A few weeks ago, Lidia Bastianich, Italian Chef, PBS Television Star, Restaurateur and all around authority on authentic Italian Cuisine, came to my Philadelphia Williams-Sonoma store at The Bellevue in Center City. I had the opportunity to work the event, as it was on a Tuesday and I currently have Tuesdays off for "maternity/parental" leave. As the former resident chef at the store, occasionally I get the chance to work and cook for the chef author events when I am available.
Being a celebrity chef 'ho, I didn't want to miss meeting Lidia and adding to my collection another autographed cookbook. Mrs. Bastianich's publicity folks asked that the store make two of her current recipes from the latest cookbook - Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy. Resident Chef Margaret made Lidia's Sausages in the skillet with grapes; I was asked to make her Chocolate Bread Parfait - a cross between a summer bread pudding and tiramisu.
We had a lovely turn-out for the event; Lidia Bastianich has a devoted following. She is in person just as you see her on television - direct, authoritative without seeming cold and mean, and regal. There wasn't the same electricity and excitement in the store as when Martha Stewart was there, nor was there the same giddiness in the air at meeting the sexy-rock-star-Top Chef, Tom Colliccio. Ah, well, you can't always have those mega watt shining moments. We made beautiful food, enjoyed several hours with customers and a celebrity chef. It was a good day with a good recipe, which I've made slightly easier for all.
Spoiler Alert: Recipes LIE. I've known this for years, I've heard chef's say this, I've read it, and recently I heard a chef on Jim Coleman's WHYY's Radio Show, A Chef's Table, say that even the best cookbook recipes lie. What this means is the recipes don't always work at home. Commercial ovens are different, hotter and more exact than our home ovens. Quantities are exact but most cooks ad-lib it with ingredient amounts. Upon reading Lidia's recipe as it was written, I found it complicated and inexact. Primarily my issue was with how the chocolate is melted. To this end, I deconstructed the recipe and used ingredients that I knew would work well. I used the Williams-Sonoma Hot Chocolate Mix; it's shavings of high quality Guittard pure milk chocolate, which melt quickly. I switched out brewed espresso for instant; for the demonstration, I used a combination of Metropolitan's Brioche and Country White Breads. However, I learned that this recipe really works better with the Country White Bread - it holds up better and soaks up the chocolate without falling apart. As for working with melted chocolate, one needs to realize that melted chocolate can easily seize when combined with other liquids. I opted to melt the chocolate with a bit of heavy cream, adding in some fat to help the chocolate melt and blend easily with the espresso and rum. By the way, this is not one of my healthy, lighter, Weight Watcher's Recipes. I wouldn't have made it on my own, but...It is the holiday season. Enjoy!
Chocolate Bread Parfait Pudding - adapted from Lidia Bastianich's Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: page 221; an Umbrian dessert recipe.
- 1 Cup Williams-Sonoma Pure Milk Hot Chocolate Mix or 8 ounces of Bitter/Semi-Sweet Chocolate chopped Or Good Quality Bitter/Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
- 1 Pint (2 Cups) of Heavy Cream - Divided
- 8 Slices Country Style White Bread - crusts removed
- 1/2 Cup Freshly Brewed Espresso or an equal quantity of prepared Instant Espresso made according to package directions
- 2 Tablespoons Dark or Golden Rum, or Khaluhah (or 1 Tablespoon of quality Rum Extract)
- 3 Tablespoons Sugar - divided
- 1/2 Cup Sliced Almonds - toasted (you can "toast" them in the microwave for 1 minute, stir and heat again for 33 seconds)
- Use a chilled metal or glass bowl and chilled beaters to whip 1 & 1/2 Cups of the heavy cream with a tablespoon of sugar, until stiff peaks form. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use. Cream can be whipped up to a day ahead.
- In a large heat safe/microwave safe bowl, pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream and add in the 1 cup of hot chocolate or shaved chocolate. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir and heat again for another 2 minutes or until the chocolate is thoroughly melted. Set aside.
- Remove the crusts from the bread and lay the bread slices onto a sheet tray. Set aside.
- Prepare the espresso and pour it into a mixing jar or bowl. Stir in the Rum or Khalulah and the 2 tablespoons of sugar; stir until the sugar dissolves. Carefully pour the espresso/rum mixture into the melted chocolate, stirring and blending the chocolate with the espresso mixture, until it is smooth and pourable.
- Pour some of the chocolate mixture over the bread slices. Flip the bread over and pour more of the chocolate mixture over the other side. Reserve some (about 1/4 cup) of the chocolate mixture to drizzle over the top of the finished parfait.)
- To assemble the mixture, break or cut the chocolate soaked bread slices and layer half of them into the bottom of parfait glasses or into a trifle bowl.
- Next, add a layer of whipped cream on top of the chocolate bread slices. Sprinkle some sliced almonds on top of the whipped cream. Drizzle some of the reserved chocolate over this layer. Repeat with the next layer of bread, whipped cream and almonds. Drizzle the remaining chocolate sauce over the top layer of whipped cream and almonds.
- Serves 4 to 6. Recipe is best when assembled and served immediately, though it will hold for several hours, refrigerated.