Being part of a bi-national household requires a little flexibility, particularly in the kitchen. Since he’s graciously decided to stick it out here in the U.S. with me, I try to accomodate Mr. T’s food desires–particularly around the holidays. This can be something of a challenge; Heinz Baked Beans (vomit) and Bird’s Custard (spackle) spring to mind. But other times I end up discovering something wonderful that I’d never have made otherwise. Summer pudding is one of those things.
In the spirit of pan-Atlanticism and to celebrate England’s loss of her 13 colonies this 4th of July, I wanted a nice British dessert. Summer pudding, a mixture of lightly sweetened and barely cooked berries encased in white bread that get soaked through with fruity goodness, was the perfect answer. It is also one of Mr. T’s favorites.
Please do not look askance at this. I know the picture is kind of weird looking, and I will be the first to admit that I was totally grossed out by the concept of soggy bread at first. This really is a magical, delightful thing–delicious, novel, and really very easy to put together.
The ur-version of summer pudding, from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course (check it out, her picture is prettier…), calls for raspberries, red currants, and black currants. The latter are very hard to find in this country and usuriously expensive when they can be found. So, I’ve swapped in some nice (American) blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries, all of which are slightly more robust than the currants and thus require a little bit longer on the stove–we’re still talking less than 5 min, though.
Having the right sort of bread is almost as important as the right sort of berries and could, I think, pose more of a challenge to the American kitchen. A nice, sturdy, fine-crumbed white bread–think pullman loaf–is what’s needed and can be hard to find. Regular sliced sandwich bread is, in it’s corn syrupy squodgyness, totally unsuitable. But then, so to is sourdough (with berries? ech…) and brioche or challah. The latter don’t absorb the juices satisfactorily because of their higher fat content.
Serves 6 (amply)
~2.5 lbs soft berries*
~ 1/3 c sugar
tiny pinch salt
~8 slices firm white bread
Line a 5 or 6 cup bowl with plastic wrap–use two pieces and overlap them in a cross. You should leave a good 8″ of overhang on each side. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the berries, the sugar, and the salt and cook lightly over low heat for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar release the juices. Sugar is to taste depending on the sweetness of your berries. Lots of currants? Add a little more sugar. Lots of blueberries? Add a little less.
If you’re using a combination of hard (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries) and soft (raspberries, currants) berries, start with the hard ones first to get them started and then add the softer ones after a minute or so. The blueberries, for example, need to be cooked till they begin to burst. Everything else just needs a little relaxing warm bath. Once everything is looking juicy and mellow, remove the pot from the heat and set aside. Skim off about 2/3 c of the juices and set aside.
Cut a round of bread out and fit it into the base of the bowl. Cut rectangles of bread and line the sides. Then, wedge triangles of bread between the rectangles to tightly line the bowl. Once your bread liner is secure, pour in the berry mixture. Fit remaining bread over the top of the berries and wrap up with the flaps of plastic wrap. Place a plate or saucer that JUST fits inside the bowl and put a heavy ~3lb weight on it. Put the entire assemblage on a lipped dish and shove it in the fridge overnight to chill and set.
Just prior to serving remove the pudding and the reserved juices from the fridge. Uncover the pudding, teasing out the flaps of plastic wrap, and invert a serving dish on to the pudding bowl. Flip over and gently lift the bowl off the pudding, using the plastic wrap to help. (Four hands is also useful here.) If there are any white spots, touch up with reserved juices.
Slice and serve immediately with softly whipped cream.