Nutella! What glorious stuff, this chocolate hazelnut spread. It's the perfect flavor combination. The sheer genius of the stuff is that it pairs well with just about anything. You can have it on fruit, you can have it on toast, you can have it on a pretzel. It goes with most any dessert. Really, it is so versatile. It's like the friendly and amenable popular kid of spreadable foodstuffs.
I still remember when I first discovered Nutella, back when I was 22 or 23 and living on my own for the first time. I shared an apartment with two school teachers in Doylestown, PA, and I often went with one or the other one to the local supermarket to get groceries. Our closest supermarket was a Redner's Warehouse, which sold most things on the cheap, and which often carried somewhat odd brands of things. Next to the cans of Dole vegetables you'd find bizarre brands you'd never seen anywhere else, like Golden Medal sliced carrots or something. Most of the merchandise and the floor had a thin film of dust. It was a pretty ghetto warehouse supermarket, but we were young and poor, so it was fine with us. It was here that I first discovered Nutella, on the shelf with not-quite-Jif brands of peanut butter and not-really-Smuckers jars of jam. I loved Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates, and really anything that Ferrero makes (Kinder eggs have a special place in my heart), so I figured, why not?
Oh, chocolately glory on a spoon! From the first, I was hooked. It was miraculous. You could eat it on anything! You could even eat it off the spoon and not get bored. I remember a ridiculously caloric concoction I would make involving toast with a layer of cheesecake-flavored cream cheese and another layer of Nutella. It was one step away from self-induced diabetes, and it was heavenly.
I don't always keep a jar of Nutella in the house, mostly because I know it wouldn't last long and would go straight to my thighs (what doesn't though?), but it is an indulgence I like to have around now and again. I recently discovered the Tuscan Pane loaf at Trader Joe's, and it was simply divine spread with a layer of Nutella.
I had some friends visiting this weekend, as I mentioned in my last post, so I decided to feed them some individual Nutella bread puddings that I found on the absolutely fantastic website Baking Bites. If you're ever in the mood to bake something and don't know what to make, go to that site and you will most certainly be sated. Trust me. It was while browsing the site one day that I discovered the glory that is Nutella bread pudding, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
I'm not even really a huge fan of bread pudding. Sometimes it's too soggy and custardy for my taste. But these are really a delight. They bake up thick and dense and yet simultaneously fluffy. The custard is the perfect consistency, especially as I tend to be jumpy around gelatinous foods. I made mine with half a loaf of challah bread and I'll probably use the rest of the loaf tonight to make more. And I was fortunate enough to find six adorable ramekins of the proper size at Marshall's to put them in.
They were a big hit with the ladies and with Jeremy, who shares my wariness of traditional bread puddings. They are the perfect portion size and are fantastic with a little dollop of vanilla ice cream. They are also easy to stash in the fridge. I think they taste amazing warm, so definitely nuke them for about a minute each before eating your leftovers. The best part of these is that they are impressive and delicious, and yet so easy to make that you can whip them up while you're waiting to serve dinner. In fact, that's just what I did. They take about 7 minutes to assemble, and that's including the 5 minutes it takes to let the bread soak in the custard mixture. (To be honest, I had cubed my challah bread ahead of time and stashed it in a large baggie, and that's what I recommend you do too.) While we ate dinner, they baked in the oven. (I found that mine took about 25 minutes to set and get gloriously puffy.) While we had seconds and chatted, they sat out and cooled and the ice cream thawed out a bit. And when we ate them, they were deliciously warm, rich, and melty. The Nutella flavor is not overwhelming, so if you want more of it, I'd say go ahead and add some more dollops to the custard batter. But they are truly delicious and so simple that I cannot recommend them highly enough. Get yourself a loaf of bread and a jar of Nutella and get baking. (That is, if you don't first eat the whole loaf of bread slathered in Nutella.)
UPDATE: Here is a poor-quality cell phone picture of one of my bread puddings in one of my new ramekins.