Scatter the bread cubes in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Set aside.
In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine the cream, milk, and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Cut the piece of vanilla bean in half lengthwise, and scrape the tiny beans into the cream mixture. (Discard the scraped bean pod or add it to granulated or powdered sugar to make vanilla sugar.)
Bring the cream mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until the sugar dissolves, then whisking occasionally.
Add the chocolate chips and continue cooking until the chocolate is melted, about two minutes more, whisking frequently and being sure to scrape the pan bottom clean as you whisk. Remove from heat.
In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk the eggs until frothy. Very slowly add the chocolate mixture to the eggs, whisking constantly so the eggs don't curdle. Pour this custard mixture over the bread. Let the custard sit until cool enough for you to put your hands in it, about 10 minutes.
Once the custard is cool enough, toss the bread cubes with your hands, squeezing the cubes in the liquid to make sure all are well saturated. Cover and refrigerate overnight. About three hours before baking the pudding, remove the pan of pudding from the refrigerator, and evenly sprinkle the top with ¼ cup sugar. Let the pudding sit at room temperature for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300°F.
Once the pudding has sat 45 minutes, seal the baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake the pudding until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean and the pudding looks solidified with no puddles of liquid on the surface, about two hours. Once done, it will also start developing a few small, shallow cracks on top and there will be an irresistible smell of chocolate emanating from the oven.
Remove the pudding from the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes at room temperature before serving.
Serving Suggestion: Cut the pudding into eight to 12 equal-size rectangles and place on heated dessert plates. Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the chocolate sauce on one half of each portion of pudding and the same amount of white chocolate sauce over the other half of the pudding. Position a piece of almond bark upright in the center of each serving for garnish. Refrigerate any leftover pudding and sauces.
Yields: 1.75 cups
In a heavy 1-quart saucepan, combine the cream and sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and gradually add the chocolate chips, whisking until each addition is completely melted into the cream before adding more. Add the butter and continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Remove from the heat.
Serving Suggestion: Serve the sauce while it's still warm, or, once it's cool, store in the refrigerator in an airtight container until ready to reheat for serving. It will keep for up to one week covered and refrigerated. Reheat for serving in the top of a double boiler over hot (not simmering) water, whisking constantly to keep the sauce from scorching.
Yields: 2 cups
Place the white-chocolate chips in a medium-size mixing bowl and set aside. In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine the cream, butter and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and pour the cream mixture over the reserved chips, whisking until the mixture is smooth.
Serving Suggestion: Serve the sauce while it's still warm, or once it's cool store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container until ready to reheat for serving. It will keep for at least one week covered and refrigerated. Reheat for serving in the top of a double boiler over hot (not simmering) water, whisking constantly to keep it from scorching.
Yields: 2.5 pounds of candy or 40 to 50 rough 2-inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Roast the almonds in a small baking pan until light golden, about five minutes, stirring once or twice. Watch them carefully so they don't over-brown.
Line a rimmed baking sheet, about 17 by 12 inches by 1 inch, with parchment paper. Set aside.
Melt the bittersweet chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler over hot (not simmering) water, stirring until smooth. Remove the top of the pan from over the hot water when the chips are about half-way melted to stir thoroughly. Once the chocolate is smooth, remove it from heat and promptly pour it onto the baking sheet, spreading it in a thin, even layer with an icing spatula. Refrigerate, uncovered, until firm, about 15 minutes.
While the dark chocolate is chilling, melt the white chocolate chips as you did the dark ones. Take extra care to heat the white chocolate over very low heat, since white chocolate scorches more easily than dark chocolate. Also, wash and dry the icing spatula. Once the white chocolate is melted and the dark chocolate is firm, remove the dark chocolate from the refrigerator. Immediately spread the white chocolate evenly over the dark chocolate with the icing spatula, working quickly so the warmth of the white chocolate barely has time to melt the dark chocolate. (Don't worry if it melts a little. It will give the white chocolate a pretty marbled look.)
Promptly sprinkle the almonds over the white chocolate, breaking them into coarse crumbs as you go, and gently pressing them into the chocolate to make sure they stick. Refrigerate the candy, uncovered, until just firm. After 30 to 40 minutes the candy should be firm enough to break into rough 2-inch pieces of “bark.” Don't refrigerate until very firm before breaking into bark or the chocolate will be more difficult to break up.
Serving Suggestion: Use immediately or keep refrigerated, separated by sheets of wax paper, in airtight containers. The candy will keep at least one week.
Recipe provided by Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group.
Darra Goldstein is editor in chief of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, an 888-page reference guide to all things sweet. "The book is really a compendium of human desires, a cultural history of desire for things that are sweet and what it has caused in the world, in both the realm of pleasure and also of pain," she says.