspoon chopped). And the whole thing comes together in minutes, minus the baking.

Nothing earth-shaking, but deeply and sincerely delicious, which, come to think of it, could be considered earth-shaking in its own way.

"The Food52 Cookbook" by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs and the Food52 community, William Morrow, $35.

—Russ Parsons

Savory bread pudding

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: Adapted from "The Food52 Cookbook" by Amanda Hesser, Merrill Stubbs and the Food 52 community. This recipe comes from the member who calls herself "Kamileon."

3 cups cubed bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

4 eggs

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

3 ounces prosciutto, diced

2 shallots, minced

4 cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces fresh goat cheese, finely crumbled

1/4 cup grated Gruyère or Parmesan (optional).

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and toast the bread cubes in the oven until lightly golden, for 10 minutes or so, stirring halfway through. Remove and place in a large mixing bowl, leaving the oven on.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolk, milk and cream until thoroughly blended.

3. Butter a 9x9-inch square baking dish. In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, the prosciutto, shallots, mushrooms, thyme and a few grinds of pepper to taste. Gently stir in the goat cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the top and gently stir to moisten thoroughly.

4. Turn the bread-milk mixture into the greased baking dish and, if desired, top with grated Gruyère or Parmesan. Bake until the mixture is puffed and firm, from 35 to 45 minutes.

Each serving: 537 calories; 24 grams protein; 20 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 41 grams fat; 23 grams saturated fat; 356 mg cholesterol; 4 grams sugar; 960 mg sodium.