½ cup raisins
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup brandy
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half & half
6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups diced (1/2 inch) soft crustless challah, brioche, or white bread
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving
Put the raisins and orange zest in a small bowl, add the brandy, and let the raisins and zest soak, covered, in the refrigerator for 24 hours, or up to 1 week.
Put the cream and half & half in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whisk one third of the warm cream into the egg mixture, a little at a time, to prevent scrambling the eggs, then whisk in the rest of the cream mixture.
Add the bread to the bowl and stir to soak it with the custard. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.
Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325?F. Butter six 4 to 6 ounce ramekins or baking dishes.
Drain the raisins, reserving the brandy. Add the raisins and a tablespoon of the brandy to the bread mixture and mix well. Spoon the bread mixture into the ramekins. Sprinkle the chocolate over the top of the bread puddings.
Put the ramekins in a roasting pan and fill the pan with enough warm water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake, uncovered, until the pudding is just set, about 25 minutes; when you shake the pan, the custard should wobble for just a moment.
Remove the pan from the oven and carefully place the ramekins on small serving dishes. Serve the bread pudding hot, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream right on top.