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Meridian Cafe's Chocolate Bread Pudding

4 C. half-and-half
2 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, in chips or broken into bits
5 C. very stale French bread, cut into 2 x 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 C. sugar
1/4 C. unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
whipped cream, for garnish

Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly butter a 2-quart baking dish.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, warm the half-and-half until it steams but does not bubble. Remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate until mixture is an even hot-cocoa color.

Place bread cubes in a bowl, and pour chocolate mixture over them; set aside. The cubes should be thoroughly saturated with the chocolate mixture so there will be no white pieces of bread showing when you cut into the finished pudding. The time this takes will depend on your bread's texture; give it at least 30 minutes. When it's ready, the bread will be very soft and squishy.

In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together sugar, melted (and cooled) butter, eggs, salt and vanilla for 2 minutes. Pour over bread cubes and gently mix together (being careful not to squish the bread). Pour into the buttered baking dish and bake 50 minutes, or until mixture is spongy and "set," like a custard, rather than soupy.

Serve topped with whipped cream.

Serves 8.

    
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