BREAD and butter pudding has to be the quintessential nursery pudding. With layers of buttered bread slices baked in a rich yet light sweet custard, scented with nutmeg and a scattering of raisins, it is one of the best and most comforting winter desserts. Popular for more than 200 years, it appears in many 18th-century cookery books.
Nowadays, there are many different versions of the pudding, with cooks and chefs giving the classic recipe their own little twists. For a bit of grown-up luxury, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver lace their bread and butter pudding with Bailey's Irish cream and James Martin uses whiskey. Gary Rhodes, in one of his recipes, uses eight egg yolks and lashings of double cream.
Different types of dried fruit . . . such as dried cranberries, blueberries and apricots . . . between the layers of bread work well, (make sure they are tucked under the bread as they tend to burn if sprinkled on top.
Chunks of fresh fruit placed between the bread works like a dream: my favourite fruits for this are rhubarb, gooseberries and apple. Grated lemon and orange zest are a good addition as is chocolate, melted into the custard mixture.
Using different types of breads, such as brioche, croissants, Italian pannetone, even Irish barm brack, are quite the thing at the moment too, as are savoury bread and butter puddings (though with these I have yet to be convinced).
What is important is to use bread that is a bit stale as this will absorb the custard while baking, giving you the best texture.
And while bread and butter pudding is not one for people hoping to lose weight, or with high cholesterol, it is, in my opinion, not worth making unless you use full fat butter and cream. This has to be enjoyed at its best . . . just have one delicious medium-sized portion, then make sure you get out there for that brisk walk later on Handy hint: If you are making the bread and butter pudding the night before (or a few hours in advance), it is not necessary to heat the cream and milk for the custard, but if you are in a bit of a rush and just have enough time for 20 minutes' soaking before it goes in the oven to bake, then it is necessary to scald the cream and milk .
>> Never push the bread into the custard as this will squash the bread giving you a doughy, heavy texture.
MARMALADE BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING
This recipe , which is from my first book, Rachel's Favourite Food, is a variation on the basic bread and butter pudding. Omit the marmalade for a plain pudding, or even spread the bread with raspberry jam for another twist.
12 slices of white bread, with crusts removed
50g soft butter
3 tbsp marmalade
150g caster sugar
2 tbsp granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C, gas 4. Butter the bread and spread marmalade on each slice. Arrange the bread in the gratin dish, or in individual cups or bowls (cut the slices if you need to). I like to have overlapping triangles of bread on the top layer.
Put the cream and milk in a saucepan and bring to just under the boil. Whisk the eggs and sugar, then pour the very hot milk and cream on top, whisking as you pour. Pour this custard over the bread, and leave to soak for 20 minutes. Place in a bain-marie (in a roasting tray with a couple of inches of hot water) and cook in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes . . . the top should be golden and the centre should be just set. Serve warm with softly whipped cream.
Handy hint: If you like quite a zesty flavour, add in a level tsp of finely grated orange zest.
STICKY TOFFEE BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING
This is the most deliciously sweet bread and butter pudding. The best dates to use for this are the large and plump medjool dates, but if you can't find them use the smaller common variety.
200g stoned dates (weigh once the stones are removed)
1/2 tsp bread soda/baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
75g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
8 slices of white bread, crusts removed
2 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (or half tsp vanilla essence)
For the sauce:
100g butter 100ml golden syrup 100g soft dark brown sugar 100ml cream 100g stoned dates, finely chopped 25ml brandy . . . optional Preheat the oven to 1700C, gas 3. Put the dates and bicarbonate of soda in a small saucepan and pour over the water.
Simmer gently until the dates are completely softened. Butter the bread, then cut each slice in half to make triangles. Place the dates in the bottom of a buttered gratin dish (about 20-25cm square), then arrange the triangles of bread over the top. (Alternately layer the bread and dates in four buttered ramekins, starting and finishing with a layer of bread. ) Beat together the whole eggs, yolks, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Heat the cream to scalding point, then pour onto the egg mixture, whisking as you pour.
Pour this custard over the bread and dates. Leave to soak for at least 20 minutes.
Set the baking dish in a roasting tray filled half-way up the sides with hot or boiling water and bake for about 25-35 minutes or until the custard has set . . . the individual puddings will take less time to cook.
To make the sauce, simply place all the ingredients, except the brandy, in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When smooth and dissolved, remove from the heat and stir in the brandy, if using. Keep warm.
When the pudding is cooked, sprinkle the top evenly with a couple of tablespoonfuls of light brown sugar and caramelise under a hot grill.
Serve the pudding with the warm sauce.
JAMES MARTIN'S WHITE CHOCOLATE AND WHISKEY BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING
I was at a party recently where BBC Saturday Kitchen chef James Martin made this , his 'trademark' pudding . It really has to be tasted to be believed -- yum.
350ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split
2 free-range eggs
4 free-range egg yolks
150g caster sugar
150g white chocolate, roughly chopped
8-10 slices white bread, cut into quarters or 4 or 5 croissants, split in half
110g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
2 tbsp icing sugar, to dust Ice cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 1800C, gas 4.
Put the milk, cream and vanilla pod in a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil.
When the cream mixture has come to the boil, remove from the heat and remove the vanilla pod, then add the white chocolate and stir, allowing the chocolate to melt. Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until creamy.
Pour the white chocolate mixture onto the egg mixture, whisking as you pour. Spread a little soft butter in an ovenproof dish (about 20-25 cm square or round) and butter the bread. Place the bread in the dish, overlapping the slices. Drizzle the whisky over the bread, then scatter over the sultanas. Pour over the custard mixture.
Transfer to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden-brown and just set.
Remove from the oven and dust with icing sugar. Place under a hot pre-heated grill or use a mini-blowtorch to caramelise the top.
To serve, put portions of the pudding into serving bowls with a scoop of ice cream.
FUDGY CHOCOLATE CROISSANT PUDDING
This recipe, which is inspired by a recipe in Phil Vickery's book, A Passion for Puddings, has to be one of the richest, sweetest bread and butter puddings ever.
Have a salad for supper if serving this for lunch.
If you can, try to find the 170g tubes of Carnation condensed milk as that is all that is needed, otherwise open a tin (store the remainder in a jar in the fridge . . . it will keep for ages).
4 croissants, or pains au chocolat
100g dark chocolat , chopped
300ml milk 500ml cream
4 large egg yolks
170 g tube Carnation condensed milk, or from a tin Icing sugar to dust
Preheat the oven to 1800C, gas 4. Grease a 2.4 litre ovenproof dish. Cut each croissant into three and arrange in the ovenproof dish. Put the chocolate in a saucepan with the milk and cream and heat gently until the chocolate has melted.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the condensed milk, then gradually whisk in the chocolate cream. Pour the mixture over the croissants in the dish, then leave to stand for an hour.
Place the dish in deep roasting tray and add hot water into the tray to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes , or until just set. Dust with icing sugar when serving. Serve warm.