Winter is such a great time to cook. I grew up with cold winters, which is perhaps why I like soups, stews and good hearty bread so much. Even in a Rome winter (we've been averaging temperatures in the mid 50's) I am still pretending it's cold outside and cooking all my winter favorites, sort of how the Italians pretend it's cold outside so they can wear the latest fashionable winter coats, and scarves, and hats.
My mom used to bake this bread in roll shapes when my sister and I were kids and we'd wait anxiously by the oven and snatch up the hot little babies just as soon as they were placed on the rack to cool. I see this trait runs in the family.
Roman was clinging to my legs so shaping two loaves was the quickest option, although I do recommend making rolls. I ate about half a loaf and then got to thinking that this might be a great occasion to try a bread pudding.
I turned to one of my favorite cookbook authors, Nigella Lawson for inspiration. Nigella makes a chocolate chip bread pudding using white bread so it was easy to adapt. It's a lovely, homey dessert that seems like it would be heavy but baked with eggs, cream and milk, the bread takes on a lightness that is perfect eaten with a spoon.
If you are stuck inside this winter dreaming of Spring, all I can do to commiserate is recommend some nice warm soup and a bread pudding for dessert. Meanwhile, I'll keep going to the park and enjoying these blue skies and temperate days while they last!
Pane alla Cioccolata (Chocolate Bread)
I am not sure who to attribute this recipe to. It was given to my mother by her best friend Donna, and I'm not sure where Donna got it, or if it's really Italian. But it sounds so nice in Italian, so included that in the title. Regardless, it's worth a morning's worth of baking if you're a chocolate lover like I am. And if you have too much bread on your hands, try the bread pudding recipe below.
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Stir the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar into 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Mix the flour, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, the cocoa, and salt. Stir 1 1/4 cups water, the egg yolk and butter into dissolved yeast, then stir in the flour mixture, 1 cup at a time. Stir in the chocolate chips last. Knead on a lightly floured surface until velvety, elastic and moist, 8 to 10 minutes.
First rise: Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.
Shaping and second rise: Punch the dough down and cut in half on a lightly floured surface. Shape each piece into two round or oval loaves or into individual smaller rolls and place on oiled baking sheets (or line the sheets with a silpat or parchment paper.) Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Baking: Heat the oven to 450. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 and bake 30 minutes longer. Check after 10 - 15 minutes if in roll shape. Cool completely on a rack.
Chocolate Bread Pudding
Adapted from Nigella Kitchen
The first time I made this I was tempted to use more than the recommended amount of bread. Resist the urge to do this because you don't want the bread pudding to turn out too dense.
Serves 4 to 6
9 ounces stale bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (approximately 5 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum (I used brandy)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
4 teaspoons turbinado sugar
Preheat the oven to 325. Grease a round pie dish lightly with butter. Tip in the stale bread cubes (if your bread isn't stale, leave the slices to dry first on a while on a rack before cubing and using.)
Toss in the chocolate chips to spread evenly among the bread cubes.
Whisk together the eggs, light brown sugar, rum, heavy cream and milk. Pour this mixture over the bread and press the cubes down to coat them in the liquid.
Leave all this to soak for 20 minutes, then sprinkle with the turbinado sugar and put straight into the oven for 40 - 50 minutes.
Let the dish stand for about 10 minutes before serving, if you can.