The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Victorian recipe reborn: bread-and-butter pudding.

It has been really rainy, windy and cold these past few days, and we have had lightning and thunderstorms almost every day. I got wet to the skin from the knees down yesterday when I went in to work, but although I like my job I'd prefer to stay home during weather like this! Especially when there are interesting recipes in my antique cookbooks, that are begging to be tried. I especially like to bake when the weather is cold, so last weekend, and again yesterday, I pulled out the books and got to baking. One recipe that all of my old cookbooks seem to have, in at least one version, is bread pudding. I've made savory and sweet bread puddings before but never simple old bread-and-butter pudding. The recipe I used was from Godey's _Lady's Book_ from 1860, but I cut the recipe down to two servings. Here is the original recipe:

A Very Nice Bread Pudding.
Take three slices of bread; lay them in a deep dish; make a custard of one quart of milk and four eggs, sweeten to the taste, and flavor with lemon; pour the custard over the bread without stirring. Bake twenty minutes. Grate a little nutmeg on top. This is the finest bread pudding I have ever eaten. The white of the eggs beaten separately and put on top is an improvement, with a little jelly.

Of course, they don't tell you how big the slices of bread should be, nor how hot the oven should be! Many other old recipes I've seen have currants sprinkled over the bread, and with bread-and-butter pudding, the bread is buttered before being soaked with custard. I decided to alter the Godey's recipe to be more in line with other Victorian bread-and-butter pudding recipes. I also tried cutting the crusts off the bread and just using the crumb for the pudding, and it made a big difference in the texture. Here is the recipe I ended up with:

Victorian-esque Bread-and-butter Pudding.
4 slices of French or Italian bread (fresh loaf from the supermarket bakery, a few days old)
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3 regular eggs
1 pint of whole milk, plus extra
a handful of dried Zante currants
a few tablespoons of granulated sugar, plus extra
the zest from half a fresh lemon (I used Meyer lemon, because we have a tree)

Butter a small baking dish with some of the butter on a piece of waxed paper (the wrapper from the stick of butter is the best). My dish holds about 4 cups. Cut the crusts off of the bread slices and fit two of them into the bottom of the dish. If your butter is soft enough, butter the bread on one side before you put it in, but I had cold butter and just covered the bread with very thin slices of butter. Scatter some of the currants on top of the bread and butter, and sprinkle a few spoonfuls of sugar on top. Cover with another layer of bread, butter, currants and sugar. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a pint of milk and 2 or 3 more teaspoons of sugar, plus the lemon zest. Pour evenly over the bread, and push the bread down with a spoon to make sure it soaks up the custard. Pour a bit more milk over any dry spots where there isn't enough custard. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, get a pie plate or deep baking dish, pour 1 inch or so of water into it, and set the dish with the pudding into the water. Bake in the water bath for 20 minutes, then check with a table knife to make sure all the custard is set and it's not soupy in the middle. Cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before serving. The pudding will puff up and brown on top, and then fall as it cools, like a souffle. It will also have a light texture like a souffle.

Many old Victorian recipes use spices and lemon zest, or rose or orange-flower water for flavoring, but not vanilla. The lemon by itself is delicious! I made the same recipe again yesterday, but left the crusts on the bread and added orange-flower water instead of the currants, and I don't like it as well as just the lemon. I may have to try adding a bit of rose water next time. I also have an old recipe for a coconut pound cake that uses rose water as part of the flavoring, and now I also want to use flaked coconut and rose water to flavor bread pudding! It might turn out to be really good!


Marilyn said...

The bread pudding sounds yummmy!

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

It was!

Katrina said...

Thanks for letting me know about your wonderful blog. I have added it to my blog list. I look forward to reading a great deal more!

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)