I love to make sweet bread puddings with leftover challah or brioche, because they are already rich. Today’s version is filled with molten chunks of bittersweet chocolate. Let’s just say I find myself eating less challah on Friday night because I’m hoping there will be enough left to make this for dessert the next day.
The critical understanding of bread pudding is that it is a custard, albeit heavily garnished with bread. Once you realize that, and treat it appropriately in terms of ratios and temperatures, you have a lot of freedom to tweak the components and be assured of making a great dessert.
Speaking of ratios, I recently read Mark Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking and have found it very valuable. While the idea of basic ratios for custards, pastry, sauces and so on isn’t new to me, I’ve found it much easier to remember them and improvise. For example, I know now that 2 large eggs : 1 cup of milk is a reliable ratio for a free-standing custard like flan, and it works just fine for bread pudding as well.
I chose to bake this in one large dish. To avoid overcooking the edges, I do it covered in a relatively slow oven. Individual ramekins would be a fine choice as well; you could even put them in a water bath the way you do for flan or creme brulee.
Chocolate-chunk Bread Pudding
- 1 tablespoon sweet butter
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup sugar
- big pinch of salt
- 14 ounces challah or brioche, preferably slightly stale, most of the crust removed and cut into 3/4″ cubes
- 7 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate, in the 70% range, cut into good sized chunks – not a whole mouthful but a lot bigger than a chocolate chip
- Preheat your oven to 350 F., using convection if you have it.
- Butter a large shallow baking dish, around 8″ x 12″.
- Beat the eggs. Whisk in the milk, starting with just a little at a time until the eggs are well distributed. Whisk in the vanilla extract, sugar, and salt.
- Place the cubed bread in the pan. Pour the custard evenly over the bread and toss lightly, trying to get it to absorb without squashing the bread too much..
- Add the chocolate chunks and again toss gently to distribute.
- Cover the pan with tin foil and cook until it reaches an internal temperature in the center of 185 F. For me this took about one hour and fifteen minutes. You can also check for doneness with a fork, and as it gets close, by taking a bite. You want it to be well set, but not overcooked and rubbery.
- Let rest ten minutes and serve it forth. A bit of whipped cream, a drizzle of heavy cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream are all very welcome. If you want to whisk a bit of good bourbon into that cream, don’t let me stop you.