Crumbs of comfort

The English have delightful sounding bread-based puddings: Queen’s Pudding, Poor Knights of Windsor, Summer Pudding and the Liverpudlian Wet Nellie.  

Recently, a bunch of old friends decided to take a “retreat” together. The place had to be easy of access, travel time had to be minimal, and the weather had to be right. Some live abroad, so it had to coincide with their vacation time, and the Dilli-walas had to have a long weekend. It was an effort to accommodate 14 people’s schedules, but the fear of impending Zimmer-frame land made us try hard, and we went. To Kasauli.

Emails flew back and forth and “what food should we take” comprised a fat chunk. The eating began with breakfast on the Shatabdi where the waiter smilingly served us every option (I had the omelette, the veg cutlet AND the aloo paratha with dahi). We reached our guest house for lunch and while it was okay for day one, the prospect of daily rajma (or dal) and gobhi alu (or matar paneer) was not exciting. So, intrepid explorer types found frozen sausages and alu tikkis at Daily Needs and the sweetest, crispest Golden Delicious apples in the Lower Mall; Hemraj, son of Krishna the cook, procured some mutton, and we were kind of set. Packed cake, mithai, pickle and Bikaneri bhujia went some way to filling gaps. Provision for libations was excessive.

The joy of being together was sweet — mellow rather than volatile — not a single political fight erupted and not even a toe was stubbed. The weather was idyllic: sunny days and chilly nights; the music loud and the dancing enthusiastic — if not always graceful; in a word, idyllic. But despite appetites sharpened with conviviality and Himalayan air, the meals were ho hum. So, we were excited when Moose, our very own Dr. Livingstone, said he’d reserved a dinner table for us at the Club, and begged us to be properly dressed and shod. He had been smart and ordered ahead, so there was none of our usual and prolonged waffling. Dinner arrived — typical club fare — rissoles, roast chicken, chicken cutlets and delicious cheesy baked vegetables. There were two desserts, chilled caramel custard and hot bread pudding. There are times when you want delicate and sophisticated confections. And times when nothing but a large mouthful of rude, simple bread-and-butter pudding will do. Smooth custard, crisp-cornered pieces of bread, little or no added flavour — vanilla and/or cinnamon. That pudding, fresh out of the oven, was so hot that it was still bubbling. It was the crown on our gentle, fuzzy sense of comfort.

Many desserts use bread — either breadcrumbs or pieces of bread. Long ago, cooks must have devised bread pudding to use up stale bread. But now bread puddings — or bread-and-butter puddings — are even made by cooks who don’t have stale bread in their larders and who bake a fresh brioche just for the pudding. Perhaps it all started with “sops” in medieval kitchens. Or from the recipes that called for a hollowing out a loaf of bread to serve as a container for dessert.

The English have delightful sounding bread-based puddings: Queen’s Pudding, Poor Knights of Windsor, Summer Pudding and the Liverpudlian Wet Nellie. At heart, they all follow more or less the same principle. Stale bread is buttered, a handful of raisins and some flavouring are added, the whole thing is immersed in a custard of eggs and milk, and then it’s baked. Egypt has its Om Ali (mother of Ali) and India its shahi tukra. Turkey, Sri Lanka and Malaysia have their own versions. There are homey recipes and “rich” versions. But nuts and saffron and cream don’t take away from the essential, comforting simplicity.


Serves 8

6 slices day-old bread

2 tbsp melted butter

1/2 cup sugar (and 2 tbsp extra)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup seedless raisins

4 eggs

2 cups milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 180° C (350°F). Grease a 6-cup baking dish. Brush bread with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and 2 tbsp sugar. Cut each slice into four pieces. Place in baking dish. Stir in raisins. Beat eggs with remaining sugar, milk and vanilla. Pour over bread-raisin mixture. Fill a metal pan with water an inch deep. Set baking dish in water and place entire pan-and baking dish in oven. Bake 55-60 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

This is best with stale bread but if you have only fresh bread, begin by warming slices in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes


Vasundhara Chauhan is a food writer based in Delhi

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 8:39:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/vasundhara-chauhan-on-the-classic-breadandbutter-pudding/article7796759.ece

Next Story