They say that bread pudding is best made with stale bread and that's because the dry bread absorbs more of the custard becoming moist and flavourful when you bake it. But a good trick to make good bread pudding with fresh bread is to either cut it in one-inch pieces and leave it to dry overnight or just pop those pieces in the oven at 180C for about 15 mins. We just wanted it dry and slightly toasted not browned. Though this step is optional, I highly recommend not skipping it.
Once the bread is cool, line it in the greased baking dish. I used a 9-inch pie dish but a square dish works as well too.
The next step is as simple as 123, whisk together eggs, half and half and sugar till the sugar is somewhat dissolved. Gently pour this over the bread. Now ideally one should let this soak for a couple of hours, overnight if you are a planned and patient person which I have to admit I am not. So soak it for as long as you can, I soaked it for about 15 minutes that day and in previous cases, I have soaked it overnight. The difference actually is in how close to pudding-like it gets. At various times, I like various stages.
Once you have soaked the bread as much as you want, put the dish in a preheated oven at 180C for about 45-55mins. The Custard should be set but take care not to overbake it since you don't want it to become tough and rubbery.
Now that the pudding is in the oven, it's time to make the salted jaggery sauce which if you ask me is the star of the recipe. I will also let in a little secret here, make more than you need because you will want to eat it with EVERYTHING! Yes, it is that finger-licking good.
Put powdered jaggery in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a high heat resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Now different people have different things to say about this step. Some think sugar/jaggery at this stage should be stirred continuously, some think it should be left alone. I personally leave it alone till it starts melting and then stir it so that it browns evenly. So let the jaggery form clumps and eventually melt into a thick dark brown liquid. Stir and mix well but be careful not to burn. The burnt after taste is the worst you can do to a salted caramel (or in our case salted jaggery) sauce.
Once you have achieved the desired colour, add the butter. It will bubble and sizzle but don't be scared, put on your gloves and be a ninja! Stir the butter into the jaggery caramel till it is completely melted. If you feel the butter is separating, be a stronger ninja and whisk vigorously.
Now it is time to be patient, forget the ninjaness and very slowly drizzle in the cream while stirring. The mixture will rapidly bubble at this point since the cream is cooler than the caramel. Allow it to bubble and boil for one minute and then turn off the heat.
Now it is time for the best part, add the orange zest and the Cointreau :D Mix and then let the sauce cool. Meanwhile, don't forget your pudding is in the oven. Bring it out when it's done and when you are ready to serve, cut a large slice of the pudding, pour over-generous amount of the sauce and dig in. Don't hurry the eating, grab a book or have a long chat with a friend and do back for the seconds :)