One of the first things I stock up on after the flurry of the December holidays, is panettone.
First of all, I love it. That light, buttery texture thats grills up perfectly, or becomes the best french toast ever. You can get them filled with chocolate chunks, candied peel, dried fruit, or nuts. But at the heart, panettone is a beautiful yeast bread, rather in the same vein as stollen or brioche. And second, it goes on sale! I bring home several of those lovely round loaves, and immediately slice them into one inch slices. And then these all get put into freezer bags and stashed away in the cold. Then, when I’m in the mood, I can just pull out a couple of slices from the freezer and prepare them as I see fit. Yummy french toast all year round until the next season’s panettone hits the shops!
So the other week, when we were invited to get together with precious old friends who were visiting from Edmonton, I knew exactly what I would bring for dessert. Bread pudding. It is always such a cozy, retro choice for a dessert, that everyone loves. Perfect for a cold winter’s eve, since it carby nature will wrap us all up in delicious warmth. And it is a fabulous vehicle for ice cream, which no guy can resist.
Sure, I could make bread pudding with a loaf of challah or brioche. But why go shopping, when I already had the perfect bread in the freezer!? Panettone. The slices I pulled out were from a chocolate covered loaf, so this would be an even better tasting pudding! But of course, if I had to purchase a plain challah or brioche, they would work just fine as well. Since there was already chocolate covering so many of the pieces of bread, there was no need to add any chocolate on top of this. But if the bread was plain, a cup or so of chopped chocolate chunks would have worked equally well. But I did opt for a few good dashes of chocolate bitters. This would add some depth and a slightly bitter (in a good way) to the custard mixture. I also decided to add chopped hazelnuts though. They would add a lovely crunch and texture.
Bread Pudding Tips:
At its most basic, Bread Pudding is cubes of bread soaked in an egg and milk custard. Not unlike making french toast, except that the slices are cubed first. Once you have this established, the rest is just a matter of embellishment. The sky is the limit. Add maple syrup and bacon pieces, and it will be an amazing breakfast bread pudding (hmm, must make this next!) Add chopped nuts, coconut and chocolate chips, and it will taste like a monster cookie. Last year I made a Rhubarb, White Chocolate and Mint Bread Pudding, and it was amazing! I can’t wait for rhubarb to start showing up in the next few weeks, so that I can make it again.
Just have your bread slightly stale. So when I pulled the bread out of the freezer, I let it thaw, and then sliced it into one inch cubes and scattered them onto a large baking sheet (or two) and let them air dry overnight. If they are too fresh and soft, they won’t soak up the custard mixture correctly, and you will have a watery bread pudding. Slightly dried out bread will soak up more of the liquid, turning everything into a sturdy and yet custardy pudding.
Once out of the oven, bread pudding is ready to be served. Of course, you can scoop it out right away and add some vanilla sauce, chocolate sauce, whipped cream or even ice cream. The first night that we served this with our friends, I had some of my Roasted Chestnut Ice Cream to serve with it. Just added caramel sauce and it was such a great hit with everyone. But of course, if you have only vanilla ice cream in the freezer, it will work perfectly! The caramel sauce really does make it though. Here is my recipe: Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce , which you really need to make and keep in the fridge or cupboard (depending on how quickly you go through it!)
But I almost like the texture of bread pudding better the next day. It has firmed up somewhat while resting in the fridge. Then you can actually slice it. I just sneak bits from the leftover pudding this way. Don’t tell anyone.
So this is just a plain ole classic bread pudding, which has been ever so slightly embellished. But a little embellishing never hurt anyone, right?
Chocolate Bread Pudding with Hazelnuts and Chocolate Bitters
A total comfort food classic. Here is your basic go-to bread pudding. Chocolate and hazelnuts are coming along for the ride, and ice cream and salted bourbon caramel sauce are the perfect finishing touch.
- 12 cups of challah bread cut into 1 inch cubes one large challah should do it- about a 16oz loaf I have also used panettone and brioche bread instead with wonderful results. When measuring, pack the measuring cup with the bread.
- 3/4 cup of chopped dark chocolate chopped into medium small chunks, divided
- 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts chopped into large-ish chunks (not too small), divided
- 5 large eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 4 tbsp 1/2 stick butter melted
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 5-6 good dashes of chocolate bitters optional but amazing if you can do it!
If the bread is still too fresh (too soft on the inside, as you slice it) lay out 1 inch slices onto a baking sheet and let them dry out. Either on the counter, or in a 200F oven. Check regularly and turn over if necessary. You want the bread to be going to the stale stage, so that it doesn't go mushy when the custard is added to it.
Cut the dried bread into 1 inch cubes and place in a large bowl. You will need 12 cups worth.
Add all but 3 tbsp of the chocolate chunks to the bread cubes.
Add all but 2 tbsp of the hazelnuts to the bread cubes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, melted butter, salt and vanilla.
Pour this mixture over the bread and toss gently to get the bread started in soaking it all up. Toss 5-6 generous dashes of chocolate bitters over everything. While this is optional, it does add a depth of flavour and a slight bitter (in a good way) contrast to the creaminess of the contents.
Spray a large baking pan (9x13) with non-stick spray.
Spoon the bread mixture into the pan and spread out evenly.
Press down gently to get the bread soaking up all the liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325F
When the oven is warmed through, remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the remaining chocolate chunks and hazelnuts over the pudding.
Place the pan onto a baking sheet and place this onto the middle rack of the oven.
Bake for 50 minutes or until set. Check the middle section with a toothpick.
Remove from the oven.
Serve with a side of vanilla ice cream and a good drizzle of caramel sauce.
This will feed 8-10 comfortably. Feel free to cut the entire recipe in half and just adjust your baking pan accordingly.
Here is the Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce recipe. You will want to have this prepared ahead of time.