Quarantine Cooking – Babka Bread Pudding

I haven’t written in nearly a week. I got held up in some school work. I am still trying my best to preoccupy myself during the COVID-19 lockdown. I have lost track of how much TV I have watched and how many naps I have taken. On a more productive note, I have been reading like a fiend. I am reading morning, noon, and night. Reading helps me stay connected to my work during this time.

I have received some questions as to whether I regret making the jump to the culinary field amidst the situation caused by Coronavirus. Honestly, no…I don’t feel that way. Certainly this is a devastating time for the food/restaurant industry, but it is not the only industry being crushed. With that said, I think about restaurants every day and how difficult is may be for so many of them to re-open as time progresses. Yet, I could not predicted any of this to happen. When I made the decision to pursue my passion for food, I had no idea that within six months a pandemic that would keep me doing my work and pose financial insecurities. I took a huge leap of faith, meaning I had no surety that things would work out. I had to trust they would. Here I am now, trusting that we will recover from this, that the industry will bounce back. So, I am going to keep pushing forward and work on my goals even if I am stuck at home.

Speaking of that, I have also received some questions on why I didn’t choose to return “home” to PA during the pandemic. I certainly considered it, but I ultimately chose to stay put in Boston. This is my home now. This is my community, and despite not knowing many people yet, I am going to stay united with my community as we get through this difficult time. I want to be right here when this all clears, so I can go out and celebrate with my city.

Baking is getting me through my time in isolation. This is the perfect time to try that recipe I’ve been thinking of doing but just didn’t have the time.

I have had a half loaf of chocolate babka and half a dozen brioche rolls in my freezer for quite some time. They were from our laminated doughs class. The bread likely passed the point where it would maintain its flavor and quality. It would have been edible but not at peak freshness. I remembered that I marked a recipe on New York Times Food for babka bread pudding that uses half babka and half brioche. Well, perfect! That is exactly what I had.

Bread pudding is quite easy to make. I just needed to pull the bread from the freezer so it could thaw. I cubed the defrosted bread and set aside while I made the custard of eggs, sugar, cream, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla. I then folded in the bread, spread out in a baking pan, and put in the oven. Bread pudding will tell you when its done baking. It won’t jiggle, and it will have a slight crisp on the top.

Once bread pudding is out of the oven, resist the temptation to dig in right away. It will take a good 15-20 minutes for the dessert to set. If you cut into it right away, it might be mushy.

I whipped up this bread pudding the other night after class. I had myself a little snack before bed. I remember thinking, so this is good, but I think it could be better. I liked the texture; it was spongy yet firm. I thought it was lacking in the sweetness department. So I pause to think. What can I do to elevate this dessert? Then it hit me…sauce! It is missing a sauce. What is bread pudding without a sauce? Given that this was made with chocolate babka, I felt chocolate sauce would be a good accompaniment.

I took a cup of sugar and mixed in a half-cup of dark chocolate powder. I added that to a sauce pan with a half cup of water. I mix the water into the sugar before turning on the heat, like I would for making a simple syrup. I brought the mixture to a boil and then let simmer for about 30 seconds, making sure all the sugar dissolved. Off the heat, I waited for a few minutes and then mixed in a little bit of vanilla. Just like that, I had a super easy chocolate sauce. This sauce had a syrupy consistency, which is what I wanted for my dessert.

I drizzled some chocolate sauce on my bread pudding, and it was like I had a whole new dessert. I got the sweetness I was lacking, plus I took the chocolate level from about a 5 to a 9. This would be a chocolate lover’s dream.

I made a pretty sizable bowl of chocolate sauce. I stored it in the fridge in a microwave-safe bowl. When I want some bread pudding, I just take out the bowl and pop it in the microwave. Right out the fridge, the sauce has the viscosity of fudge sauce you might put on your ice cream. After 30 seconds in the microwave (and a good stir) the consistency is more like honey. My sweet spot for this dessert is one minute in the microwave. I find the consistency to be similar to Hershey’s syrup from the bottle, only it tastes so much better. I have some chocolate sauce to drizzle over my bread pudding for each serving. I also pop the bread pudding itself in the microwave for a minute to heat up before adding the sauce.

I know many people who frown upon using microwaves, especially culinary folks. However, microwaves are so convenient, and mine is what is getting me though this quarantine. I still think the dessert is delicious even if I am microwaving the leftovers. Though, this dessert would have been great for a crowd, like at a brunch party, where most of it would have been consumed in the moment. That is not our reality, however, so I am going to gradually enjoy every bite of my bread pudding and chocolate sauce.