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1. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, half of the white chocolate, and the vanilla bean (if using). Cook and stir over low heat just until chocolate is melted and mixture is simmering. Remove from heat. Remove vanilla bean. Using a small sharp knife, split vanilla bean lengthwise. Using the tip of the knife, scrape out seeds. Stir seeds (or vanilla extract, if using) into the milk mixture.
2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, and cinnamon. Gradually stir milk mixture into egg mixture.
3. In an ungreased 2-quart square baking dish, combine bread cubes, dried cherries, and the remaining white chocolate. Pour milk mixture evenly over bread mixture; press lightly with the back of a large spoon to moisten bread. Cover with foil and chill for 1 to 24 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place baking dish in a large baking pan. Pour enough hot water into baking pan to reach 1 inch up side of baking dish. Bake, covered, about 1 hour or until top appears evenly set.
5. Remove baking dish from water. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Serve warm bread pudding with Hard Sauce. Makes 12 servings.
1. Place egg yolks in a medium bowl; beat with a fork until combined. Set aside. In a small heavy saucepan, combine butter and sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is bubbly. Gradually whisk butter mixture into egg yolks. Return egg yolk mixture to saucepan. Cook and stir over medium-low heat about 15 minutes or until mixture reaches a temperature of 170 degrees F. Remove from heat. Stir in whiskey. If necessary, stir in hot water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to reach desired consistency. If desired, cover and let stand at room temperature for up to 1 hour (if sauce becomes too thick, stir in hot water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to thin sauce).