Thursday, 18 June 2015

In Defense of Puddings

Bread pudding in the making
Puddings, if you ask me, have never received their fair share of acclaim. Rarely have I seen puddings on the dessert menus of snooty restaurants. You'll find a classic chocolate cake perhaps, maybe even a gigantic slice of cheesecake, thumbing its nose at your weighing scale. Ice-cream you'll rarely escape. But puddings? Always neglected. The middle child, when it comes to dessert. As in the world of dessert, so too in the world of language. You may have heard a large person being unkindly referred to as a "pudding", but have you heard of "cake" being used as a slur? Oh no. A "piece of cake" is an easy piece of work, quickly accomplished. Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too. Nothing's better than icing on the cake, of course. If it sells easy, it sells like hot... you guessed it... cake.

But when it comes to pudding, the proof is in the eating. Why do we save our skepticism for good ole' pudding?

I, however, have been a lifelong fan of puddings. My mother had two puddings in her dessert repertoire - creme caramel, which we nicknamed, inelegantly but accurately, "egg pudding", and bread pudding. Creme caramel, in all its jiggly glory, remains one of my favorite desserts. I love the custard base of course, and the meltingly soft texture, but most of all I love the caramel at the base of the pan that pools into a delicious, rich caramel sauce at the end of the cooking process. Once my mother had deposited the cooked pudding in the freezer for it to cool down to a tolerable temperature, my brother and I would take turns to open the freezer door every few minutes to check for progress, not realizing that we were hurting, not helping, the pudding with our loving attention. We'd be ordered out of the kitchen, only to return as soon as we could, until the pudding made its way to our tummies, with a brief layover on our dessert plates. 

Bread pudding, which is a firmer type of pudding is also a firm favorite of mine. My mother's recipe is an easy one. Just like we had clever ways to remember the colours of the rainbow (remember VIBGYOR?) and the names of the planets ("My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets"), she had smart ways to remember her pudding recipes. As the mother of perennially hungry children in the pre-Internet era, she had, after all, only her memory to rely on for the list of ingredients. The other day, when I decided to make a batch of bread pudding for friends who were visiting, I found myself scratching my head trying to remember the recipe. I could have sworn it was "1, 2, 3, 4", as in 1 cup of ingredient A, 2 cups of ingredient B, and so on. The trouble was I couldn't remember which ingredient was which. Was it 4 cups of cubed bread, and 2 eggs or was it 4 eggs and 2 cups of cubed bread? With the 13.5 time difference between India and San Francisco, calling my mother to decipher this cryptic code was not a viable option. 

With the luxury of high speed internet, I wasn't left scratching my head for long. I adapted a recipe for bread pudding from The Pioneer Woman's website, and got to work. Overall, the experiment was a success. 

This is a recipe that I will turn to every now and then, not only for the sake of my sweet tooth, but also to rekindle childhood memories, honor`my mother's inventive (but not always helpful) recipe memorization techniques, and to advance the movement for the equal treatment of puddings and cakes. 

Sourdough Bread Pudding (serves 8)

2 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups half and half (original recipe calls for 2.5 cups of milk) 
2 cups sugar (I used brown sugar, next time I will try cutting down to 1.75 cups)
4 cups sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
sliced almonds and raisins to garnish (or pecans as per original recipe) 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat together eggs, butter, vanilla, and milk. Add sugar and mix until sugar is dissolved. Arrange bread cubes tightly in a nine-inch baking dish. Original recipe asks that the bread be arranged crust facing up around the edges, I did the reverse to make sure the bread pieces absorb as much liquid as possible. Pour liquid over the bread. Sprinkle almonds and raisins (or other nuts) all over and bake for 55 to 70 minutes, or until crust is golden brown all over the top. In my oven, baking time was approximately 60-65 mins. 

This dish was rich enough to not require the whiskey sauce suggested in the original recipe. 

Notes: I reduced the quantity of milk in response to comments from certain readers who had a soggy mess on their hands at the end of the cooking process. Next time, I plan to use the original quantity, 2.5 cups, as I felt the top of the pudding was a little dry, and could have been more moist.  

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