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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- 85 gm (½ cup) sultanas
- 2 tbsp brandy, warmed
- 5 eggs
- 300 ml pouring cream
- 300 ml milk
- 55 gm (¼ cup) caster sugar
- 1 orange, finely grated rind only
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds only
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 8 1.5cm-thick slices of day-old white bread
- 60 gm soft butter, plus extra for greasing
- 1 tbsp demerara sugar
- To serve: icing sugar and vanilla ice-cream or cream
- 1Combine sultanas and brandy in a small bowl and set aside to cool.
- 2Combine eggs, cream, milk, caster sugar, orange rind, vanilla seeds and cinnamon in a jug. Whisk vigorously to combine and set aside.
- 3Spread both sides of bread slices with butter and halve lengthways. Scatter one third of the brandied sultanas into a lightly greased 1-litre capacity ovenproof dish. Trim bread slices to fit dish and layer, scattering remaining brandied sultanas between each layer. Pour cream mixture evenly over bread slices and stand until bread has completely absorbed cream mixture (about 1 hour).
- 4Preheat oven to 180C. Scatter demerara sugar over pudding and bake until golden and custard is firm (30-40 minutes). Serve immediately or at room temperature, lightly dusted with icing sugar, and with scoops of vanilla ice-cream or cream to the side, if desired.