another serving of hawaiian sweet bread pudding

When is a recipe more than just a recipe?

Back when I first started blogging in 2007, one of the first recipes I shared was for Hawaiian Sweet Bread Pudding. It’s so sinfully delicious, people are often surprised at how easy it is to make.

This longstanding Island favorite is perfect for neighborhood potlucks, bake sales, and school and church gatherings. It’s my go-to recipe for last minute guests, always fits the bill for relaxing Sunday brunches, and is just about as comforting as comfort food can get.

I’ve fed sweet bread pudding to painters, carpenters, and landscapers. To dinner guests I wanted to impress. To new neighbors and physical therapists. I even converted a fourth grade class of die-hard brownie and chocolate chip cookie lovers. One taste, and their stories magically brimmed with sensory detail.

But of all the happy eaters I’ve encountered, Roberta is my favorite.

While making yet another batch of sweet bread pudding over the Memorial Day Weekend, I thought of Roberta as I usually do. I think her story bears repeating, especially for those of you who’ve just recently joined us.

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Roberta was the first adult I ever tutored for the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia. When I first met her, she carried a huge burden of shame because she couldn’t read. She knew her alphabet and a few simple words. She could balance her checking account. But she couldn’t read street signs or the monthly bulletins posted at the school where she worked as a custodian.

As a child, she loved school. But her father took her out so she could help with farm work at home. Ever since then, Roberta equated not being able to read with IQ. She went through life thinking she was dumb. She was constantly trying to hide her illiteracy. When cleaning classrooms at the end of the day, she’d take home workbooks or textbooks teachers had thrown in the trash. Anything that might teach her to read better.

She told me that every day she prayed to God for help. She was so tired of feeling invisible, inferior, and deathly afraid that someday someone would discover her secret and destroy her last shred of self esteem. She mustered up the courage to attend night school, but the more advanced students intimidated her. Her very wise teacher, however, suggested she might do better one-on-one with a tutor.

Roberta and I met twice a week after school for five years. Besides the workbook lessons, we read picture books, easy readers and large print romance novels. She loved the youth biographies of Helen Keller and Jackie Robinson. Anything that needed deciphering, we worked on together — applications, insurance forms, land ownership documents, legal papers related to her husband’s death.

She liked gardening, so we read seed catalogs. We perused grocery ads and pretended she needed to find an apartment in the classifieds. One by one, we tried to break down anything that used to stand in her way — maps, brochures, business cards, restaurant menus, a letter from a beloved cousin.

We were humbled and grateful for our time together. Roberta was finally getting a small portion of what she had been entitled to all along, and I, who had always taken my ability to read for granted, saw the world open up to Roberta in ways I’d never imagined. Our first Christmas together, I had the honor and privilege of giving Roberta her first picture book — the first real book she had ever owned, the first book I had ever published.

We became natural penpals. She’s kittens, I’m teddy bears.

We worked on writing, too. Before I met Roberta, she had never written a personal letter or shopping list. She said it was a huge burden having to memorize everything — doctors’ orders for when and how to take prescriptions, directions to a new place, each small impression or thought she felt worth keeping. I was surprised to learn Roberta also felt inadequate because she couldn’t record her favorite recipes to pass on to her daughter, and that she had never actually followed a written recipe.

This is where Hawaiian Sweet Bread Pudding comes in. Roberta loved hearing about my growing up in Hawai’i, and was especially interested in the food. I could have told her the recipe, and with her finely-tuned memory, she could have easily remembered it. But she wanted to experience yet another form of reading: a list of ingredients followed by a step-by-step process that would result in something tangible she could share with others. So we read the recipe together, and she purchased her first set of measuring spoons and cups.

Next time we met, she was all smiles. Everyone loved her bread pudding. Everyone asked for the recipe. But she wouldn’t share it. For once, she had something everybody else wanted: a good secret. Not only was she a 50-something-year-old woman who could read, now she could outbake the socks off her friends.

So now I’m sharing the recipe with you. As you skim the directions, think about Roberta and how these simple words empowered her. As with all good bakers, she added a few of her own ingredients: a newfound sense of pride and a genuine love, rather than a fear, of reading.

* * *


1 loaf King’s Sweet Bread (no substitute)
1/2 to 1/3 cup raisins
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 extra large eggs
walnuts, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

1.  Grease or butter a 9″×13″ glass baking dish.
2.  Break bread into small pieces and lay in the dish.
3.  Sprinkle raisins over bread.
4.  Melt butter over medium heat, then stir in sugar and milk.
5.  Remove from heat and add vanilla and beaten eggs.
6.  Pour whole mixture evenly over bread pieces, making sure to moisten all.
7.  Sprinkle cinnamon on top; add broken walnut pieces if desired.
8. Bake in 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.
9.  Cool for a few minutes, then slice and enjoy.

As people in Hawai’i say, it’s real ono!

Optional: After baking, drizzle on icing of confectioner’s sugar mixed with a little milk.

Note: King’s Hawaiian Sweet Bread is widely available in major supermarket chains across the country. If you don’t see it in your bread aisle, try the bakery section!


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weekend cooking button (2)180This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Yum!


Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

50 thoughts on “another serving of hawaiian sweet bread pudding

  1. What a lovely story, Jama. That does sound yummy too. My husband doesn’t like cinnamon, would it be okay to use nutmeg instead?


    1. Thanks for reading, Catherine. Are you able to get King’s Hawaiian Bread in Canada? I’ve never tried nutmeg in this recipe, so I don’t know how it would turn out without the cinnamon. You may want to compensate by using the walnut pieces and drizzling it with the icing (I usually omit the icing to cut back on sugar). Now that I think about it, I usually sprinkle nutmeg on custard pies and this is basically a custard so it would probably be okay. 🙂


  2. This brought tears to my eyes. What a heartwarming story, what a difference you made in Roberta’s life and how gratifying for both of you to have had this time together! Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.
    A friend of mine taught a colleague in his woodworking shop to read. The man announced one day that he had just read his first book – and it was my Itsy Bitsy Spider. It gave me chills!
    And as for bread pudding- it is high on my list of favorite desserts. I will be sure to try this one. It sounds delicious!


    1. Thanks for sharing that, Iza! Can’t do better than Itsy Bitsy Spider for a first book. Yes, definitely something to treasure! Hope you try this recipe sometime and enjoy it. 🙂


  3. This is a story that I will share with my teachers and current students Jama. As you said, we don’t realize how blessed we are to know how to read. What a gift you gave each other in your friendship. Bread pudding is a favorite dessert, so I’m glad to have the recipe, but even more, glad to eat a bite and remember Roberta. Thank you!


    1. Thanks for sharing, Linda. It was definitely a gift I’ll never forget, and until I worked with Roberta I didn’t realize how I’d taken my ability to read for granted in so many small everyday things. I also never realized what a huge burden it is for an illiterate person to try to pretend he/she can read to the rest of the world.


    1. Thanks, Ginger. Glad you enjoyed hearing about Roberta. Appreciate the PB suggestion — the thought has crossed my mind :).


  4. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story–how fortunate you and Roberta were to have each other in your lives.
    The bread pudding sounds delicious. I’ve never seen King’s Hawaiian Sweet Bread. Can I ignore the no substitute asterisk and use challah?


    1. There’s something magical about King’s Hawaiian Bread! Have you tried this finder?

      Even Walmart carries it now 🙂

      But, if you can’t find it, challah may be a good substitute. You would need about 1# of bread. Here’s the link to King’s Original Sweet Round Bread for comparison purposes:

      If you make it, let us know how it turns out!!


  5. *makes a note to look for King’s Hawaiian Bread*

    What a lovely post, Jama. And I second the PB idea.


  6. What do I think? It was all feelings and gratitude to you for dignifying the life of another human being. Thank you for being so humanistic. For Northern Californians, Raleys / Bel Air supermarkets carry King’s Bakery bread. Thank you for the recipe…from someone who grew up on King’s Bakery products in Hawaii.


    1. As I’ve found with most of my experiences as a teacher, I get more in return from my students than I give them. Roberta and I had a special bond; I feel so privileged to have been paired with her.


  7. Roberta said that she prayed to God every day for help. I’m pretty sure that you were indeed the answer to those prayers.

    I love everything about this. I can’t wait to make this sweet tribute to Roberta and to you, Jama.


    1. Yummy tasting! You could make this recipe very easily. Find some King’s Bakery Sweet Bread. Round loaf, orange colored plastic wrapper :).


  8. Wipes a tear… Lovely, Jama! And, gosh, I’d forgotten completely about that King’s bread. I bet that does make a delicious bread pudding.


  9. Thanks for the story and the recipe! I am a bread pudding lover and don’t have it nearly enough. Yay for you and Roberta! So glad she kept going even though she was intimidated. Her night school teacher was indeed wise. I heard from my tutee’s mom that she says now that she likes reading, which made me feel like I had won a prize! I hope she continues to feel that way.


  10. I never had bread pudding before. I somehow never put the two together. But it sounds like I must try it some time 🙂


    1. It’s so easy and calls for basic ingredients — eggs, milk, bread, vanilla, sugar. Think of it as a baked french toast with a nice custard around it :).


  11. Oh Jama, what a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it, and sharing your time with Roberta. I don’t know how anyone could NOT tear up reading about Roberta’s struggle to read. And the recipe looks amazing too! What a treat!


  12. Oh Jama, this story brings tears to my eyes. What wonderful people both you and Roberta are. I love bread pudding and will think of Roberta’s successes when I try your recipe.


  13. Clearly late to the party on this, but what a *beautiful* story. I had no idea you were a literacy tutor. What a way to give someone the world. ♥♥♥


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