Do you believe that the subconscious can really drive one’s actions? That inclinations deep inside you can dictate your unwitting behavior? Sometimes I really do wonder, most pointedly because lately, completely contrary to what had previously passed as the norm around here, I have been leaving loaves of delicious, crusty bread out on the counter, allowing them to become stale beyond the limits of standard consumption. But then, stale and slightly dry, what do they then magically transform into? Perfect bread for bread pudding, that’s what.
I will eat bread pudding in any form. Made with brioche, a baguette, or, as is the standard at the legendary Heathman Restaurant and Bar, lightly drizzled with warm caramel sauce, I do not believe that there is a bread pudding I would not eat, love, and cherish to the very end. (Except perhaps for that one horrifying recipe I once saw that made bread pudding with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, sweetened condensed milk, and a couple of tins of fruit cocktail. No. Just no.)
My preferred bread pudding is decidedly mellow on the sweetness front, but high on soft bites of custardy bread with lightly crisp edges. Sure, I’ve made highly sweetened bread pudding before, but that sweetness seemed awfully fitting in order to offset the decidedly puckery effects of fresh rhubarb. Though I loved that bread pudding more than I think I could ever be able to fully explain (the self-forming sauce it made was, in a word, magical), I think I have finally come up with another bread pudding that just might have a fighting chance of dethroning the reigning rhubarb champ.
Studded with chunks of pear, streaked with bittersweet chocolate, and only lightly sweetened with a dark brown sugar custard, this is a bread pudding that comforts without overwhelming the senses. With a snap of pear and a rich hit of chocolate in each bite, you are able to savor each forkful without wondering if you will ever be able to walk again, button your trousers again, survive without supplemental insulin again. I am not sure how it is possible, but this dessert manages to be somehow both subtle and attention-commanding at the same time. It’s a rare feat, but surely one you won’t forget or regret.
Pear and Chocolate Bread Pudding
1 French baguette, cut or torn into 1-inch chunks and allowed to become slightly stale, or toasted very lightly to dry them out just a tad (you should have about 5 cups of bread chunks total)
1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½-inch chunks
½ cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate chunks
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups milk
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter a 13” x 8” baking dish and set aside.
In the buttered baking dish, combine the bread chunks, pear chunks, and chopped chocolate.
In a medium pot set over low heat, combine the milk and sugar and whisk together until the sugar has dissolved. Slowly pour in the beaten eggs, whisking as you pour. Add the vanilla, pinch of cinnamon, and pinch of salt. The heat should stay on low, and the mixture should never come close to boiling.
Remove the pot from the heat. Carefully pour the heated milk mixture over the bread and pear mixture, being sure to coat and soak every piece of bread. If necessary, lightly press the bread chunks down with the back of a spoon, coaxing the bread into the milk mixture in the bottom of the baking dish.
Tightly cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, then bake for an additional 10-20 minutes, until the bread is puffed up with golden edges, but the middle of the bread pudding is moist and the custard has been absorbed.