This recipe is a lifer. I’ve been making it for more than 20 years, and every time I try to file it away, someone inevitably comes along asking for it. I brought it to my first staff get-together when I was working at Chez Panisse and, from then on, for all of the parties that followed, when I would even think of making something different, my friends and coworkers would cry out for this caramelized chocolate bread pudding. A few years later, the bread pudding gained an East Coast fan club, too. I was working at Alloro, a tiny restaurant in Boston’s Italian district. Back then, the Mafia owned all the local cafés and had a monopoly on the dessert-and-coffee crowd. Whereas the other (probably wiser) restaurants on the street obeyed the unspoken law of not selling dessert, at Alloro we broke the rule and secretly served this bread pudding to our in-the-know customers. We worked hard to keep the highly requested dessert under cover, and it seems we succeeded: both the recipe and I are still around.
A few things make this bread pudding better than most. I love custards and am often disappointed by bread puddings with too much bread and not enough pudding. So be careful to use just a single layer of brioche, which creates a crispy crust but won’t absorb all the rich, silky custard underneath. Once you break through the caramelized, toasty top layer and dig down through the luscious custard, a treasure of melted chocolate awaits you at the bottom.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 4 or 5 slices brioche, or good quality white bread (I like Pepperidge Farm), ¼ inch thick, crusts removed
- 3 extra-large eggs
- 2 extra-large egg yolks
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- 1¼ cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, for caramelizing the top
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Spread the softened butter on one side of the brioche. Cut each slice in half on the diagonal and then again into quarters.
Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add the cream, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, whisking to combine well.
Sprinkle the chocolate over the bottom of a 9-by-9-inch (or equivalent) baking dish. Arrange the brioche, buttered side up, with slices overlapping just slightly, on the chocolate (there should be just a single layer of bread). Pour the custard over the bread, pressing down with your fingers to make sure the bread soaks it up. Place the bread pudding in a roasting pan, and pour warm water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the pudding dish. Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the custard is set and the bread puffs up slightly. The pudding will be springy to the touch.
Let the bread pudding cool at least 10 minutes.
If you have a kitchen blowtorch, sprinkle the sugar over the top, and torch to brown and caramelize. You could run the pudding under the broiler to caramelize if you don’t have a torch, but be careful not to curdle the custard underneath.
Serve the bread pudding from the baking dish at the table, using a big spoon.
Nutritional information is based on using 4 slices of Brioche bread.