Waiting out a summer pudding

Summer pudding has long been on my “to-make” list. A well-known dessert among the British, I don’t know that too many are aware of it here, although it has been featured on cooking shows and in magazines. I’ve seen just enough about this simple, but unique dessert that I knew I wanted to try to make one.

On the surface, it sounds a bit strange and actually somewhat unappealing — a pan or dish is lined with slices or pieces of white bread (crusts trimmed), then filled with a juicy compote of summer berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and, if available, currants), and the whole business is weighted down and waited out until the fruit juices soak through the bread, turning it a lovely berry color, and all is pressed into a condensed, cake-like, cold, fruity…bread pudding.

Even though, looking at pictures of summer puddings, I thought it looked tremendously, deliciously alluring, I still had my doubts. I knew traditional bread pudding, with its custard and flavorings, turned bread into a delight, the thought of white bread becoming anything other than fruit-soggy and tasting like, white bread, was questionable. But I was willing to try.

One nudge toward trying it out is the fact that there is practically no cooking in this dessert, and no baking. I started with two pounds of berries (quartering the strawberries) and stirring them together with some sugar and orange and lemon juice (this isn’t in all summer pudding recipes, but I thought it would enhance the flavor), and allowing them to steep and macerate overnight, so more of their juices would be allowed to come out.

I don’t usually have white bread on hand (I grew up in a wheat-bread household), so the next morning, I went to the store to pick up some. I chose a fairly sturdy type, one made with potato flour, of good quality, as I thought it might prevent flimsy structure of the pudding.

I trimmed the crusts from the slices of bread and, using whole slices and some cut into pieces as necessary, I lined the sides and bottom of a  plastic wrap-lined, medium-sized (7-inch diameter) glass bowl (I wanted a dome-shaped finished pudding). 

I took the fruit compote and cooked it briefly and gently, just to soften the fruit some, and bring out more of the juices. I let this mixture cool a bit.

I filled the bread-lined bowl about halfway up with the fruit mixture, then added another layer of bread, then used more of the fruit compote to fill almost all the way to the top. I held back some of the compote (as recipes and tutorials advised), to use for areas of the finished pudding that might not become fully saturated. 

I topped the “bottom” of the pudding with more bread, making sure any opening or cracks were pretty much filled with bread pieces.

I covered everything with more plastic wrap. I took a plate just slightly smaller in diameter than the bowl and placed that on top, then used cans of tomatoes to weigh down and press the pudding and fruit juices into submission. Everything went into the fridge for what was supposed to be a 24-hour wait.

What I found was that it took more like 36 hours for my pudding to saturate enough to my liking. After 24 hours, only about the bottom third (what would be the un-molded top of the pudding) was turning rosy-purple, so I thought I’d give it more time. It could be that the bread I chose was extra dense…something to consider in future makings. But I wasn’t going anywhere…waiting was fine with me.

As I turned the pudding out onto a plate, it still had a bit of a tie-dye appearance, but I was just happy it came out of the bowl successfully and didn’t fall apart. I used some of my leftover berry compote juices to even out the color in the finished pudding.

Decorated with some of the berries I saved back, the pudding really took on its regal air, full of beautiful jeweled color, bedecked in more summer fruit beauty. It was a thing to behold, and it smelled lovely, too, but, being as I am, I still had reservations and wondered how it would taste.

Oh my goodness! Who knew a steeping in juicy ripe berries would turn bread into cake? It was like the best shortcake that was soaked in berry sweetness, but the bread’s sturdier structure kept it from breaking apart like cake does. The flavor was as rich as if I had baked something. Bread pudding has always been a favorite, and now, this variation, allowed a slow soaking of all the sweet nectars of summer, solidified my love of the dessert forever.

WATCH: An interesting video of a summer pudding being made at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7Pa8EkpX_c

Summer Pudding

Adapted from “A Year in an Irish Garden,” by Ruth Isabel Ross (A. & A. Farmer; 1999)

  • (A liter or 1-1/2 pint pudding bowl is needed)
  • 2 lbs. fruit (a mix of summer berries)
  • 6 ounces of sugar (about 3/4 of a cup)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 orange (optional)
  • 8 to 12 (as needed) slices of white bread, depending on the size, crusts removed.

Toss the fruit with the sugar and citrus juices. (Note: you can allow this to steep and macerate overnight to draw out more juices). In a large saucepan, cook very gently until the fruit is soft and broken up. 

Line the pudding bowl with slices of white bread; this is easier if the bread is cut into fingers.

Lift some of the cooked fruit out of the saucepan with a slotted spoon and put it halfway up the lined bowl. Cut a piece of bread to put in the basin at this point. 

Add the rest of the fruit. Cover the top of the basin with one or two slices of bread and trim the side pieces.

Spoon enough of the juice over to cover the pudding and soak in down the sides. Keep back a little of the juice.

Put a plate over the pudding and press it down, keeping the plate secured with a weight.

Refrigerate the pudding for at least 12 hours. 

When ready to serve, bring the pudding to room temperature, turn it out on to a dish and add the extra juice to any unsealed bread.

Serve with sugar and plenty of pouring cream.

Blogger’s Note: I lined a 7-inch glass mixing bowl with plastic wrap to serve as my “pudding bowl.”

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