On a winter’s day there is nothing quite as satisfying as the smell of a bread based dessert coming from the oven. I remember as a child coming home from school to find that my mum had baked a bread pudding, fresh out of the oven, covered in glistening brown sugar, to be eaten later as dessert with custard and a cup of tea. I am not sure of the origins of bread pudding, but I imagine it was a wartime creation for using up leftover stale bread.
Before we continue, let’s discuss the difference between ‘bread pudding’ and ‘bread and butter pudding’. Bread pudding seems to be a British creation – it is dense and soft, full of currants, but not cakey, more like a soggy Christmas pudding, usually divided into small squares and sprinkled with sugar. You can’t eat lots of it in one go – it is pure stodge – but lovely comforting stodge at that. It is made by mashing stale bread with milk and dried fruit, and adding copious amounts of spice.
Bread and Butter pudding on the other hand is soft and custardy. It is made by arranging slices of buttered bread in a dish, pouring custard over the top and baking in the oven. The bread is usually cut into triangles so that the pointy bits above the custard go crunchy and maybe slightly burnt to contrast with the soft rich texture of the middle. I don’t have a picture of my own pud to show you, so here is a glossy foodie pic of one (I’ll replace it with a pic of mine, next time I make it):
Okay so lets make some puddings.
BREAD PUDDING RECIPE (use half quantities for a smaller pudding)
500g of (preferably stale) bread – wholemeal works best – cut the crusts off, but if you are short of the 500g you can throw a few crusts back in
500g sultanas (you can use mixed dried fruit, but sultanas are juiciest and they don’t have pips)
85g mixed peel
2 tablespoons mixed spice
Half a tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs beaten
100g light brown sugar (plus a few tablespoons for sprinkling)
100g butter – melted
Optional extras: replace some of the fruit with – lemon zest, orange zest, glace cherries (wash the sticky coating off with very hot water), dates, walnuts, pecans etc.
1. Heat the oven to 170 deg C. Line a 20cm square cake tin with non-stick baking parchment. If using half the quantities above, line a standard loaf tin instead.
2. Tear the bread up into small pieces in a mixing bowl, add the fruit, spice, cinnamon and peel (plus any optional extras if you are using them). Pour in the milk and mix with a wooden spoon, mashing and mixing as you go so that the bread breaks down.
3. Add the eggs and sugar and stir. Stir in the melted butter. Leave to stand if necessary to allow the bread to soak up all of the ingredients.
4. Mix again and pour into the prepared tin. The large tin will take an hour and a half and the small tin will take just over an hour. If it is browning too quickly you can cover it with foil for a while.
5. Just before the end of cooking, sprinkle the pudding with sugar. When it is done a skewer will come out cleanly, but the middle will still be soft and moist. Serve warm from the oven with custard or cream or just a cuppa.
BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING RECIPE
12 slices of bread with crusts removed
50g soft unsalted butter
8 egg yolks (save the whites for a pavlova)
150g caster sugar (plus extra to sprinkle on top)
4 drops of vanilla essence
300ml double cream
50g sultanas (as with the bread pudding, you can use raisins and currants if you like)
Ground nutmeg (up to a tablespoon depending on how much you like nutmeg)
1. Grease a pudding basin (approx 1.7 litres) with butter.
2. Butter the bread and cut it in half diagonally so that you get triangles.
3. Arrange the bread in the dish in layers, sprinkling with sultanas between layers and finishing with a final layer of bread. Arrange it so that some of the corners of the bread stick upwards – they will go crispy and create a nice contrast to the soft pudding.
4. Now make the custard. Whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar. Place the milk and cream in a pan with the vanilla and heat gently until simmering. Pour the milk/cream onto the egg and sugar mixture and keep stirring (get a helper to stir while you pour).
5. Pour the custard over the bread and leave to soak while you heat up the oven to 180 deg C.
6. Fill a roasting tray halfway with warm water and place the pudding dish in the water (this is known as a ‘bain marie’). Sprinkle nutmeg on top. Cook for 20-30 minutes. It should be a soft wobbly custard, not firmly set. Sprinkle with sugar 5 minutes before the end of cooking so that it caramelizes on top.
This is a very rich custard using 8 egg yolks and half cream, you can make a healthier version using fewer eggs and all milk, but if you are presenting this at a dinner party, I would recommend making the indulgent version. There are a variety of custard recipes available on the web, find the one that you like best.
To save time, you can use raisin bread and fewer (or no) sultanas. You can also add nuts, mixed peel, dates, dried apricots and glace cherries if you like them.
Other variations include spreading the bread slices with apricot jam or Nutella. You can also drizzle chocolate sauce over the servings. The options are endless.