When Valentine's Day falls during the week, time for sharing a leisurely breakfast is unlikely. You can, however, still start the day with a romantic surprise.

Ernestine Ulmer said, "Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." When I first began to create recipes, in 1994, this inspired me to make dessert-like breakfasts. Rice pudding and bread pudding have been particular favorites since they include a healthy combination of protein, complex carbs via whole grain, fiber, plus pleasure. And you can eat them while putting on makeup, reading the paper, heading out to work or sitting at your desk when necessary.

For Valentine's Day, the chocolate and cherries in this bread pudding make it luxuriously seductive. They have health benefits too that say you care, combining the goodness of whole-grain bread with health-promoting antioxidants in chocolate and cherries.

I recommend making this moist pudding a day or two ahead since it is even better after it sits.

Bread that is too soft makes a mushy pudding, so select a loaf that resists slightly when you press it in its package. For example, I used Arnold Whole Grains 100 percent Whole Wheat bread. Dried tart Montmorency cherries are my preference over sweet ones. Do use dried fruit - the sour cherries in a jar, even well drained, can turn your pudding soggy.

From the American Institute

for Cancer Research

Cherry Chocolate Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

•3/4 cup dried tart or sweet cherries

•3/4 cup apple juice or water

•8 slices whole-wheat bread

•1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

•1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

•1/4 teaspoon salt

•2 1/2 cups refrigerated plain coconut milk*, divided

•2 large eggs

•3 large egg whites

•2 teaspoons vanilla extract

•Canola oil cooking spray

•1/4 cup dark chocolate chips, at least 60 to 63 percent cocoa

•2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In small bowl, soak cherries in apple juice or water to plump them. Drain well, and set aside.

Stack bread slices and using serrated knife, cut off crust. Cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes; making about 7 cups.

In large mixing bowl, combine cocoa, sugar and salt. Add 1/3 cup of coconut milk, and whisk until smooth. Add remaining coconut milk, and whisk to combine well. Add eggs, egg whites and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Add cubed bread and drained cherries, mixing gently until all bread is moistened. Set mixture aside to soak for 30 to 60 minutes.

Coat 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Stir mixture again to evenly distribute cherries. Spread mixture in prepared pan. Sprinkle on chocolate chips and almonds.

Bake until knife inserted in center of pudding comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on rack until just warm. Cut pudding into 12 pieces, and serve. Or cool completely, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Serve this bread pudding cold or at room temperature.

*This is an unsweetened refrigerated coconut milk beverage with 50 calories per 1 cup.

Makes: 12 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: 176 calories, 4 g fat (2 g sat fat), 31 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 3 g fiber, 232 mg sodium.