I’m not one of those people who relegates pumpkin solely to the autumn season. I typically have about 3 cans at a time of pumpkin puree stashed away in my cupboard. If we’re going to keep it strictly fall-themed, I look at it this way: when July comes around, I am already rooting for crisp air, color-changing leaves, sweaters and jeans… and chances are pretty good I am pining for pumpkin too. Intense sun, begone. Bring on fall.
Before I wax even further poetic on a squash, I better jump right in with this week’s assigned recipe. With the dawn of September, Baked Sunday Mornings is beginning to wrap up the pumpkin-themed chapter in Baked Elements, and what better way to do that than making an absolutely scrumptious Chocolate-Chunk Pumpkin Bread Pudding.
When I first received this book, I’m fairly certain my jaw dropped when I fell upon the page with this recipe. I mean – think of it: a homely, spiced bread pudding made with a delectable chocolate-studded pumpkin bread? Sign me up, please. Why did it take me so long to make this?
Your first try with making this may feel a little labor-intensive, but the results are well worth it, trust me. You could probably start out by using regular day-old bread for this pudding, but why? Baked suggests making your own pumpkin bread as the base for this pudding – and with their easy chocolate-chunk pumpkin bread recipe, you’ll want to take them up on the suggestion. You don’t even need to break out the mixer for this bread (or the custard for the pudding, come to think of it); it’s all whisked and whipped up in bowls, so just go for it. Using homemade pumpkin bread deepens the flavor of this dessert – and overall, it just makes perfect sense.
Think chocolate and pumpkin sounds like a strange combination? Once you try it, you’ll be hooked. The warm flavor of the pumpkin matched with the earthy chocolate are a match made in heaven. I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips in this pumpkin bread. A good-quality, chopped up bar of chocolate would be heavenly, but I didn’t want to deal with the fuss of chopped chocolate flecks all over my counter. I find the Ghirardelli chips to always be reliable, with a pleasantly smooth punch of good bittersweet chocolate flavor. They also have a disk-like size to them that is larger than an average chocolate chip, so they substitute well for the chocolate chunks called for.
Once your bread is fully baked, cut it up into cubes, spread the cubes out on a sheet pan, and toast them for a bit – tossing them occasionally with a spatula for even toasting. When making bread pudding, it is essential for the bread cubes to be somewhat dry, so they soak up all of that luxuriant custard. I actually toasted my pumpkin bread cubes for a touch longer than the recipe advises, as the bread is quite soft and moist, particularly with the inclusion of the chocolate, which stays all soft, gooey, and melty in the warmed bread. Let the toasted bread cubes warm for a bit while you make the custard.
The custard consists of 2 eggs and 4 egg yolks, which are the principal thickening agents of the pudding, whisked together with dark brown sugar, half and half, more pumpkin (stock up on a couple cans before making this recipe; or use your own homemade puree), melted butter, vanilla, and a wonderful mix of fall spices. As the ingredient list notes, it helps to have your half and half and eggs at room temperature so that when you whisk in the melted butter, it doesn’t solidify. As for the spices, I always like to recommend Penzey’s Vietnamese cinnamon, which provides a higher ‘heat’ than typical Cassia cinnamon. I was also intrigued by the touch of cayenne pepper included in the spice mixture. Unfortunately, I was out of cayenne, but I dumped what little bit I had into the custard. As a companion to the cinnamon, I’m sure it provides a nice, subtle bit of heat to the flavor of the pumpkin pudding. A good majority of the bread cubes are then soaked in the custard for about a half hour; a cup or so of remaining cubes is tossed with some extra melted butter for a good crunchy texture on the top.
I toyed with the idea of baking the bread puddings in individual ramekins or muffin tins, but decided to stick with baking the pudding off in a glass 9″ x 13″ buttered baking dish this time around. I like the rustic look of a square-cut piece of bread pudding. When you pour the custard and soaked bread cubes into your baking pan, don’t panic if it seems like a lot of custard; the beautiful alchemy that occurs when a bread pudding bakes off in the oven is that the bread cubes almost expand and absorb the custard even more. The creaminess of the custard and crumb of the bread meld into an irresistibly silky texture.
I baked the pudding for about 50-55 minutes. When I removed it from the oven, I found that I did need to sponge off a bit of grease from the buttered bread cubes, which had puddled on the surface, but that’s really a minor gripe that is easily taken care of. Let the bread pudding cool for about a half hour, then dust the entire pudding with confectioners’ sugar, slice it up into squares and serve. I drizzled each serving with Baked’s standard caramel sauce (slightly warmed to drizzle easily), and this was a perfect, fitting complement; if you prefer a dollop of whipped cream, I’m sure that would work just as nicely.
Honestly – one bite, and I discovered that this may just be my favorite recipe in Baked Elements. I’m relieved it lived up to my high expectations! Fresh from the oven, this is a delightful dessert for a chilly fall or winter’s night, and it makes a good amount, so it’s perfect for a dinner party or gathering with friends. It may even be a good substitute for that traditional pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. As Matt mentions in the recipe preface, you might be tempted to warm up a slice for yourself for breakfast with a cup of black coffee. That’s exactly what I did as I sat down to write up this blog. I simply cannot rave enough about this dessert. It’s just amazingly good. You’ll have to try it for yourself to see what I mean.
And be sure to visit the blogs of my fellow Baked Sunday Morning bakers, to see how they fared with their bread puddings. If this recipe doesn’t reinforce my firm belief that pumpkin is an ingredient to be savored and treasured all year-round, I don’t know what would!
I also cannot contain my excitement that in almost a month, I will be attending Baked’s new store opening and book launch for Baked Occasions in TriBeCa! I have been invited to this event as one of the recipe testers for this new book, and I am thrilled to meet up with some of my fellow BSM bakers, as well as Matt and Renato. The countdown starts now!