Having just recently returned from the UK, I am currently obsessed with a dessert that is considered, by many of my British friends and family, "nursery food." I am speaking of bread and butter pudding. At its best, bread and butter pudding is both crispy and creamy, sweet and salty, simple and comforting, with just the right amount of butter, enough custard to soak through the layers of bread, a few sprinkles of raisins, and a toasty golden brown top. (At its worst it's a soggy, insipid, flavorless blob with too many raisins, but we don't have to go there.)
Lest you think it is the same thing as what we Americans call bread pudding, you are wrong. At least most of the bread puddings I've had here, which tend to be richer, heavier, and sweeter, with all sorts of extras thrown in (chocolate, fruit, etc). Don't get me wrong, when it's good—case in point: Tartine's bread pudding—it's divine.
The timing could not have been better the very first time I ate bread and butter pudding. We had just arrived in London, on a cold wintry day in January, and were completely jetlagged. Our very good friends Andrew and Helen whipped one up, and I was in heaven. It was perfection, and made me feel like I’d been wrapped up in a squishy comforter in front of a roaring fire. The recipe they used (from Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories, a very favorite cookbook of mine), was exceedingly simple, and simply perfect.
However, Hopkinson's recipe uses a few ingredients that are quite difficult to get here in the states, such as tea cakes (like little raisin rolls) and double cream. So I came up with a revised version for those of us on this side of the pond who have fond memories of British comfort food.
An American Bread and Butter Butter Pudding Tribute
Based on Simon Hopkinson's recipe from Roast Chicken and Other Stories
Makes 1 big pudding; feeds 2 to 8 depending on how much comforting you need
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons (sweet not peaty) whisky or dark rum
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
8 thick slices of stale challah bread
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
small pinch of cinnamon (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the whisky to plump. Grease a baking dish large enough to hold all of the bread with butter.
2. Spread the sliced challah thickly and evenly with the 4 tablespoons butter, then cut the slices in half crosswise.
3. Drain the raisins, reserving the whisky. Lay the challah slices in the dish so they overlap slightly, sprinkling the raisins in between the bread slices.
4. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, sugar, salt, cinnamon (if using), and reserved whisky. Pour over the bread evenly. Let stand for about 30 minutes so the bread soaks up the custard (I occasionally press down on the bread for extra absorption).
5. Bake the pudding until crisp and brown on top, about 35 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving big scoops. It is delicious with lightly whipped cream.