Oceania Cruises takes food seriously. It’s the at-sea home of mega-chef Jacques Pepin, and its ships feature floating culinary studios where cruise travelers can receive hands-on cooking lessons from master chefs. The line’s focus on dining is also evident in its “Taste the World” cookbook, a hefty hardcover collection of vignettes from shipboard kitchens, glossy photographs (the rack of lamb on page 199, glistening underneath its mustard and herb crust, should be X-rated) and more than 100 recipes adapted for home kitchens.
I love cruising, and I love curling up with a good cookbook — which means I really love curling up with a good cruise cookbook. “Taste the World” is full of pages that are now dog-eared in the hopes that I’ll someday tackle the recipes within, from potato gnocchi in bright green pesto to triple-decker Thai-spiced pork burgers. But a seemingly simple recipe for chocolate bread pudding, calling for only a handful of ingredients, got me off the couch and in the kitchen right away.
Here’s all you need:
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 loaf of brioche (the recipe for which is also in the book)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup of chip-sized pieces of semisweet chocolate
First things first: Though the recipe for the brioche sounds entirely doable, it also sounds time-consuming, requiring hours of refrigeration and proofing before the dough can even be baked and cooled. Too hungry for such nonsense, I bought a loaf of Challah at the market — rich, tender and begging to be enrobed in heavy cream. I subbed in 2 percent milk for whole. And though Pepin famously prefers Valrhona chocolate, Ghirardelli seemed more than suitable, seeing as he wasn’t coming over.
Things got off to a smooth start thanks to clear instructions and tips sprinkled throughout the book. Bring the cream and milk to just shy of a simmer over medium heat. Check. Whisk this slowly into a mixture of the eggs and sugar. Check. Pour everything back into the pot and cook for three minutes, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon and steam appears on the surface. Che…
Here’s where you really need to watch the clock and the pot. Either it was on the heat too long or my stirring was subpar, as the first batch of custard morphed into something that resembled yellow cottage cheese and ended up in the trash. Five more eggs (and a few choice words) later, a perfectly creamy round two was cooling in an ice bath while I cut the Challah into half-inch cubes.
Next, the bread and chocolate chips are layered into a buttered 9-by-13 pan, and covered with the custard (make sure it’s completely cool first so you don’t melt the chips – leaving them intact allows “pockets” of chocolate-y goodness to form while the pudding is in the oven). After resting for an hour on the counter or overnight in the fridge, the pudding is baked in a water bath at 325 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until the custard is set (poke the bread pieces in the center to check for doneness; if the surrounding bits are still liquid-y, it needs more time).
The results? Utter decadence.
A few notes:
Next time, I’ll take that extra step and make my own brioche a day or two ahead. Still, it’s great to know that this recipe can be easily adapted to work with whatever is on hand — leftover croissants, baguette, etc. Aim for about 10 cups of cubes.
This is a great canvas for experimentation and imagination. Golden raisins and white chocolate would make for a particularly tasty combination.
Again, watch the pot carefully while heating the custard. After the first failure, I set a three-minute timer on my cell phone and killed the heat as soon a wisp of steam became visible.
Many recipes that call for whole milk respond well to 2 percent, and this one was no exception, though you should avoid using skim; dessert is meant to be a treat after all!
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