I’m not sure what it is about bread pudding, but let’s face it, it is one of the most comforting foods in the world. Growing up, I’m not sure that we ever had any bread pudding. I certainly have no memory of it if we did. It was, instead, something that I discovered while cooking on my own in college. Earlier this week, for my sister’s birthday, I made apricot jam and cream cheese stuffed, almond crusted french toast (say that five times fast!). I had a whole loaf of leftover sour dough bread from our local bakery, which I had purchased for said toast, and I was all too happy this week to let it go stale in my pantry, knowing that a bread pudding was not that far out of reach. I have made all different kinds of fabulous bread puddings over the years (Ina Garten’s croissant bread pudding served with a brandy butter sauce, for example, is unimaginably decadent) but I have never ventured to make a chocolate bread pudding. I have certainly seen them made over the years on various cooking shows and have always been intrigued by the idea, but never enough to bring my chocolate fantasies to fruition. As usual, when looking to make something for the first time, I scoured my cook books and the internet for recipes, searching for the one that seemed to have the most flavor. And who better to teach me the ways of decadent chocolate comfort food than Ms. Paula Deen herself. (I like to think of all of the people from the food network like my imaginary friends who live on TV!) I stumbled across her recipe and was sold instantly by her inclusion of a half a cup of coffee liqueur. Now, never being one to follow the rules, I, of course, did not make her recipe as written. Recipes are like road maps. You can follow them, and they will certainly get you to where you need to go, but it’s when you put them down that the real fun of the road trip adventure begins. In lieu of milk and heavy cream I used all half n half, since that is what I had on hand, and the two cups of sugar seemed a little extreme, so I decreased it to one cup of brown sugar, and one half cup of granulated sugar. I added a teaspoon or so of instant espresso powder to the batter, upped the vanilla a little bit, and excluded the almond extract. I started by adding the one fourth of a cup of cocoa powder, but found that after tasting it, that it still wasn’t at that level of chocolate punch that I was looking for so I added an additional forth of a cup for that rich chocolate flavor. I used grated dark chocolate instead of her semi sweet (’cause that’s how I roll), and right before baking I added a big handful of semi sweet chocolate morsels in among the bread cubes, so there would also be little pockets of chocolate. Right before pouring the batter over the bread cubes, it still seemed a little watery, so I decided to add an additional egg, just for good measure. I soaked the bread cubes in a large bowl for twenty minutes or so, stirring several times to ensure even saturation. I then divided the bread mixture among eight buttered ramekins (because I think individual desserts are always infinitely more charming, since, let’s face it, no one likes to share), and baked for about fifty minutes, or until just set. Never one to accept too much as ever being enough, I decided to further guild the lily by pouring some of my leftover salted vanilla caramel sauce over the top, and served it with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, a dollop of freshly whipped cream, and a few dark chocolate shavings. I love how the tops get nice and crusty in the oven, which adds a nice contrast to the tender, rich, chocolate custard underneath. The little kiss of cinnamon, espresso powder, vanilla, and coffee liqueur all work in unison to round out and amplify the chocolate flavor. And the salted caramel, well, how can that make anything taste worse. We are just getting our first taste of fall here in the northwest, and nothing says cozy quite as much as a nice warm dessert. This bread pudding fits the bill nicely. Enjoy!