Summer pudding

I have never made a summer pudding, and am really not sure I’d ever eaten one before this weekend.  I don’t remember seeing it on any menu on Scotland, so that’ll account for 23 years worth of not eating it, but I don’t think I’ve come across it in my cookbooks, nor remember seeing it on many English menus? Or is it of the same category of puddings as trifle and Eton mess that are much loved but are rarely restaurant items?Or maybe it’s just a bit of a culinary blindspot for me? Whatever the reason, Felicity Cloake’s How to cook the perfect summer pudding article inspired me to give it a go and I’ve very glad I did.

I used her experimentation with classic recipes as the basis for this recipe, tweaking to suit the fruit I had and like.  I will say that I disagree with the established wisdom that it should be served with cream, it just didn’t do it for me (or Matt).  Maybe our tastes veer a bit more to the creme fraiche/greek yogurt end of the dairy scale?

The pudding itself was also a teeny bit rushed – next time I’ll let it sit overnight for the full compressing/soaking treatment to take effect. I made and ate (some of) it in the same day so Matt could have some before jetting off for work on Sunday morning.  Although I reckon I could have eaten the whole thing over a few days….that’s how much I liked it.  I’m going to keep an eye out on menus from now on to check if I’ve just been ignoring it or whether it’s a neglected classic.  And if it is the latter, lets bring it back.  This is going to be a summer staple in the DDD kitchen from now on.

Summer pudding
Serves 4-6
Prep time: 30 minutes plus overnight in the fridge
Equipment: 1 litre pudding basin or bowl, and a pan, plate or tray to sit on top to compress the pudding;  some weights (tins, bags of flour or sugar); cling film

650g soft fruit: blackcurrants, blackberries and raspberries work well
1 tbsp gin (optional!)
2-4 tbsp caster sugar depending on how sweet the fruit is
Half a small loaf of white bread (about 230g), crusts removed and sliced in 1cm slices

Before you get started, check the size of your pudding basin against what you’re going to place on top to weigh it down.  I found one of my saucepans fitted neatly inside the top of the basin, leaving a little gap for any juice to leak over the edge and allow enough space for pan to sink down a little bit when the pudding is compressed.  Check that there’s space in the fridge to place the pudding basin (on a plate or shallow bowl to catch any spilled juice) plus the pan and whatever you’re going to use to weigh the pudding down.

Once that’s all ready, get started with the pudding.  Pick over the fruit to remove any small leaves, stalks or bad bits.  Place in a pan with 2 tbsp sugar, gin if using, and about 3 tbsp of water.  Bring to simmer slowly and cook the fruit for  a couple of minutes.  Taste and add more sugar if needed.  If you add more sugar, cook a little longer until the sugar dissolves. Add more water if the fruit looks at all dry – you need a decent amount of syrup to ensure the pudding is evenly soaked.  Any excess can be kept to spoon over at the end so err on the side of creating a little too much syrup.

While the fruit is coming to a simmer, get on with the bread. Cut a circle for the bottom of the basin using a large cookie cutter, glass or mug, and if you have a slice big enough, one for the top. It doesn’t have to fit exactly, the bread will all merge into one. Cut the rest into strips, rectangular if possible, but if not, as close as you can. If you want, butter your basin, or line it with cling film.  I didn’t do either and my pudding came out without any drama, but if you’re at all nervous, I’d suggest you line it with clingfilm to help you remove the pudding later.

Start lining the basin with the strips of bread, cutting extra bits to fill any gaps.  Once the fruit is in and the weight on top, it will magically glue itself together.

When the basin is fully lined with bread, spoon in the fruit and syrup, pressing gently down on the fruit as you go.  Be generous with the syrup – it needs to soak into the bread to give an even purpley-red hue to the whole pudding.  Place the disc or slices of bread on top and press down a bit.  Add a bit more syrup over the top slice of bread. Keep any extra syrup and fruit for serving (and patching any white bits!).

Cover the top with a sheet of clingfilm and place your pan/plate/bowl/tray and weights on top. Leave the pudding out to cool for the first hour or so, then transfer to the fridge.  Leave for as long as you can, ideally overnight to let everything mingle properly.  (That said, I left it for about 8 hours and it turned out just fine).

When you’re ready to serve, remove the cling film from the top and run a palette knife round the edges to loosen (don’t bother if you lined it with cling film). Place a plate on top and holding both firmly, turn the two over. The pudding should pop out, but give it a wiggle if not.  If you’ve lined it with clingfilm, this bit should be easy.

I’d suggest garnishing with some mint leaves and extra berries – the mint really works well with the fruit, and isn’t there just to look pretty. Serve with cream, creme fraiche or yogurt.

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