My husband's mother is famous amongst her family for making bread pudding. When Eric and I were first dating, it was his favorite dessert, and she'd make it for him on every special occasion.
Now, I have to let you all know a little secret about me. I'm competitive. My father has often told me I'm too competitive for my own good. And yes, I've gotten myself into trouble on account of it occasionally. Discovering my about-to-be-husband's love of bread pudding was one of those times.
I gave bread pudding my first shot on a Thanksgiving some years back. Back when I was a working mom who spent as little time in the kitchen as was absolutely necessary, that is. Back when I had to blow the dust off my cookbook and swipe the cobwebs off the mixer.
Suffice to say, no one ate that dish. It was so bad, I wouldn't have fed it to my neighbor's dog, and I hated that dog. Yes, it was very bad indeed.
But I learned a valuable lesson from the experience, wisdom I will share with you now.
Novice cooks should never, under any circumstances, try an advanced recipe for the first time while bleary-eyed at three in the morning on a holiday while hoping to impress a future spouse (or anyone else for that matter). It is a recipe for disaster and embarrassment.
Fortunately for my ego, I did eventually learn to create an apple pie that, in his words, "blows the doors off Mom's bread pudding." It feels good to rank #1 in my husband's eyes.
But still, the bread pudding defeat gnawed at my brain. Surely there must be some way I can learn how to make one, right?
And the answer is, yes. I finally found a bread pudding recipe that even I can't mangle. And it's no ordinary bread pudding, either. It's chocolate bread pudding. Hah!
The original recipe is courtesy of Paula Deen, my personal favorite when it comes to easy, delicious, comforting dishes. But now that I've gotten comfortable in the kitchen, I've made a few modifications that I think you'll enjoy. Here's the original recipe, followed by my personal twists:
Chocolate Bread Pudding
Courtesy of Paula Deen
1-pound loaf French or Italian bread, cut into cubes (about 15 cups)
3 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup coffee-flavored liqueur
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Lightly grease a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Place the bread in the baking dish.
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, and liqueur.
In another bowl, combine the granulated and brown sugars with the cocoa powder and mix well. Add this to the milk mixture and whisk to combine.
Add the vanilla and almond extracts and the cinnamon to the beaten eggs. Combine the egg mixture with the milk mixture and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread cubes; let stand, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes, or until the bread has absorbed most of the milk mixture. Bake the pudding for 1 hour, or until set; a knife inserted into the center of the pudding should come out clean. Serve the pudding warm, or refrigerate it and serve chilled.
First off, I don't keep liqueur of any kind in my house. It's just not something I stock. Some people would substitute regular coffee for this, but I leave it out altogether. Instead, I add 1 tablespoon of Italian Cappuccino dry coffee drink (you know, the International coffee stuff) in with the sugars and cocoa powder.
Second, I leave out the almond extract, with no substitution in its place. If you like the taste, by all means go ahead and add it, but two teaspoons may be a little overpowering, so think about cutting it back to one.
Lastly, I thought a little extra texture would set this off just right, so I added chopped English walnuts. Since I have a daughter that doesn't care for nuts in her food, I was nice and only added 1/4 cup to one side after pouring the mixture into the baking dish. Amazingly, she decided to try a bite with the nuts (after hearing the rest of us exclaim over it) and announced it "very tasty". So, if you like nuts, add 1/2 cup walnuts at the same time as the chocolate chips.
Oh, and one last note for any "extra-novice" readers (because this would've been me about two years ago). Keep in mind that, when you check for doneness with a knife, there's going to be melted chocolate on it. Don't confuse that with the knife not coming out "clean".
And always remember, everyone has different tastes. What makes cooking fun is experimenting to find what YOU like. Don't be afraid to change a recipe. After all, you're the one that's going to eat it.