Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"Pure, mind-spinning indulgence."*

*Well, that's what Chuck Taggart of the Gumbo Pages once called it.

There comes a time in the life of every professional pastry chef (well, at least the non-obsessive ones) when, after the executive chef has approved the dessert menu and has stopped hocking you already about it being "a true reflection of his/her culinary vision" or some such thing, said pastry chef is left casting about for a viable dessert special - ANY damn special, as long as it tastes good, can be made with whatever is at hand and won't be too taxing for the dinner shift pantry guys to serve (they can get really pissy if they're taxed too much). Oh - and is ridiculously easy to produce by an extremely tired person.

The following recipe is exactly that, and something upon which I relied more than I care to say. It's dead easy, as the Brits say, it requires a minimum of embellishment, and even the crankiest of waiters loved it, would sell it and then fight each other over the scraps. In other words, it was the perfect dessert special: 86'd every damn time!

I came up with this pudding because when I was a child I loved a similar recipe in Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians, and because I loved the bread pudding from the late, lamented Chez Helene in New Orleans. This dessert is their strange love child.

Note: the heavy cream and whipped cream are almost essential as garnishes, although this pudding isn't bad with excellent vanilla ice cream either. If you're going to die from heart failure or a stroke, might as well go all the way. It's also amazing eaten cold straight from the refrigerator. I mean it. It's better than hot from the oven and that's saying a lot.

Chocolate Brandy Bread Pudding

6 cups cubed sweet (not sourdough!) French bread, lightly packed, hard crusts removed (may also use brioche or challah)

9 large eggs

1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar (depending upon how sweet you want it)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 pint (2 cups) half and half , plus possibly up to 1/2 cup more (this is single cream in the UK and Commonwealth)

1 tablespoon excellent quality vanilla extract

1/2 cup good brandy or cognac (I play pretty fast and loose with this)

3 cups plus 3/4 cup chopped excellent quality (Valrhona, Callebaut, Scharffenberger, etc.) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate OR, in a pinch, good-quality chocolate chips

3 tablespoons crystal or sanding sugar (or regular granulated)


Butter (or spray with non-stick cooking spray) a deep 2-quart metal, ceramic or glass baking dish. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs, sugar and salt until combined; add half and half, vanilla and brandy. Add bread cubes and mix thoroughly. Add 3 cups chocolate (or chips). The bread should sort of float in the custard; if it not, add a bit more half-and-half. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to soak for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight.

One half hour before you're ready to bake the pudding, preheat oven to 325°F. Pour mixture into buttered baking dish and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until starting to puff around the edges and browning a bit. Remove from oven, scatter remaining 3/4 cup chopped chocolate over top and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sanding or crystal sugar. Return to oven and bake another 15 to 20 minutes or until barely set in the middle and golden brown. Serve warm with heavy pouring cream and/or whipped cream.

This may also be baked in individual ramekins -- just place them on a sheet pan and shorten the baking time accordingly. The baking dish version serves 10 to 12; individual servings will depend on the size of your ramekins.

© 2007 Sandy Soto Teich

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