I should start this post with a disclaimer: All of the items I am speaking about in my post today were given to me by Hotel Chocolat.
I have a good friend from Business School, I've written about her before, she is the genius behind my Buffalo Mac posting. The Ex-Pat lives in Scotland and does Marketing for a fancy company, who works with Fancy Companies. One of those Fancy Companies just so happens to be Hotel Chocolat. A bit back, she asked me if I would be interested in testing some of their products and then writing about them. Of course, being a lover of Fancy Companies AND Chocolate, I couldn't resist.
And so, right before Thanksgiving, I received a lovely package in the mail with the goodies I posted in the picture above. It took me a little time to figure out what to do with them, some The Husband and I just ate as is, others I created recipes around.
We started out with the Chili Penguins, as someone who loves both chocolate and spice, I thought the spice would be a perfect way to warm us up on a cold night, while still fulfilling a dark chocolate craving (70% dark!). The issue at times with spices inside chocolate is that the chocolate can get a little gritty. These penguins were smooth all the way through and they lived up to their product description "we've warmed them up with a smidge of chili for a gentle tingling warmth that grows. Just don't eat too many at once!" They are not for those with a spice sensitive palate. While the chocolate was really delicious, I thought the chili was a bit overpowering and took away from how fantastic the chocolate really is. However, with that being said, if you are a lover of Mexican Hot Chocolate, this is something up your ally for sure.
From there, we moved onto the Santa Slab. It is literally what it sounds like, a slab of chocolate. Sadly, it's no longer on their website since it was a seasonal item, however they do have at least 30 or so more slabs in a variety of flavors. The Santa Slab was a mix of Milk Chocolate, Salted Caramel and White Chocolate Garnishes. This.Was.AMAZING. The Husband and I tried to savoir it as long as possible. I think we kept it around for two or three days after opening it. Hotel Chocolat has make an art of creating melt in your mouth, creamy chocolate. And the Salted Caramel was a perfect addition. It took every bit of self control to not go online and order more of them. As a matter of fact, as I'm writing this post, I've already noted three of the larger slabs I'd like to purchase...damn it.
From there we used the Cocoa Balsamic Vinegar. Initially, I was a little wary, balsamic typically goes one of two ways, either it's too acidic or overly sweet, I was wondering what would happen with the addition of cocoa nib, I thought it would lean towards to sweet. But it turned out really great. Honestly, it tastes like a really lovely, well aged balsamic. The cocoa nibs come out while you pour, they've been broken down a fair amount by the vinegar, so they're very soft and add a nice texture to whatever you're putting it on. In order to taste is alone, The Husband and I each took a teaspoon full, and it was really great just like that. I wouldn't recommend running around drinking straight balsamic vinegar, but if you had to, this is the one. Obviously it goes wonderfully on salads. I put a little on our Christmas Eve Burrata, Heirloom Tomato and Basil Crostini's, and it added a great pop of flavor.
The final item in my box, was the Salted Caramel and Pecan Spread. It's very nutty, the pecan is really at the forefront of this spread, and I wanted to try something that would bring that flavor out, without having it overpower the dish. The spread is very thick, it's almost like butter in texture. White I was trying to figure out what to do,The Husband couldn't wait and ended up putting it on a few sugar cookies and munched away. He treated it like Nutella. Which gave me my idea!
I decided to make a Salted Caramel and Pecan Brioche Bread Pudding for Christmas. I took my base from one of our favorite San Francisco Restaurants, Bar Tartine and from there, I played around a little.
After drying out the brioche, I covered every single piece of brioche (top and bottom) with the spread. It turned out pretty fantastically, if I do say so myself. You could taste both the Salted Caramel and the Pecan, without having either be too overpowering, and because I covered the bread with the spread while it was still warm, before I put the custard in, it really got deep into the brioche.
We had so much bread pudding left over, I froze it. The Husband took it out last night (three weeks after Christmas) popped it into the microwave and ate it. It tasted just as good as the day it was made.
What I can say about the Hotel Chocolat items we received; while some of them were 100% up our ally, everything we had was really delicious in it's own right. And the items that were up our ally, were fantastic. I'm not typically a buyer of Chocolate (other than for baking, and they have Milk Chocolate Drops that I'm going to try in my cookies), but there is no doubt that I will return and buy more items from their site for baking or just gifts in general. If you are a chocolate lover, this is where you should get everything from now on.
Ingredients:6 brioche slices, cut 1-inch thick (I cut a loaf into 6 slices, it was a little more than 1 inch each)
8 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
4 cups whole milk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
Hotel Chocolat Salted Caramel and Pecan Spread
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Grease an 8x8 or 9x5 or a 12x7 glass or ceramic pan. You want to bread to fit snugly in the pan. It can be double layered, or single layered. Just as long as it fits well, but still allows for some room for the custard.
Cut your Brioche into 6 or so slices, keep the crust on. Some recipes will tell you to remove, I never have.
Place the bread into the oven for 10 minutes, or until crisp, but NOT browned. You want to dry the bread out so it will take in the custard better, but you don't want it all toasty.
While your bread is drying, in a bowl beat the eggs, then add the sugar. Blend until completely smooth. Once the egg sugar mixture is completely incorporated, add the milk, vanilla and salt.
The Tartine recipe calls for putting the custard through a sieve, I didn't do that.
Once the bread is toasted, figure out how it will best fit in your pan. This may mean you have to cut your pieces into smaller pieces. I ended up cutting each of mine in half. I also decided to use a single layer of Brioche, where the Tartine Recipe used a double layer. Again, it's your choice.
Once you have your bread configured, take your Hotel Chocolat Salted Caramel and Pecan Spread, and cover each piece, liberally with the spread. Don't skimp out, the more spread you put on, the more flavor you're going to get.
Your hands may get a little messy, because the spread will start to melt a little. That's okay! When you're finished covering all of the pieces, I highly recommend licking your fingers before washing them off.
Once every piece is covered, slowly pour the custard mix evenly onto the bread and fill to the top of the pan. You may have some leftover mix. Wait a few minutes, the bread will take some time to soak it all in, and then top the pan off.
Once you've totally saturated your bread with the custard, cover the pan with foil and pop it into the oven for an hour. The Bread Pudding is going to rise, really high (see the picture above!). When you take it out of the oven, remove the foil so that the condensation doesn't go back into the bread pudding. It will probably fall a little and not look nearly as puffy. That is okay! I assure you, it's going to taste, AH-MAZE-ING.
When you serve, you can serve along side some home made whipped cream, and a dollop of the Salted Caramel and Pecan Spread.
If you have a ton of leftovers, put them in an airtight container and freeze until you're ready to serve again. Just pop the container into the microwave for 2 minutes and it's like it's fresh out of the oven!