My American family never quite took to the cooling charms of Summer Pudding, that quintessential English dessert. They said it was too bready, too pudding-like, and just a bit too splodgy. And I really cannot blame them: apart from fresh fruit, the standard recipe is mostly day-old white bread and gelatin.
So here is a lighter version of this classic summer stand-by, one that is finding favor in the Prodigal household. Unlike the traditional sweet, which is large and hard to cut into portions, I create individual puds crammed with fruit filling and devoid of gelatin, encased in a very thin layer of raisin bread! The resulting concoction is lighter, fruitier, and just a little more fun to eat-and everyone has their own pud, which is a great plus.
This is a no-cook dessert (almost), another boon in the summer, but it does require at least 24 hours to set up. In fact, I’ve left them for 48 hours in the fridge, and the bread casing almost disappeared; the flavors meld, becoming richer and even more delectable. What a great do-ahead recipe to round off a special dinner party. Let’s begin.
What you’ll need
Equipment: Six ramekins or custard cups, whatever they may be (Prodigal Wife says Americans know what a custard cup is). You will also need teacup saucers, a couple of cans for weights, and two cookie sheets or large trays. Also, you’ll need a sieve, a glass bowl, and plastic wrap.
The edibles: Purchase or pluck a lemon, a pannet of strawberries, and a carton of blueberries. If you use a combination of berries you won’t need gelatin (strawberries don’t have much pectin, so it doesn’t set up so well on its own). You can of course use other berries, such as raspberries and blackberries, but I find them outrageously expensive and don’t think they add that much. You’ll also need a loaf of raisin bread, sliced thinly or uncut and preferably not flavored with cinnamon. Or else use brioche of challah. Or panetone–I’ve never used that but I think the end result would be quite superb.
Now let’s do it
Roughly slice the strawberries and place in a saucepan with the blueberries and some lemon zest. Add a squeeze of lemon. You could also add a dash of leftover dessert wine, which is nice but not essential. Now add six tablespoons of sugar. Before adding the sugar, taste the fruits, if both are tart use a little more sugar. Use your judgment on this, but you’ll need some sugar or syrup won’t set up.
As soon as mixture boils, take off the heat and let the cool. Slice the raisin bread as thinly as possible. Cut off the crusts. Recipes I’ve seen always call for day-old bread, but why wait? I don’t. Cut the bread slices into inch-wide strips. Line the bottom and sides of your ramekins with the strips, making sure enough bread sticks out at the top to fold back over. Overlap the bread strips a little and press down, making sure there are no gaps.
Put the fruit mixture into the sieve over a glass bowl. Now wait an hour to let the lovely juices drain. Although you want to capture as much juice as possible, resist the temptation to press down on the fruit or you’ll ends up with pip bits between teeth. Now carefully spoon the fruit mixture into the ramekins until they crest the very top. Fold over the extra flaps of bread, and press down. Now draw the plastic wrap tightly over each ramekin. This will help set the mould. Place ramekins on the tray then place a tea saucer, ridge part down, on top of each wrapped ramekin. Put the other tray or cookie sheet atop the saucers, and weigh the tray down with the cans. Place all this in the fridge. I’ve taken a long time to describe what is in fact a very simple procedure. It does take a little longer because instead of making one large summer pudding you are making (I hope) individual ones. Much nicer. Now boil up the collected juices and reduce a little. You want to end up with a thick, rich, but pourable sauce, not a jam.
Now you wait for a day, then… Remove ramekins from the fridge. Peel away the plastic wrap. Using a sharp knife, go around the edge of the pudding. Turn the ramekin over and turn out your pud onto a small pretty plate – Royal Worcester, of course! You will notice the juices have seeped through, giving the pud a lovely purple color that glistens on the plate. Dab any uncoated bits with the lovely reserved juices. Moat the plate with a little of the purple fruit sauce, add a dollop of whipped cream, and garnish with a sprig of mint, if you must. Now tuck in and discover just how delicious this classic English treat really is. Summer will fade but sweet memories of this fruity indulgence will not. Try it and see!