Bread is that wonderful staple that can be done so badly in this modern era of factory production. But let’s ignore that for the moment and look at where it all started. Around six thousand years ago the ancient Egyptians revolutionised bread when they realised that if they let the dough sit around in the warm sunshine, it would become naturally leavened by the yeast spores in the air and once baked it would retain its risen shape.
Traditional bakers know that the longer you ferment your dough the better the bread keeps; time invested in the making is repaid in the eating. Modern bread factories have destroyed this elegant balance and have stolen time from the production process – a theft they try to disguise by using additives and enzymes to extend the shelf life and apparent freshness while shortening the manufacturing time. For me the difficult bit here is the use of enzymes that don’t appear in the ingredients list as they are used in the process. When will they realise that our daily bread is a gift and not a science experiment?!
That’s my rant over, except to observe that one of the sad bits of modern bread is the loss to cooking of the glorious uses of old or stale bread. Toast is the first and most obvious; the Romans spread the idea of toast throughout Europe and it became a favourite in the middle ages when “sops” of bread were used to soak up wine or sweet liquids and then toasted against the heat of an open fire. Which brings me to that old classic the Bread and Butter Pudding, a dish often given a bad name by being overcooked, dry and tasteless. This recipe will give you a quite different dish, something with an almost sponge-like texture with thick fresh custard oozing out between the layers and the wonderfully boozy raisins and sultanas. For the adventurous why not experiment with the types of bread and alcohol? Pain au Chocolat or Brioche make a luxurious choice and with the booze… frankly pick the one you like the best.
Bread and Butter Pudding
Serves 8 – 10
12 slices buttered white bread (crusts removed)
12 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
50g sultanas and raisins, soaked in alcohol overnight
1 vanilla pod
Cut the bread into squares and layer in a buttered dish sprinkled with the raisins and sultanas. Scald the cream and milk with the vanilla pod. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and thick and slowly add the warmed milk, cream and vanilla. Pour over the bread and place in a boiling hot “bain marie”. Cook at 120˚C for about 1½ hours or until just set. Dust with icing sugar and glaze under the grill or with a blowtorch.
For my match this week I want to use something as a drink and also to soak the dried fruit in. the Dark Spice 8th Tribe from Distillerie Deinlein is just perfect with its wonderful warming spices and even better it’s made right here in the Bay.