I grew up on Long Island in a town that was 95 percent Jewish. To say I was culturally sheltered would be a colossal understatement. I had no idea that Judaism was a religion - and that there were others - until seventh grade, when I saw a few of my classmates heading to the Catholic church (the what?) next to our middle school for confirmation class. I spent most of that year reading and re-reading the entries on Catholicism and the Protestant denominations in my mother's 1953 Encyclopedia Brittanica. Fascinated (and more than a little horrified by the whole crucifixion thing), I drank in the details of Christmas, Easter, communion, confirmation.
Still, I'd never heard of Cinco de Mayo until I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-90s. Just me? A cultural shift? A function of geography? Doesn't matter. I live here now, and Cinco de Mayo is a big deal.
I created this Mexican chocolate bread pudding for the Cinco de Mayo potluck we had at work last year. I had just started back to work after eight years at home full-time with my kids, and I hadn't met most of the people in the office yet. I think this was the first real food I brought in to share. I hadn't yet established my reputation as a product manager, but I think my reputation as a cook got a boost.
Be sure to use ground pure chile peppers (not the spice mixture called chili powder), such as New Mexico chile, ancho chile or California chile - these are available in the Latin section of my grocery store. Chocolate and chile: It's an addictive combination I first had in New Mexico, in chocolates filled with a chile-spiked ganache and hot chocolate dusted with chile powder.
Mexican chocolate bread pudding
- 1 large loaf challah, cut into 1-inch cubes (no need to remove crust)
- 1 lb dark chocolate, broken into pieces
- 12 eggs
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 4 cups milk (lowfat is okay)
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 Tbsp cinnamon
- 2 Tbsp ground pure chile (not chili powder)
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp salt
Pile the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for about 15 minutes. You want them to dry out a bit before mixing them with the custard so that they absorb as much of the liquid as possible. Remove them from the oven and let them cool a bit. Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
While the bread is toasting, put the chocolate pieces in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave the chocolate on high for 1 minute, let it rest, then zap it for 1 minute more. Remove the chocolate and stir it with a spatula or spoon until it is smooth and melted.
In a very large bowl, mix together the eggs, cream, milk, sugar and spices. Add the melted chocolate and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Put the bread in the bowl, toss well, and let the bread soak in the custard mixture at least half an hour and up to two hours, tossing occasionally to make sure all the bread cubes are well coated.
Spray a very large baking pan (or two medium baking pans) with cooking spray. Turn the bread-custard mixture into the pan(s) and smooth out the top. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pudding is set. Remove the pudding from the oven and let it sit at least 15 minutes before serving.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream if you like. Makes enough for the whole office.