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Cook by the Book: Chocolate Holidays

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Chocolate Holidays Unforgettable Desserts for Every Season published by Artisan is the latest cookbook by the chocolate expert Alice Medrich. The book has over fifty recipes that feature chocolate in one form or another. The recipes are organized seasonally proving once and for all that chocolate is always in style.

The recipes are easy to make for the most part, and often very innovative. You can start the year with Chocolate Blini with Berry Caviar, make twiggy pretzel Chocolate Easter Baskets in the spring and Hot Waffle Ice Cream Sandwiches in the summer. But the recipes can really be used for any occasion or no occasion at all. While all the recipes use chocolate, some of them only use it as an accent, white chocolate glazed Apricot Orange Wedding Cakes are an example of this.

Chocolate Holidays is a revised edition of A Year in Chocolate, but includes an extended section on ingredients, equipment, decorative touches and a guide to choosing which chocolate to use, especially helpful now that we have more brands and higher percentage cocoa to work with.

Medrich suggests this decadent bread pudding for Thanksgiving but it is a perfect comfort food for winter nights. I had this at a friends house recently and it was a huge hit.

Chocolate Cranberry Bread Pudding
Serves 12-14


1 loaf (16 ounces) challah or brioche
8 tablespoons (1 stick) melted unsalted butter
2 cups fresh or dried cranberries
1 2/3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
Scant cup sugar
14 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
7 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lightly sweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche (optional)

You can use any domestic bittersweet or semisweet chocolate without a percentage on the label, or any boutique or imported brand marked 50 to 62 percent. Or, substitute 10 ounces chocolate marked 66 to 72 percent and increase sugar by 2 tablespoons.

Position the rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Tear the loaf into large shreds, about 2 x 3/4 inches. To do this, pinch a piece of the bread at the top of the loaf and start pulling. If the loaf is sliced, tear the slices. Spread the shreds on a large baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately drizzle the melted butter over the bread. Toss lightly to distribute the butter. Cover the bottom of a buttered 13 x 9 inch glass or earthenware baking dish or two buttered 9-inch glass pie pans with half the bread. Sprinkle all the cranberries over the bread. Top with the remaining bread. Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk, cream, and sugar to a simmer. Off heat, add the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs and stir until well blended. Pour the mixture over the bread, making sure the top layer of bread is completely moistened. Cove the pan loosely with a piece of foil.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 15 minutes more, or until the pudding bubbles vigorously around the edges although the center is still very liquid if the pan is jiggled. Remove the pudding from the oven (it will continue to thicken) and cool on a rack. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold, plain, or with a dab of whipped cream or creme fraiche.

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