Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chocolate Bread Pudding 

(Reflections of Mohonk Mountain House)

I just returned from a blissful weekend at Mohonk Mountain House, a historic Victorian castle tucked in the Hudson Valley.  My boyfriend Greg and I had spent our days alternating between hiking and exploring the beautiful grounds, nestled with tea and cookies in front of the roaring fire, and feasting on scrumptious meals prepared by the hotel's award-winning chefs.

Of course, no description of Mohonk would be complete without a mention of the desserts (they alone are enough to entice me back, and in a hurry, too).  Blueberry corn bread topped with buttery maple syrup.  Warm apple cobbler drizzled with caramel sauce.  Napoleon crisp with vanilla bean custard and fresh berries.  Choux à la Crème garnished with warm chocolate sauce.  These are just a few of the treats that we sampled.

And then there are the bread puddings, my favorite of all of Mohonk's desserts: apple bread pudding, cinnamon bread pudding, chocolate espresso bread pudding.  

Nothing is more comforting to me on a cold winter day than warm bread pudding.  And so it seems fitting, as I reflect back on my time at Mohonk, to try my hand at making some chocolate bread pudding.

I've read conflicting advice on whether to use day-old bread.  Some say that dry bread delivers the best results.  The theory is that when the moisture inside of the bread is lost, the bread is better able to absorb more liquid.  Others points out that only a very small amount of moisture really leaves bread that's left out, so fresh bread will perform just as well as stale bread.  Still others say that crisping the bread first (by putting it into the oven for a few minutes) will give the bread pudding more texture when it's baked. 

There is also the question of what kind of bread to use.  There seems to be an endless array of suitable breads to choose from: French baguette, croissant, brioche, crusty sourdough, challah.  And the list goes on.

I opted to use day-old challah bread and a recipe from Gourmet magazine that I found on

I was a bit crunched for time (I should know better: to be rushed is a cardinal sin in baking), and so I cut down on a few steps.  I soaked the bread in the liquid mixture for only 15 minutes before baking, and I took the bread pudding out of the oven after 45 minutes.

The results (I'm pleased to write, despite the shortcuts): rich, gooey, decadent, morsels of heaven. 
The texture can be improved for next time.  The bottom layer had more the consistency of pudding.  I think I can remedy that by using a more dense bread, more of it, and baking it for closer to an hour.  But all in all, a comforting classic for the holiday season.


Recipe: adapted from Gourmet magazine (February 2004)
Yield: serves 10-12 

  • 1 (12-inch) piece day-old baguette, cut into 1/3-inch slices, then slices halved crosswise (4 cups)
  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

Generously butter a 2 1/2- to 3-quart soufflé dish. Put bread in dish.

Heat half-and-half, sugar, and salt in a 2-quart saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and add chocolate, then let stand 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth. 

Lightly beat eggs together in a large bowl and slowly add chocolate mixture, whisking until combined. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over bread and let soak at room temperature, pressing bread down occasionally, 1 hour.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Dot top of pudding with butter bits. Bake in a hot water bath until edge is set but center still trembles slightly, 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

Cool pudding to warm in dish on a rack. 

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