February 20, 2012

Chocolate Bread Pudding

If ever there were a theme here at the Evening Oven, it would be trying not to let ingredients go to waste. Hence these cookies, this squash dish, and the apple sauce and half-and-half in these muffins. This post is all about stale bread. When you don't go through bread quickly enough it either gets moldy, in which case there is little to do except cut off the moldy bits and keep the rest in the refrigerator, or it gets stale, in which case it can form the basis of a myriad of delicious things: french toast, strata, or, my new favorite, chocolate bread pudding.

This dish combines two of my favorite things (chocolate and bread) into a mess of warm, gooey glop, that is fairly easy to make and can be tailored to your desired level of indulgence. I made it with almond milk, which is slowly replacing regular cow's milk for me in almost every dish. It is especially good in anything with chocolate (almond milk hot chocolate is out of this world). I'm not so keen on regular milk production processes, and given that I'm lactose intolerant anyway, going for a dairy alternative seems logical. Soy is okay, but I prefer the taste of almond milk. It is much better for baking. Plain, unsweetened Almond Breeze is my favorite variety. I find that other brands separate a bit when you heat them up or mix them with coffee. But I have gotten off track. The point with the bread pudding is that if you want to make the dish richer (although, trust me, it is plenty rich with almond milk) you could use whole milk or even some cream (I wouldn't replace all three cups of milk with heavy cream, maybe just one!).

At the other end of the spectrum, it would also be fairly easy to make the dish entirely vegan. Just skip the butter and sub in your favorite egg replacer. Personally, though, I like the mix of some vegan ingredients with some dairy ingredients.

This dish is also easily customizable in other ways. You could toss the bread with the chocolate and then pour the custard over it (rather than melt the chocolate in the custard) for more a of chocolate chip effect. You could skip the peanut butter, or add more it. Or you could sub in nutella. You could also cut the amount of chocolate dramatically (although I don't know why you would). In fact, if you left it out entirely, you would just get a baked french toast! You could add some alcohol. Bourbon would be good. Or maybe rum. Chocolate liqueur. Or maybe something orange flavored?

Next time I make this, I think I might cut all the sugar (the chocolate itself is plenty sweet) and then use the sugar to make a salted caramel glaze to put on top of each serving.

One last note, I didn't take a lot of the pictures of the final product in part because we dug into it before I could get my camera out and in part because chocolate glop, at least to this amateur photographer, is not especially photogenic. So take my word for it, despite how it may look in the pictures, this is a delicious dessert.

- Franklin

Chocolate Bread Pudding
Adapted loosely from Epicurious and The Vegan Workshop
Total Time: 3.5 hours (30 minutes active)
Sweetness Factor: 7; Indulgence Factor: 8; Difficulty Factor: 5; Chance I'll Make it Again: 8.

5-6 cups cubed bread (if your bread is extremely stale and you are having trouble cutting it, try putting it in the microwave for thirty seconds)
3 cups almond milk (plain and unsweetened)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup salted crunchy peanut butter (no additives)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (skip this is you want to go vegan)
10 ounces chocolate, finely chopped (semisweet or bittersweet)
3 eggs (or egg replacer)

Thoroughly butter a 1 3/4 quart casserole dish (you can use canola oil or vegetable shortening spread like Earth Balance if you want to make this a vegan dessert).

Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and turn the heat up to medium low. Add the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and maple syrup. Whisk occasionally until sugar is dissolved, the butter is melted, and the peanut butter is mostly dissolved. Let the mixture get hot and take off the heat just before it boils. Pour in the chocolate. Let sit for several minutes and then stir until smooth.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Slowly pour the eggs into the chocolate mixture, whisking constantly. Empty the bread cubes into the prepared casserole, and pour the chocolate custard over them. Make sure all the bread cubes are completely covered. There should be more than enough of the custard. I had enough custard that I chopped up a bit more bread and ended up with nearly six cups of cubes.

Cover and refrigerate for several hours or over night (minimum two hours, especially if your bread is very stale). Set in a water bath and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Serve warm, perhaps with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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