1/2 large bakery challah or brioche (about 8 ounces bread)
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups heavy cream
1 pinch salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the crusts off the bread and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. You should have about 3 1/2 cups of cubes. Arrange on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Watch carefully to make sure they do not brown too much; set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.
In a saucepan, heat the half-and-half, cream, salt, and vanilla bean over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the mixture doesn't burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. When the cream mixture reaches a fast simmer (do not let it boil), turn off the heat. Set aside to infuse 10 to 15 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together. Whisking constantly, gradually add the hot cream mixture. Strain into a large bowl to smooth the mixture and remove the vanilla bean. Add the bread cubes, toss well and let soak until absorbed. Fold the mixture occasionally to ensure even soaking.
In a small saucepan, heat the orange juice to a simmer. Add the cranberries and simmer until plumped and softened, about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup for garnish.
Fold in remaining 3/4 cup of cranberries into bread pudding mixture. Divide the mixture among 6 ramekins, custard cups, or dessert cups, (or use a deep baking dish). Divide the soaked bread among the dishes, then pour any remaining custard over the bread. Dot with remaining cranberries.
Arrange the puddings in a hot water bath. Bake until set and golden brown on top, about 30 minutes for individual puddings and 40 to 45 minutes for 1 large pudding. Serve warm or chilled, dusted with confectioners' sugar.
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, "Butter Sugar Flour Eggs" by Gale Gand, Rick Tramonto, Julia Moskin, Clarkson N. Potter Publishers, 1999