I haven’t made this for years but I had some bread past its best and the remains of a brioche loaf from the weekend that needed using up and I suddenly, on a whim, decided to make bread pudding for the blog. Bread pudding is a cross between a cake and a pudding. Indeed, in Mrs Beeton it comes in the ‘Puddings’ section.
In the days before the advent of smart continental-style patisseries and boulangeries selling fancy bread (of which I’m definitely not complaining) on our high streets, and buying a loaf of bread was not such a sophisticated affair, bread pudding was always seen on a baker’s shelves. Not many people know what it is now, I find. Most confuse it with bread and butter pudding, but although the ingredients are similar, there aren’t enough eggs to make a custard and so bread pudding is much heavier and less rich. I guess this has much to do with its frugal intention of using up bread but not spending too much money doing so! It was very much a treat of my childhood. When I was a toddler my grandmother looked after me while my mother was at work and my memories are filled with images of shopping and baking with her. It was, dare I say, the age before supermarkets. Yes. That long ago. Sainsbury’s was a local grocers and you had to queue at different counters according to what you wanted to buy: cheese, meat, tins of vegetables or beans. We would buy a large bloomer covered in poppy seeds from the large bakery down the road – an industrial-sized bakery but you could buy bread at an onsite shop. We would go to the local market to do a lot of the shopping, stopping at different stalls to buy vegetables or fruit that my gran would always carefully pick herself, and there was always some kind of treat for me. My grandmother often made eel stew, which my grandfather loved and I would share it with him, loving it too. My grandmother would pick out live eels in the market to take home so the stew was as fresh as could be – even though she didn’t like it or ever eat it herself! But what I remember most is her baking: Christmas puddings which all the family would have to stir and make a wish with; Christmas cake; but most of all bread pudding which was made year round.
Bread pudding appears in my 1923 edition of Mrs Beeton but I guess when I was born and a small child, it was still close enough to the war years for people to be conscious that they shouldn’t waste food. I even briefly had a ration book! A great thing to do with stale bread is to make bread pudding. Indeed, making bread pudding with fresh bread wouldn’t work so well. When my grandmother made it (and later my mother) it was a celebratory affair. It was so loved by all that a huge amount would be made and packed into different sized baking tins and other kinds of ovenproof dishes to be given to people. There was really nothing like the glorious smell of the spicy pudding cooking; then the soft, slightly stodgy and sweet interior and the crunchy exterior that has a unique taste of its own.
I’ve used Delia Smith’s recipe for years and that’s what I used today. She tells us that it can be served hot as a pudding with custard, but I think it really comes into its own just slightly warm with a cup of tea, and is then delicious cold, cut into slices. I was interested to see that Mrs Beeton added suet to her recipe; Delia doesn’t. I don’t know whether my grandmother did but I must ask my mother sometime. However, today I made it just as I’ve always done. I used to make it regularly when my kids were small for afternoon tea when they got back from school and then perhaps a slice into lunch boxes the next day.
I’d never made it with leftover brioche before, but I couldn’t see why that wouldn’t work – and it worked just fine! Measure out 8oz bread (with crusts cut off) and break into small pieces into a bowl. Pour in 1/2 pint of milk and stir round to coat each piece of bread and then leave for the bread to soak up the milk for 30 minutes.
Now add 2oz melted butter, 3oz soft brown sugar, 2 level teaspoons mixed spice, a little bit of freshly grated nutmeg, 1 beaten egg and the zest of half an orange. Mix well together, breaking up any large pieces of bread as you go. Now add 6oz dried fruit. I used just sultanas and currants as that’s all I had, but you can put in raisins and candied peel too, if you like. Transfer the mixture to a greased small loaf tin and put in a 180C/160 Fan oven for about an hour to an hour and a quarter.
There was a slight hiccup in that my timer didn’t work. But I was working in my study upstairs as the pudding cooked and after some time I could smell it and thought, It must be more than an hour now. It looked a little overdone but was fine. I think it’s probably quite difficult to completely overcook a bread pudding.
The smell was wonderful. My timing was great for afternoon tea. I left it in the tin for about 5 minutes and then lifted it onto a rack. I resisted cutting into it for another few minutes then came back, made a nice cup of English Afternoon tea and ate a slice of the still warm bread pudding with it. Perfection! The pudding is sweet and spicy, very moist and the flavour of the orange zest came through well too, which I really liked. I guess it would last for days … but it never lasts very long in the house because it’s one of the most more-ish things I know!