The Work Horse
Back in July, London was assailed by a heatwave that turned the city into a soupy mess. It took two spectacular thunderstorms and a few downpours to finally quell the heat. Now that August is on its way out, it feels like Summer is waning too fast, and I almost want the mercury to soar high again... Well, sunny days may indeed have a chilly edge to them now, but it does not mean that all is over. Not just yet.
There are still lots of summer treats to indulge in, and the season is far from over. The words 'summer pudding' say it all: this typically British dessert is not very well known outside of the UK, but it should be. Besides the almost obscene amount of fruits that go into a single pudding, there are few other ingredients, all of which you probably already have on hand. Not only is it GOOD for you, it's darn tasty as well.
It's just not always photogenic. Though I am only posting this recipe now, at the end of August, I have actually been trying to get the word out since mid-July! The pudding was just feeling camera shy. So I made several versions, in different sizes, and more to the point, my sweets and I ate several versions... All in the interest of science of course.
Traditional summer puddings are made with sliced, white bread, and a quick compote of summer berries, but this variation on the theme is a fresher take. I prefer sliced brioche to white bread, but I think the best bread would be a challah loaf. If you have a Jewish deli nearby, do use challah for this recipe. The quantities are difficult to gauge, as they depend all depend on the size bowl you use: I used a cereal bowl with a 400ml/14 fl.oz. capacity.
Serves 4 to 5 persons
3-6 slices challah, brioche or white bread
750ml/3c mixed berries and summer fruits such as strawberries; blueberries; raspberries; red and black currants; blackberries; and pitted cherries
100g/½c sugar, or to taste
5 leaves each mint and basil
Finely shred the mint and basil leaves. Mix with the sugar.
Wash and hull the berries. Larger ones should be halved or quartered. Sprinkle with the herb sugar, and crush the fruits lightly. Adjust the amount of sugar according to the tartness of the fruit. Set aside for about 30 minutes.
Fill a cereal bowl with water, and empty out. Line the wet bowl with a large square of cling film, making sure that there is a wide margin of film overlapping the edge of the bowl. Press out any gaps or air bubbles. Set aside.
Cut each slices of bread on the diagonal, trimming the edges only if they are not very square.
Line the bowl with the bread triangles: you should get a pinwheel pattern if all the pointy ends meet up in the centre of the bowl.
Fill the bowl halfway with the berry mix, making sure to spoon in the juice as well.
Cut out a circle of bread about the same size as the lined bowl: if your bowl is very shallow, this step is unnecessary, however, it may help to stabilise the pudding and prevent it from collapsing when cut into. Fit over the fruits before topping up with more fruit.
Press down the fruits, and add some more: there needs to be an overflow of at least 1cm/½".
Drizzle any extra juice left over from the fruits before closing up the pudding with one last disk of bread.
Cover with pudding with cling film. Place a heavy object on top to weigh down the fruits.
Chill at least overnight before serving.
To serve, unwrap the pudding and flip out on to a serving plate. Remove all the cling film. Cut into wedges, and serve with a dollop of crème fraiche, clotted cream, thick yoghurt or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you have any left over fruits, you can blitz them in a blender and drizzle over the turned-out pudding for extra oomph. Or you can make a summer cup...