Banana Chocolate Chip Bread Puddings with Caramel Sauce
While I was working on Harvard’s Cambridge campus, a friend and I went one day to the Faculty Club for lunch. The food there is quite good all-around, but the one thing I ate which has been burned in my memory since was their banana-chocolate chip bread pudding (which, by the way, you can serve yourself — dangerous — and top with chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, or both. Needless to say, you leave in a sugar coma…but forever enamored with that dessert.) I like bread pudding in any form I can get it, really; I think it’s one of the best kinds of comforting, warming, rich desserts to serve on a cold winter’s night. Many times it’s made with the rich egg-y bread called challah (which, by the way, also makes a killer french toast), but you can use other kinds of bread too.
What started my gears turning on this one was the loaf of banana-nut bread that I had made last weekend; we had half the loaf left and while I do love banana bread for snacking, I started thinking about the banana bread pudding I’d had that day at the Faculty Club and thought I’d try to re-create a version of it at home. I started by cubing the remainder of the banana bread and toasting it in the oven a bit, mostly to dry it out a little. My thinking behind this was to prevent the bread, which was pretty moist on its own, from getting too mushy and soggy in the pudding — I’m not sure if it made a big difference or not. I then tossed the cubes of banana bread with some chocolate chips and diced fresh banana in a bowl, and divided that mixture among 4 well-buttered 10-oz ramekins (you could also use six 6-oz ramekins.) Next, I mixed up the custard to pour into the ramekins; for this I used the basic ratio of eggs to cream and milk (see recipe), and added some cinnamon and a little spiced rum for flavoring. After pouring this over the bread cubes in the ramekins, I let them sit for about 20 minutes on the counter to absorb the egg mixture, occasionally pressing on the tops to keep the cubes fairly submerged. The ramekins then went into a water bath to bake for about 50 minutes, and after they cooled down a bit, I inverted them out of the ramekins and served them with a caramel sauce I had made and flavored with spiced rum.
WOW. Picture creamy, dense, custardy uber-banana flavored cake, studded with occasional bits of melted chocolate, and a pool of caramel to drag the bites around in…it was fantastic! And slightly less sugar-coma-inducing than the original version — as I didn’t add much extra sugar to the custard (I figured the banana bread itself, combined with the caramel sauce, would provide enough sweet.) Add to that the fact that the puddings tasted even better the following day, and the fact that I still had some leftover caramel sauce to stir into hot chocolate or serve over ice cream, and this was a dessert that I’m definitely happy to have added to my list!
half a loaf of banana nut bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (you can try my banana chocolate chip walnut bread, or use another kind you like)
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1 banana, diced
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1 tbsp spiced or dark rum (optional)
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350, and generously butter 4 10-oz. ramekins or 6 6-oz. ramekins.
Toss together the cubes of banana bread, chocolate chips, and diced banana. Divide this mixture among the buttered ramekins (or pour it into the 8×8 dish, if that’s what you’re using.) In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, vanilla, rum (if using), cinnamon, sugar and pinch of salt. Pour this custard mixture over the bread cubes, dividing evenly. Use your (clean) fingers to gently press the bread cubes down to make sure the cubes on top get soaked in custard. Let them sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to absorb the custard.
Place the ramekins in a baking dish, and pour enough hot tap water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the tops of the puddings are puffed and a knife inserted into the middle of one comes out clean.
Remove the ramekins from the hot water bath and let cool on a cooling rack. To serve, I run a knife around the edge and gently invert to unmold the pudding, then flip it so it’s right-side-up on the plate. Serve the puddings warm, or you can let them cool completely, refrigerate them, and they’ll keep for several days in the fridge (unmold one, microwave on high for 2 minutes to reheat.)
Serve with Caramel Sauce or Chocolate Ganache drizzled over the top.