Now the weather is turning cold, our thoughts turn to the most comforting of comfort foods. Fresh fruit and refreshing sorbets will no longer do, it's time to pull out our favourite pudding recipes from hibernation. And arguably the most comforting of them all is that great British classic dessert, bread and butter pudding.
In its simplest form, bread and butter pudding has been part of the traditional British culinary repertoire since the early 17th century, evolving from its even simpler predecessor, bread pudding. Bread pudding started life as the ideal way to use up stale bread and was simply steamed and enriched with a variety of mixtures (from meat to fruit) before baking. When more luxurious produce - such as eggs, milk, sugar and butter - became readily available, the bread and butter pudding was born. Stale bread was spread with butter, completely soaked in a sweetened custard (some were scented with nutmeg or lemon rind) before being studded with currants and baked in the oven.
These ingredients remained more or less the same up until the mid-to-late 20th century while the bread and butter pudding languished in relative obscurity (think school dinners and nursery food) until the revival of traditional British cooking and the rise of the British gastropub thrust it again into the spotlight in the '80s and '90s.
No longer satisfied with making it from simple white bread, chefs conjured up more exotic creations of bread and butter pudding using all manner of fancy breads such as brioche or panettone and even stale croissants, all generously laced with a variety of spices and liqueur.
Alan Davidson admits in his definitive The Oxford Companion to Food, that bread and butter pudding "can also be made with something more exotic than plain bread… and can be enlivened by judicious spicing or by reinforcing the currants with plumper sultanas and mixed peel. But such elaborations must be kept under strict control, so that what is essentially a simple pudding does not lose its character under the weight of sophisticated additions."
In this spirit, we've kept additions and flourishes to a minimum. The sultanas are soaked in brandy for extra plumpness, and the custard is simply scented with vanilla seeds, cinnamon and orange rind. The scattering of sugar over the top gives the pudding a delicious crunch. Sweet as.
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