Chocolate-Orange-Almond Bread Pudding

I hate to see food go to waste, although I readily admit, I'm often guilty. It usually goes like this. I see something sitting in the frig or on the counter and I think to myself, "We need to eat this, or make something out of it." A few days later, I'll see it again and remind myself, "Yikes, I really need to get on this before it starts going bad." Soon after, I'm doing my darndest to avoid noticing the thing, because not only am I starting to feel guilty knowing I should have done something sooner, I now know I'm going to have to touch slimy, mushy, moldy, yucky stuff in order to salvage what little good stuff is left.

So when almost a pound of Acme Sour Batard sat on the counter unconsumed for over a week, I knew at best when I opened the bag I'd find a rock or at worst a moldy rock. Fortunately, it was just a rock.

What can you do with rock-hard bread? Well, the Italians appear to be experts at salvaging old bread: Ribollita, a Tuscan bread soup; Panzanella, a Tuscan bread salad; Canederli, bread "dumplings" served in a soup. Then, there's always bread crumbs, but I was afraid the rock would burn out my food processor motor. Then I realized I had partially used cartons of half and half and heavy whipping cream leftover from all that ice cream making. So, I killed two birds with one stone and made bread pudding.

I find Joy of Cooking a good starting point for many a dish. Because their recipes are generally basic and straightforward, you can embellish them in many ways. To their bread pudding recipe, I added orange zest, chocolate chips and some grated almond paste. However, when the recipe called for "stale bread, but not hard,"  I knew I might have to tweak it a bit further. After all, I used a hammer to break apart my bread, so I'm pretty sure it fell under the verboten "hard" category.

I followed the recipe below, but after soaking a couple of hours in the frig, I realized the bread was still pretty dry, so I made some more of the egg/cream mixture (2 eggs + 1 1/2 cups cream) and poured it on. After an overnight soaking, the bread pudding was ready to go into the oven.

So if you have day-old bread and not weeks old bread, you can follow the amounts given below. For bread that requires hammering, increase the egg and cream amounts. I didn't increase the sugar as I was afraid it would make the pudding too sweet.

This was so yummy, warm out of the oven -  comfort food at its best. I happened to have a little bit of salted caramel sauce left in the frig, so I spooned some over the warm bread pudding. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking - gilding the lily. But really, I was trying not to waste food!

Chocolate-Almond-Orange Bread Pudding
Serves 10 - 12

Butter a 13" x 9" baking dish. Make sure it can fit inside a larger oven-proof dish for the water bath.

Spread evenly in prepared baking dish:
12  to 16 oz stale bread, cut up into 1" cubes

Scatter over top of bread:
zest from one orange
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup sliced almonds
3-4 oz grated almond paste

In a medium bowl, whisk together:
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

To the eggs, whisk in:
3 cups any combination of whole milk, half and half, heavy whipping cream, low-fat milk

Pour mixture over the bread.

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the bread. Place weights (cans, tetra-paks) on top to press bread into liquid.

Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F.

Remove weights and plastic wrap from the baking dish. Place baking dish inside larger oven-proof dish and place in oven. Immediately pour enough warm water into the larger dish to come 1/2 way up side of the 13" x 9" dish. Bake for 1 hour, or until puffed and firm in the center.

Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or your favorite sauce. Store leftovers in the frig.

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