Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Summer Strawberry Bread Pudding From Colonial America

In Seattle, if we’re lucky, the Fourth is the real summer kick off. After we’ve suffered through the endless rains of June, a sunny sky is as dazzling as the fireworks display that lights up our night.

Summertime perfection -- local strawberries.
To make it even better, local strawberries have finally arrived in these parts. My standard Independence Day dessert is luscious, can’t-be-improved-upon strawberry shortcake. But here, from the dusty Time Capsule, comes a real blast from the past – a colonial blast from the past to be precise – that may give shortcake a run for its money. If nothing else, it’s certainly a charming departure from the ubiquitous “flag cake” running amok this time of year.

Summer Strawberry Bread Pudding From Colonial America is a mouthful, to be sure, and also a bit misleading. When I picture bread pudding, I conjure images of a creamy, custardy classic, usually (and best) served with some kind of bourbon-caramel sauce. This strawberry pudding, however, better falls under the category of “summer pudding” – a luscious mélange of crusty bread soaked overnight in berries and their juice, topped with a dollop (or three) of whipped cream. It’s shortcake’s frugal and sophisticated older sister.

The soaked and sauced bread, awaiting its night in the fridge.
The newspaper article from which SSBPFCA harkens features a veritable round-up of strawberry delights, including “Good Old Strawberry Jam,” “Strawberries Devonshire” and “Strawberry Nut Bread.” But how could I let this historical gem pass me by, especially on the 236th birthday of our great nation?

Like the Southern favorite banana pudding, the magic of this desert likes in the ability of the humble bread to transform into a cake-like layer, smothered with the juicy berries. Laziness is rewarded, as is cheapness – day-old bread is best here, and an overnight stint in the fridge is essential for the best effect.

An American beauty.
And man, it’s a looker. Unmolded, it held its shape, and was easy to slice into thick wedges. Topped with whipped cream and blueberries to gild the patriotic lily, it tasted like summer incarnate. It’s a reminder that a few simple ingredients (no canned pie filling in sight) and some kitchen alchemy are a reason to celebrate any day of the year.

Summer Strawberry Bread Pudding From Colonial America

2 pints fresh strawberries
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Dash cloves
2 tablespoons water
12 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 cups sweetened whipped cream
Whole strawberries for garnish

Mix together in saucepan first 5 ingredients. Cook and stir slowly to boiling. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes. Brush bread slices on both sides with butter. Using 1-1/2 quart serving dish, line bottom and sides with bread. Brush edges of bread with syrup from cooked strawberries. In the dish, alternate layers of cooked strawberries with remaining bread. Cover and chill several hours or overnight. To serve, garnish with whipped cream and strawberries. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

The Bunker Hill of berry desserts.
·      I found that softened butter was a little easier to work with than melted.
·      I used an arty-farty artisan sourdough loaf. I doubt the colonials had Wonder Bread at their disposal, so I like to think that mine was the more historically accurate choice. Also, do you know what happens when I have a loaf of Wonder Bread in the house? I eat it. All. In one sitting.
·      After stewing for the recommended 3 to 4 minutes, I let the berries stew, off-heat, for another 10 minutes, then mashed them slightly.
·      Instead of brushing each side with syrup, I simply dipped each slice of buttered bread into the sauce before layering.
·      Use a glass or ceramic dish – aluminum will react with the acid in the fruit in an unappetizing way.

Why Don’t You …
·      Go nuts with the fruit available this time of year? I’m dying to try a blackberry, peach, nectarine or plum version. Maybe rhubarb, too.
·      Try a rounded or shaped bowl for an even more stunning presentation.
·      Try Ina Garten’s Summer Pudding recipe, which features mixed berries and a rum whipped cream. It's in her "Barefoot Contessa Family Style" book -- my personal fave.

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