Makes one 9-inch by 9-inch baking dish (8 servings)
This lusty dessert not only wins applause, it also transforms day-old bread into a gourmet comfort food. I like it best served warm; if made in advance, you can reheat individual servings in the microwave. The sherry cream makes a heavenly topping; yet sometimes I prefer topping the bread pudding with scoops of pistachio ice cream.
For the bread pudding
½ cup dried cherries
¼ cup Cognac or brandy
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup sugar
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ cups day-old whole wheat bread in ½-inch cubes (about 2 slices)
½ cup sliced toasted almonds
For the sherry cream
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon sweet (cream) sherry
Sweetened cocoa powder for garnish
To make the bread pudding, combine the dried cherries and cognac in a small bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 or for up to 8 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Lightly oil a 9-inch by 9-inch baking dish.
Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove the pan from the double boiler and let cool.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until light. Whisk in the cooled chocolate, the half-and-half, vanilla, and cinnamon until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cherries and Cognac, bread cubes, and almonds.
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and let stand for 20 minutes.
Bake for 40 minutes or until set in the middle. The pudding will slightly pull away from the edges of the dish.
To make the sherry cream, just before serving, beat the cream with the sugar in a chilled small bowl until stiff. Gently fold in the sherry.
Serve the bread pudding warm or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Top bowls of the bread pudding with the flavored whipped cream and lightly dust with cocoa powder stirred through a fine mesh strainer.