Pumpkin chocolate bread pudding

It’s one of those blustery, snowy February afternoons. Little Five is in the living room, being put through his paces by the piano teacher. I’m in the kitchen, sniffling over a fresh mug of tea and the last slice of gingerbread (it does keep remarkably well). But since I’m just reheating dinner tonight in between the Tuesday marathon of piano/karate/extra chorus rehearsal, I thought it might be nice to make dessert. It’s one of those extra things you do for the people you love, like picking up your socks and clearing off the kitchen counter, even if these are not your own priorities.

Even though I’m spent from fighting (and losing to) a cold–not to mention the emotional effort of filling out kindergarten registration forms–this is a homey dessert that takes all of 10 minutes of lackluster effort. Five minutes to dice up all your leftover bits of bread, five minutes to whisk together the custard. If you put the pudding in the oven right after school, people are in a much more cooperative frame of mind concerning homework. Call it aromatherapy.

Pumpkin Chocolate Bread Pudding

1 cup half and half or light cream

1 cup milk

1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree

1 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

10 cups (about 10 oz.) stale bread (not too soft and not too crusty–I used a combination of challah and an Italian loaf), in 1/2-inch cubes

3/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Butter (or use cooking spray) a medium baking dish (8″ x 8″ or a deep dish pie plate). Put the bread cubes and chocolate chips into the dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour over the bread and chocolate and mix gently so that all the cubes soak up some custard. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees and let the pudding soak until the oven is ready. Bake for about 40 minutes, until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serve warm, with a little vanilla ice cream or whipped cream if you like.

Stone fruit pie, chocolate cream pie and a crust discovery

My husband is on a pie baking kick. He’s decided he needs to develop his pastry skills (everybody needs a goal), and who am I to discourage him? For Memorial Day he made this beauty:

Mmmmm…Stone Fruit Pie with Almond Streusel from Food & Wine. This one has peaches, apricots, plums and cherries. While he was at it, I asked him to double the crust recipe so I could make a Chocolate Cream Pie. Why have one pie when you can have two? WELL. The crust was a revelation! A REVELATION, I tell you! Flaky, tender, but also crisp and not a bit soggy under all that fruit and pudding. What was different?

Baking powder.

I did a little research. Rose Levy Berenbaum, trusted author of The Cake Bible and The Pie and Pastry Biblewrites in her own Basic Flaky Pie Crust Recipe that “baking powder lifts and aerates the dough slightly without weakening it, but it makes it seem more tender.” Whatever–it worked. That, and baking the pie in the lower third of the oven.

The crust I blind-baked for the chocolate pie turned out well, too. I’ve had problems with the last couple crusts I’ve blind-baked–all sorts of shrinking and tough pastry horror stories. This time we remembered to refrigerate the dough overnight before rolling it out, and then froze the unbaked crust in the pan for 30 minutes before baking (with foil and pie weights). Cue the singing angels!