8 oz. Stale Bread (Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce)

I know, if I was going to follow a Nigella Lawson recipe for bread pudding, I ought to have gone for her caramel croissant bread pudding, the one which shocks with fat like Paula Deen's Krispy Kreme bread pudding. I did not have croissants (actually the reason I wanted to make bread pudding was because I had stale bread) so I used her "typical" recipe for "thrifty pud."

I didn't really follow it. I couldn't. In fact, I may as well have not bothered with the recipe, my fidelity to it was so loose. Trying to follow it as best I could, though, did provide me with a great deal of unnecessary work and frustration. What, really, does this blog survive on but those two?

Where Nigella and I began miscommunicating was at the first ingredient: 8oz stale bread. I still don't know how to interpret this. I assumed that 8oz was half a pound, so I measured out half a pound of cut-up stale bread with a postage scale and a plate. The next step in the recipe said to "weigh out the rest of the ingredients," so maybe the previous ingredient was also to be weighed. Why, I wondered, were all the ingredients, even the spices, specified by weight? This was a ridiculous level of tedious precision for bread pudding. Oh well. I poured in the 1/2 pint of milk, which required a conversion because these are Imperial pints, each of which is roughly 1.2 US pints. As Wikipedia notes, yes, pints of beer in the UK are bigger. Still, half an Imperial pint is not much more than one cup. The recipe asked me to soak the pieces of bread in milk for half an hour. There wasn't much milk to soak in. It is difficult to describe the confusion that followed. Was this enough milk? Was Nigella suggesting these proportions intentionally, to create a crispy, dry bread pudding? Or did I not understand what 8oz meant? I'm pretty sure I don't, and that I still don't. It seemed clear to me, however, that the recipe was made for a smaller amount of bread. So 8oz wasn't much. But was this a volume measurement? Was 8oz roughly one cup? One cup of bread? In a seven-inch pan? That's a tiny bread pudding. I had already cut up all that bread, and begun soaking it, so I decided to adjust the recipe accordingly, with the assumption that 8oz was about a cup. (I got this from one of the many websites detailing the differences between British and American measurement systems that I looked at. Mostly, these websites told me things I didn't need to know, like how there were once many different gallons, one for each kind of good, and different quarts, pints, cups, ounces, etc, following from them. The American gallon, Wikipedia tells me, was once the British wine gallon.) I roughly measured the damp bread in my two-cup Pyrex measuring cup, and thought it was about four cups. Which meant that the whole recipe must be multiplied two and a half times. Why was that? Uh. Right, because I used the proportions of bread to milk from a recipe in US measurements, and then based my multiplication on comparing the resulting amount of milk to the amount of milk in Nigella's recipe. The amount of liquid finally looked right--the bread was actually soaking in the milk now.

But my adjustments meant that I was supposed to use 2.5 cups of mixed dried fruit. That's a huge amount. Does Nigella prefer, or, indeed, do Britons in general prefer bread pudding that's more like panforte? This made me wonder if in fact my assumption about 8oz of bread being roughly a cup was wrong. (Please don't try doing the math now--you'll find it's incredibly wrong, I'm sure.) But no matter. I didn't have anything but raisins, and I didn't want to eat 2.5 cups of those, so I adjusted the amount to a little less than a cup.

The recipe also called for two other things I didn't have: suet, and lemons. Again, I am not British, and therefore I do not have suet lying around my kitchen. As far as I knew up until trying this recipe, suet was a brick of fatty stuff that we feed to the birds outside. Apparently (again, Wikipedia is my source), it is a cut of raw animal fat, and is used in several traditional British dishes such as steak and kidney pudding. If my mind was not already spinning in a post-logical haze, here was the killing blow that released me from all reason: Nigella wanted me to use low fat suet.

I cut some butter into little ~1cm chunks and threw them on top of the mess right before I put it in the oven.

The lemons on the other hand sounded nice, but I just didn't really want to go to the store to get them. Lemon extract would've also done well here, but I didn't have that either. Rather than a lemon-spice bread pudding I would have a more mundane vanilla-cinnamon-nutmeg bread pudding. I didn't even have any booze. I thought of soaking the pudding in brandy, or rum, or of the Jack Daniels cream sauce from The Pioneer Woman Cooks! My bread pudding was going to be highly ignorable--more suited to breakfast than dessert.

Except that in preparation for making bread pudding, I had bought a pint (a little American pint) of heavy cream. I also had a large bag of white sugar in the cupboard, and plenty of butter. I would make caramel sauce! Having made tarte tatin a bazillion times, I figured I could wing it. Apparently I derive pleasure from winging it. The idea is: I'm hot shit--I know how to make caramel sauce without anyone having to tell me. Put some butter and sugar in a hot pan until it begins to caramelize (not long! I didn't have those insulating apples!), and then pour in the cream to stop the burning. Yeah, okay, I screwed it up the first time, making a sauce that was so heavily burnt that I ended up pouring it down the sink. The second batch, while still very dark, was palatable. I might even say it was good. I say as I scoop with my finger cold dollops of it from a bowl in the fridge into my mouth.

I have to say recently has definitely been the kind of weather one imagines for bread pudding: grey, cold, and damp. While what I made bears almost no resemblance to Nigella's recipe, I'm sure she would approve of lazing around inside eating spoonfuls of hot, buttery pudding.


Bread Pudding

  • 4 cups cut-up stale bread (squished down a bit)
  • 2 2/3 cups whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

In a mixing bowl, pour milk over stale bread and let soak for half an hour. Preheat oven to 350 F. Add eggs, brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Mix gently with a spoon. Pour mixture into a well-greased 9x9 baking dish. Chop butter into ~1cm cubes and sprinkle over the top of the mixture. Bake for an an hour and fifteen minutes.

Caramel Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ~3/4 cup heavy cream

In a large saucepan with a heavy bottom on high heat, melt butter. Add sugar. Stir vigorously with a spatula (the kind that won't melt). Scrape the sides often. As soon as all the sugar becomes liquid (most of it will have caramelized) add 1/2 cup of the heavy cream, remove from heat, and stir. If sauce is too thick, add more cream.

5 October 2011