It’s remarkable to think that bread pudding, something that originated in the 11th century, has risen its way up the ranks to become a “trendy dessert” around the world. In the early 11th and 12th centuries frugal cooks began making bread pudding to use leftover bread and eliminate waste. By the 13th century the English had coined this popular, and now common dish, “poor man’s pudding”.
A Pandemic Obsession
Bread pudding and I have a long history as well. Bread pudding was one of the dishes I became responsible for at my first job as a line cook. As the only woman in the kitchen, desserts became my responsibilities, albeit, not part of my actual job. Like rice pudding, I made bread pudding several times a week. But this dish, that I was so familiar with, took on a whole new meaning (and obsession) once the pandemic struck.
During the pandemic, stuck in lockdown, we all had a feeling of fear and hopelessness. With our world upside down, (and no vaccine in sight) the looming sense of doom and uncertainty was overwhelming. Panic was everywhere and things like toilet paper and basic pantry staples were suddenly hard to come by. My chef instincts, (like Spidey senses), quickly kicked in and eliminating waste became a serious focus for me. As did stress-baking, and a tall pour of Sauvignon blanc in the late afternoon.
Don’t Judge a Stress Baker
Deep within by baking phase were sub-layers of other comfort foods I obsessed over. I can’t recall them all surprisingly, but the most notable were; breads, cocktails and my chocolate bread pudding phase. The latter really began on Friday’s when I baked a fresh loaf of challah bread. The challah was essential to Shabbat, but simultaneously served two other equally important purposes: breakfast Saturday morning (cinnamon French toast) and dessert Sunday night. Bread pudding became a welcome ritual for all of us. We had something to look forward to. And whether it was served chilled with homemade whipped cream (how my older son prefers it), or warm with whip, (like my husband and younger son prefer it), chocolate bread pudding brought comfort we all craved.
Homemade or Store Bought
In the post-pandemic period, I have made this dish a bit less frequently, but when I do, it’s celebrated. It’s not discussed among us; it’s just understood as something special that bonds us. I still bake fresh challah every Friday so that is what I use to make my chocolate bread pudding. But you don’t have to bake the challah to make this classic dessert, any challah or brioche-type bread will work just as well.
Chocolate Bread Pudding
- 5 cups challah (or brioche) bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3 cups milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Step 1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard loaf pan with parchment paper leaving enough for overhang on the longer sides. Lightly oil and place on a baking sheet.
- Step 2 In a large mixing bowl add the milk, heavy cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon and whisk well to blend.
- Step 3 Place the cubed bread in the bowl and using a large rubber tip spatula, gently mix to coat. Allow the bread mixture to sit, undisturbed, for 20 minutes.
- Step 4 Once the bread has had time to soak, pour half the mixture into the prepared pan. Use a spatula to evenly spread out the mixture. Sprinkle half the chocolate chips over the bread. Pour the remaining bread mixture on top of the chocolate chips and again, even out as best as possible. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips on top.
- Step 5 Place the baking sheet and loaf pan into the oven, allow to cook, uncovered, until lightly golden brown, and set, about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.