Thursday, October 01, 2015

Bread Pudding - A 30,000-Year-Old Recipe

Bread pudding probably dates back about 30,000 years to when our ancestors first started growing cereal grains. No doubt they would have pounded the grains into a paste with water, and baked the dough on hot stones beside the fire to make some form of flatbread.

At some point they would have been left with stale bread on their hands, and some bright spark would have had the idea of tearing it up, adding water, and baking it to form a cooked stodge. Someone would have said 'that's not bad, but what about adding nuts and berries or honey or something', and the rudiments of this lovely pudding would have been born.

Their wood-fire baking would have been a far cry from the swanky Rational combi ovens we're lucky enough to be using on our cheffing apprenticeship, but the principal is the same - not wasting food by finding recipes to use up leftovers.

So last week when the first-year students were let loose for their first bread-making lesson, and produced two crates of what can only be described as a varied selection of loaves, ranging in hue from umber to charcoal black, we were given the task of hacksawing off the crusts and making bread pudding for the college restaurant.

There are of course hundreds of variations of bread pudding around the world. A version is eaten in Mexico during Lent, and there is a very good one called Wet Nelly (not to be confused with the James Bond car) which is a favourite in Liverpool and involves baking the pudding in pastry.

The one we made is an industry standard, which can be tinkered with the addition of flavourings like rosewater and nutmeg, and different dried fruits and nuts. I recommend adding walnuts and chopped dried apricots along with the sultanas.

Another good one which will help use up your windfall apples, if you're lucky enough to have an apple tree in the garden, or even a garden, is to peel and core the apples, cut into quarters and cook into a mush with a little water, adding sugar to taste. Add the apple puree to the bread mixture, following the recipe below.

Cinnamon Bread Pudding
(Makes 10 portions)

1.25kg stale bread, crusts removed
300g white sugar
300g currants
1.5 tsps ground cinnamon
1.5 tsps mixed spice
180g butter
3 eggs

Cut the crusts off the bread and tear it into strips. Put in a bowl and add about a third of its volume in water. Squeeze the bread between your fingers for a few minutes to make a mush.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small squares and add to the eggs. Beat together and add three-quarters of the sugar. Beat again and mix in the spices and currants, or what other fruits you're using.

Lift out the bread mush, squeezing out excess water with each handful, and add to the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Grease a large baking tray and line with baking paper. Add the pudding mix and smooth the top.

Sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for one hour. Let it cool and cut into 10 portions. Serve hot or cold with custard, cream, ice cream or caramel sauce.

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