The holidays are upon us, and in New Orleans, that means food. Family recipe cards are being shared with the next generation and ingredients lined up on the table. In most New Orleans families, holiday dishes are passed down and remain unchanged for a century or more. Seafood is always part of the traditional New Orleans holiday dinner. Oysters are ordered, shrimp too. Lump crabmeat is likely to be on the grocery list.
In the country, there may even be crawfish pies baking soon. Gumbos will be served as starters along with shrimp and crawfish bisques. What comes between varies from household to household, but dinner usually begins with Creole Oyster Patties—straight from the oven—and ends with Creole Bread Pudding generously topped with Whiskey Sauce.
Our family’s Creole Bread Pudding is below; the ingredients are up for loose interpretation, and any fruit can be substituted. However, Whiskey Sauce is non-negotiable. If you make it, don’t be stingy with the application. The better the whiskey, the better the sauce. If Bourbon is too sweet for your tastes, you might prefer a good Irish Whiskey.
As for Oyster Patties, I said it all before: No culinary topic in New Orleans evokes the conversational response that Oyster Patties do. The mention of the dish by New Orleanians causes instant excitement, “Oyster Patties; everyone loves Oyster Patties!” Locals begin by telling you who in their family made them, how they were made, and over which particular holiday the Oyster Patty held court. The conversation then rapidly turns to recipe variations: to mushroom or not to mushroom, cream or no cream? Next is the reminiscing over McKenzie’s Bakery. Then a pause, finally, when the idea dawns: “Hmmm, who’s still making the shells?” The answer is listed below.
The New Orleans Oyster Patty tradition harkens back to Creole New Orleans. The origins of the French dish entered the New Orleans lexicon of cooking as far back as the 1840s. It was already a mainstay of Creole entertaining long before the turn of the century. Bouchées d’Huitres are documented in New Orleans cookbooks as early as 1922. Oyster Bouchées, Oyster Vol-Au-Vents, or as they have come to be known, Oyster Patties, continue to be a mainstay in New Orleans entertaining and holiday meals.
Creole Bread Pudding also has roots in the earliest of New Orleans’ residents. Creoles were known for their thrift, and no perfectly good loaf of French Bread goes to waste in a Creole kitchen. If you’re planning on this dish, you can use a fresh thick loaf of Leidenheimer, but adjust the liquid accordingly. If the loaf is stale, soak for 30-40 minutes in the egg mixture until saturated before baking.
Creole Bread Pudding
1 Large loaf of stale French Bread
1 ½ Cup (1 ½ sticks) melted butter
1 Quart fresh whole milk
3 Cups sifted fine cane sugar
2 Teaspoons pure vanilla
1 Cup seedless raisins, dark and golden, soaked in bourbon or Amaretto overnight optional (plus 1 cup of any additional fruit desired)
2 Apples, peeled cored, and large diced
8 Whole fresh eggs
¼ Cup fresh butter (½ stick)
Begin with a large bowl. Add milk, sugar, vanilla, butter, and fruits. Whisk eggs separately, then add to milk mixture. Tear bread apart in one- to two-inch pieces. Toss until saturated, then soak in milk and egg mixture for 30 minutes. Use butter to grease large baking dish or brownie pan, dotting remainder of butter on top of pudding before baking. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.
3 Cups sifted cane sugar
1 Cup fresh butter (2 sticks)
½ Cup of Bourbon
Melt butter over heat. Blend in sugar until smooth. Add whiskey. Serve over pudding warm.
The following is how I remember cooking Oyster Patties as a child. This recipe comes from my Grammy; she was raised on the old Leblanc plantation south of Baton Rouge. This is hers.
Creole Oyster Patties
1 pint of oysters (3-4 dozen small or large oysters coarsely chopped)
1 stick of butter
1 cup green onions chopped
1 cup parsley chopped
1 cup of “The Holy Trinity” (finely diced celery, bell pepper, and onion)
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 ½ teaspoon fresh thyme chopped
3 tablespoons flour
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 to 1 ½ cups of oyster liquor
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Tabasco to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place patty shells on a baking sheet and lightly brown in oven before filling.
Strain oysters reserving oyster liquor, a precious commodity—do not spill a drop. Coarsely chop oysters if large, cut in half if small, and place to the side.
Sauté seasonings in melted butter until soft, then add garlic and sauté until translucent. Over low heat, add flour slowly stirring into seasoning until smooth. Add oyster liquor, cayenne, cream, and thyme, stirring gently for about 5-6 minutes. Stop when oyster edges begin to curl. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Remove from heat. The mixture should be thickish and creamy. Add more flour and cream if necessary, but remember to balance the seasoning accordingly.
Spoon oyster filling into individual patty shells and place “lids” on each patty.
Bake for 12-20 minutes or until golden brown and filling begins to bubble.
Serve hot directly from the oven. Enjoy!
Traditional Patty Shells are available at:
4037 Jefferson Hwy, New Orleans, LA 70121
Open Christmas Eve till’ 4:00 p.m.
Swiss Confectionary Bakery
747 Saint Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
Maurice French Pastry
3501 Hessmer, Metairie, LA 70002
4949 W. Napoleon Ave, Metairie, LA 70001
Kristine Froeba is a fourth generation Uptown girl whose varied background includes food and travel writing, celebrity ghost writing, public relations, social media management, fundraising, preservationist, reluctant tabloid hack, and litigation specialist. She describes herself as part foodie, part writer, part historian, historic renovation zealot, and full time dabbler.