Bread and chocolate
Four divine desserts.
As snacks go, there may be none more nostalgic or romantic than the bread and chocolate gobbled up by French children after school. It’s often no more than a simple morsel of chocolate on a bit of buttered bread (see Kitchen Aide). But I like to do a little more than that, making panini – occasionally with additions such as thinly sliced fruit or mashed berries – that I heat on a griddle until the bread is golden and crisp and the chocolate melted. It’s very simple, yet somehow also very special. A Spanish rendition of bread and chocolate skews decidedly adult, balancing the sweet chocolate with savory extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt. And the perennial favorite, bread pudding, rich with a base of challah and a seriously chocolaty but not-too-sweet custard, is as indulgent as the Spanish chocolate toasts are spare.
The oven is the most efficient way to produce 4 panini, but if you’re making fewer you can easily use an electric panini press or a skillet (preferably nonstick) on medium-high heat. If you’re not using a press, remember to place a weight – another skillet or two will work – on the sandwiches as they toast.
These panini take well to additions, such as sliced banana, pear, apple, or strawberries, lightly mashed fresh raspberries, a few halved fresh cherries, some raisins, chopped almonds or hazelnuts, or a smear of ricotta and jam or almond butter. If you like cinnamon, sprinkle a little onto the buttered sides of the bread before cooking.
8 slices (about ½ inch thick) from 1 loaf challah, brioche, hearty country white, French, Italian, or walnut bread
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Ground cinnamon, optional
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread one side of each bread slice with about 1½ teaspoons butter (and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon, if using) and place 4 slices, buttered sides down, on a large baking sheet. Spread about a quarter of the chopped chocolate evenly on each of the 4 slices, leaving a ¼-inch border around the edges. Cover with the remaining bread slices, buttered sides up, and press. Place another baking sheet over the panini and one or two heavy ovenproof skillets on top.
Carefully transfer the assembly to the oven and bake until the bottoms of the panini are crisp and browned, about 9 minutes. Working carefully, turn the sandwiches over and continue baking (under the weights again) until the bottoms are crisp and browned and the chocolate is melted but not fluid, about 9 minutes longer. Cut panini in half, if desired, and serve at once.
Spanish-Style Savory-Sweet Chocolate Toasts
(Pan y Chocolate)
Serves 4, 2 pieces per person
8 ½-inch-thick, bias-cut slices from 1 baguette
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Fleur de sel or other large-flake sea salt, for sprinkling
1 ½ ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
Set the broiler rack about 5 inches below the heating element and heat the broiler. Arrange the baguette slices on a broiler-safe pan and broil until lightly toasted, 1 ½ to 2 minutes, turning over the slices halfway through broiling time. Remove from broiler and adjust oven rack to upper-middle position.
Brush each baguette toast with about 1 ½ teaspoons oil, sprinkle very lightly with salt, and then with about 2 teaspoons chocolate. Return to the oven and broil until chocolate melts, about 7 minutes. Cool briefly, drizzle very lightly with oil, and serve warm.
Chocolate Bread Pudding
There are many options for accompaniments to the pudding, from a simple sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar to sweetened creme fraiche, ice cream, creme anglaise, or lightly whipped cream.
1 8-by-5-inch loaf challah, cut into ¾-inch cubes (about 20 cups)
5 cups half-and-half
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
10 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (a generous 2 cups)
3 large eggs plus 4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Softened butter to grease pan, plus 2 tablespoons, cut into small bits
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Set the oven racks to the middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the bread cubes in single layers on 2 large rimmed baking sheets and bake, tossing occasionally, until toasted and light golden, about 30 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Remove bread from oven and cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Do not shut off oven, and adjust rack to center position.
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 3 cups half-and-half, ½ cup sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, and ½ teaspoon salt, whisking to incorporate the cocoa into the liquid and continuing to whisk occasionally until barely steaming and sugar dissolves, about 12 minutes. Off heat, add chopped chocolate and set aside to melt, about 3 minutes. Add remaining 2 cups half-and-half and whisk until mixture is uniform.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl with a pouring spout, beat the eggs and yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 3 cups of the chocolate mixture into the eggs. Continuing to whisk, add the remaining chocolate mixture and vanilla.
Generously grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with butter, and spread the bread cubes into an even layer. Pour the chocolate custard mixture evenly over the bread. With a large spatula or spoon, press the bread cubes to submerge; repeat several times and soak until bread is thoroughly saturated, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and remaining 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Sprinkle evenly over the surface of the pudding and dot with remaining butter. Set the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake until pudding is slightly puffed, the custard has just set, and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes, rotating about halfway through baking time. Set pudding on a rack, cool to room temperature, cut into squares, and serve. (Alternatively, refrigerate the pudding until chilled, about 6 hours, and serve.)
Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at firstname.lastname@example.org.