The night my husband asked to marry me, I wore a bright yellow dress with cream lace trim. It was a warm August night, heavy with anticipation on my part, hopeful that this would be "the night," that just maybe, Benji had a diamond ring tucked away in his coat pocket.
It was no surprise to me when we pulled up in front of Chez Lulu, my most treasured place to eat in Birmingham. Under the restaurant's crimson and gold awning hangs strings of charming multicolored lights, its interior is scattered with mismatched throw pillows, crowded round tables, and eclectic artwork in gold rococo frames. My first time here I couldn't help but smile at cheerful decor, the smell of fresh bread and warms soups, the clinking of wine glasses, the chatter of friends and loved ones. I quickly knew I would become a frequent visitor of this place.
To be honest, I can't remember what Benji and I talked about that night. I was absorbed in the atmosphere, saturated in the moment. There are a few things I do remember: holding Benji's hand. Him slipping my inexpensive, costume jewelry ring off my left ring finger (not too subtle of a hint, but really cute.) And, dessert. My usual- chocolate croissant bread pudding with creme anglaise. Even though I take time to flip through the desserts on every visit, I always come back to this old favorite- made from butter croissants from next door's bakery, dark chocolate, and cream, it is, simply put, heavenly.
Today I have two pretty rings on my left ring finger, and a loving husband- a husband that is well aware of his wife's devotion to all things chocolate. And Chez Lulu's bread pudding- let's just say it's quite high on my list of favorite desserts. This recipe is my attempt to recreate the warm scrumptiousness of my beloved little restaurant. Mismatched pillows not included. :)
Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
10 small croissants
2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine butter and sugar and pulse until well blended. Add cinnamon and vanilla; pulse to combine.
Add the eggs to the mixture a little at a time, until well blended. Scrape down the sides, add the heavy cream and milk, and pulse to combine.
Tear the croissants into one inch pieces and layer into a buttered 9 by 13 inch baking dish, then scatter the chocolate pieces over the top. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and let soak about 10 minutes, pushing down croissant pieces to ensure even coverage.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake 30-35 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes to brown the top. Cool before serving with creme anglaise.
1 cup cream
1 3-inch piece vanilla bean pod (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
1/3 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
Mix egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until well blended; set aside. Heat cream and vanilla bean pod in a saucepan over medium heat about 5-6 minutes, until edges start to bubble. Slowly pour hot cream over egg mixture, mixing to incorporate. (Do not combine all at once or you will cook your eggs.) Once combined, pour mixture back into saucepan and cook another 5-6 minutes, until it coats the back of the spoon. Cover and refrigerate (mixture will thicken as it cools.)
To serve, scoop bread pudding into small dessert bowls and spoon creme anglaise over the top. I enjoy mine with fruit and a coffee.