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I should warn you up front. This bread pudding is not the kind of dessert that you should serve to guests. That is, if you want to keep conversations rattling along. Instead, it's the kind of dessert that'll turn the dinner table into a spectacle of silence. Debates and musings will suddenly come to a halt and the only audible sound will be spoons clinking into bowls. Chocolate and bread is already an obscenely divine combo (think pain au chocolat), but incorporating them into a warm custardy dessert makes the result downright dangerous.
When you marry soul-soothing bread pudding with the addictive qualities of chocolate, what you have on your hands is an experience that doesn't have room for anyone else except for you and your helping of pudding. No socializing, no talking—just close your eyes and savor.
Most chocolate bread puddings don't live up to my high chocolate standards. Sometimes it's just a handful of chocolate chips tossed into the mix, or the custard is like a wimpy chocolate milk. That's not the case with this recipe. This bread pudding raises the chocolate bar by starting with a decadent hot chocolate base of cocoa, milk, cream, brown sugar, and melted bittersweet chocolate. A touch of espresso powder heightens your perception of the chocolate, and a pinch of cinnamon rounds it out with the exotic flavor of a Mexican hot chocolate.
Rather than toasting the bread (a common technique to encourage the bread to soak up as much liquid as possible), I find that softer fresh or partially stale bread works better to soak up the thick chocolate liquid. After the chewy chunks of French bread are fully drenched, even more bits of chocolate are stuffed into the crevices before the pudding goes in for the bake.
As you cradle your bowl filled with warm pudding, wafts of roasted chocolate float up and you'll begin to get transfixed. I dare you to take it slow as you sink your spoon into the dark chocolate tufts of moist bread and gooey chocolate. And I know you'll make sure to get a bit of the crunchy top crust. A dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream spooned on top pleasantly cuts the rich chocolate and melts into the pudding like a sauce.
So for that dinner party next week with the loud mouthed neighbors? You're now armed with my secret culinary weapon for peace and quiet.
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About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore and is currently at work constructing her new blog, "ShopHouseCook".