When I was lucky enough to receive a christmas gift of real Luxardo Maraschino liquor, I began to experiment with the making of what I hoped would be truly splendid maraschino cherries. While none of my experiments have been failures, my most recent effort was so alluring that I was afraid I would eat the lot before they reached maturity. I should never have allowed myself a nibble. I had ordered 10 ounces of mixed whole dried cherries-bing, rainiers and sour, unsulphered, from the King Arthur Baker's Catalogue- and divided them into 2 one pint jars, which I then filled with the maraschino. Oh boy. This was one good idea. Plumped over night, they were delicious.
But what if I left them all to plump and absorb for weeks, and it turned out they were less wonderful than before? It would be too sad. So I decided to use one jar, in a chocolate bread pudding, and serve it to my friends, who are coming to dinner. I will let the other jar steep for some time, and report back on how those turn out later. I borrowed and heavily adapted this recipe mostly from one in Paris Sweets, by the clever Dorie Greenspan. It was not an unqualified success, though I thought the cherries a nice touch.
I had never made a chocolate bread pudding before, and I was a bit disppointed to find it so homely. I do love the way an ordinary bread pudding gets brown in some places, and golden in others, accentuating the puffiness, and contrast between the creamy inside and crisper outside.The chocolate makes the whole surface fairly uniformly dark.
I think it best to use a brioche or challah base for bread puddings. The only thing even better-if you have it, is a bag of leftover croissants. (If you can snag some day old ones from a bakery, you are in business.) I did not have them this time, but they make a luxurious bread pudding, which is rich, buttery and flaky, and often repuffs amazingly. The bread pudding you see before you, however, is a challah based one.
Digression: I baked my pudding in a 5"X14" pan, which I know is an unusual size. It is, however, perfect for the 5 of us.I have a fair quantity of matte green Frankoma pottery, all of which can go in the oven, and this pan is from that collection. Frankoma is strange stuff- I love the color and texture of the "prairie green" glaze, which is the most common. It resembles the finish on much classier arts and crafts period pottery.
Some of the pieces are ordinary (dinner plates) in shape; some (teapot, pitchers) have a very appealing design; and some-many- are just plain hideous (little scotty dog toothpick holders, plaques with praying hands and pious sentiments ).The hideous ones are too commonplace to be appealing kitsch, even. Probably because of the dubious nature of many of the designs, Frankoma remains very plentiful and affordable, as long as you are not after certain rare , early pieces, most of which are of no interest to me. I avoid the horseshoe bookends and the like, and use Frankoma for my regular dishes. It costs no more than new, medium range earthenware.
I am not a dedicated collector, and am not much interested in appreciating values. I buy pottery or glass to use and/or look at. Thus, I am thwarted, rather †han gratified, when something (like jadite) formerly cheap and fun, becomes widely admired, scarce, and unaffordable. I don't think this will happen with the ubiquitous Frankoma, and I already have all I need, anyhow. Frankoma is more plentiful in the midwest and west than the east, as it comes from Oklahoma. The pottery is still doing some business, though I believe that prairie green glaze has been discontinued. It is always relatively cheap on ebay, and the like.
In short-this is the opposite of a hot tip-if you like this sort of thing, you can be pretty sure it is not going up in value. Hence, you will be able to continue to afford it, and add to it. End digression.
If you double this recipe, it will fill an 8"X14" pan, which you probably already have. Preheat the oven to 325F, and butter your pan. Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the pan as well. You will need:
sugar 3/4 cup
milk 1 1/2 cups
good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped 5 oz
bread, day old 12 oz, pulled into 3" chunks
5 oz dried cherries soaked in liquor, maraschino or kirsch, drained and patted dry
1/2 vanilla bean, sliced, innards exposed
Mix the bread and cherries in the baking pan. Heat milk to boiling with the sugar and vanilla bean. Meantime, beat the eggs in a big bowl. When milk has boiled, add chocolate, and stir 'til melted. Cool to body temperature, then beat into eggs.Pour through a strainer over the bread and cherries. Bake until set and puffed a bit, and knife in the middle comes out clean-about 25 minutes. Eat warm, or at room temperature.
This is a rich, dressy pudding..quite a fancy dessert, in fact. So rich that it seemed overwhelming to serve it with custard or cream, though it clearly needed a little something damp. In the end, I decided to offer it with milk to pour over, which is how I ate my chocolate pudding as a kid. Not too bad. I think I prefer my bread pudding and chocolate pudding as separate entities though.