Bread Pudding, Fancy Types With a Humble Origin
Bread pudding is a popular bread-based dessert that originally arose out of need. It dates back to the early 11th and 12th centuries in Europe, where it was born out of necessity, transforming leftover, stale bread into a delightful food during times of limited resources. That’s why in 13th century England, it was known as “poor man’s pudding,” popular with the lower classes.
But the dish has developed into a modern delicacy, gracing the dessert menus of top restaurants and incorporating fresh, artisanal breads like brioche, with exquisite ingredients such as bourbon, gruyere cheese, and pecans, depending on whether the pudding is sweet or savory.
Different Types of Bread Pudding
Savory puddings may be served as main courses, while sweet puddings are typically treated as desserts, prepared with sugar, syrup, honey, dried fruit, nuts, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, mace (a spice that also comes from the nutmeg fruit), or vanilla, and served with a variety of sauces. In any case, the bread soaks in a creamy blend of milk or cream, eggs, and a touch of fat before being baked. That said, it’s no wonder this type of pudding is widely regarded as comfort food.
Now, let’s explore some variations of this delightful dessert from around the world and see what makes each one of them unique.
Classic version with vanilla sauce (Allrecipes)
Classic Bread and Butter Pudding With Vanilla Sauce: The classic version is served at any time of the year. Layers of buttered bread with raisins create the foundation of this dessert. The bread slices are arranged in an oven dish and then enveloped in a velvety egg custard infused with the warm essence of vanilla, nutmeg, or other spices. It is then baked, allowing the flavours to meld together.
Christmas pudding (Daring Gourmet)
Also known as plum pudding or figgy pudding, the Christmas pudding is a traditional English dessert comprised of breadcrumbs, flour, suet, sugar, eggs, brandy, lemon zest, candied citrus peel, spices, and dried fruits like raisins, and it is served as part of the Christmas dinner dessert. Its origins go back to medieval England. As time passed, the recipes evolved, growing more intricate and captivating. But it wasn’t until 1845 that renowned cookery writer Eliza Acton wrote the first recipe for an actual dessert named “Christmas pudding.”
The delicious Pouding Chômeur (je cuisine)
Pouding Chômeur With Maple Syrup:
Pouding Chômeur dates back to the early years of the Great Depression in Quebec. Also referred to as “Poor man’s pudding,” it was a symbol of resilience in the industrial neighborhoods of Montreal.
During a time of widespread layoffs and limited resources, families ingeniously crafted this humble recipe using available and affordable ingredients: flour, butter, milk, brown sugar (chosen for its affordability compared to white sugar), and sometimes stale bread instead.
It was initially enjoyed by those residing in the poorer areas of Montreal and its surroundings. But over time, the treat found its way into the heart of Quebec’s family kitchens and gained popularity among renowned restaurants, solidifying its status as a beloved classic.
Pouding Chômeur enjoys a basic cake batter onto which hot syrup or caramel is poured. During the baking process, the cake rises, and the syrup settles at the bottom of the pan, resulting in a distinct layer that forms beneath the cake.
Figgy Duff with maple syrup infused butter sauce (bake from scratch)
Figgy Duff: Figgy Duff, originally from Newfoundland, holds a somewhat deceiving name. Despite the mention of figs, this traditional steamed pudding has nothing to do with them. Instead, it celebrates the rich flavour of raisins, once referred to as figs in Newfoundland. To prepare the dessert, a mixture of breadcrumbs, raisins, brown sugar, molasses, butter, flour, and spices is combined and boiled. Once cooked, it is topped with a delicious butter sauce infused with maple syrup. This delightful and comforting dessert captures the essence of Newfoundland’s culinary heritage.
Sussex Pond Pudding with a whole lemon inside (Baking Mad)
Sussex Pond Pudding: is a soft and rich pastry case enclosing a whole lemon inside and boiled or steamed for several hours that includes a suet pastry, butter, and sugar. The filling makes a thick, caramelized sauce during the cooking process and runs out and pools around the plate upon serving, creating a “pond.” The dish was first recorded in Hannah Woolley’s 1672 book: “The Queen-Like Closet.”
The renowned diplomat or diplomatic pudding (Milkmaid)
- Diplomat Pudding – Diplomat pudding is a famous cold dessert prepared in two distinct methods. In one method, (probably stale) brioche is used, soaked in milk, and cooked in a bain-marie (a pot within another pot that has hot water in it) before refrigeration. Once chilled, the pudding is topped with raisins on candied fruits and covered with cream. In the other method, instead of stale brioche, ladyfingers are soaked in rum or Kirsch syrup and layered with candied fruit, apricot jam, and a creamy custard, then refrigerated. After that, it is removed from the mold and is covered with fruit sauce or custard cream.
Om Ali with Croissant (cook’s hideout)
- Om Ali – Om Ali, Umm Ali, or Oumm Ali (meaning “Mother of Ali” in Arabic) are all the same thing: a traditional Egyptian bread pudding made with soaked bread, milk, and nuts, which is believed to be dating back to as far as Medieval Egypt. It is generally a winter dessert but can be enjoyed all year round. It can be made using phyllo dough, puff pastry, or croissants, but you can buy special Om Ali’s dough in most Egyptian pastry shops. Named after the wife of the Sultan of Egypt, the dish carries a captivating history. Seeking to commemorate a joyous occasion, she summoned the talents of Egypt’s cooks, challenging them to craft the most exquisite dessert possible. The selected recipe was then shared throughout the country, becoming an iconic national dish of Egypt. To this day, Om Ali stands as a beloved traditional dessert, commonly eaten during Ramadan as Iftar, the evening feast that breaks the day’s fast.
Budin de Pan with its caramel sauce (all recipes)
- Budin de Pan – Budin de Pan is a beloved dessert in Latin American countries made with bread slices, evaporated milk, regular milk or condensed milk, eggs, vanilla extract, butter, and raisins. Unlike other variations that have exposed pieces of bread and the bread cubes maintain their shape, in Budin de Pan, the bread is intentionally smushed, allowing it to dissolve completely into the creamy mixture.
As a result, the loaves bake into a dense and consistent texture, with the delightful chewiness of sweet raisins. What makes Budin de Pan even more heavenly is the addition of sugar at the bottom of the pan, which transforms into a caramel sauce and cascades over the dish when flipping it out of the pan.
Indian pudding paired with vanilla ice cream (the view from great island)
Indian Pudding – Despite its name, this is not a traditional dish from India, nor from the American First Nations, as they didn’t have access to ingredients like milk and molasses. In fact, it is very similar to the English Hasty Pudding, which is referenced as far as 1599 in England. 17th-century English colonists brought their favourite pudding to North America. Due to the scarcity of wheat flour and white sugar at the time, it was then transformed into a new version.
We will get back to it after a short flashback.
Interview of Samoset with the Pilgrims, the front page engraving, published in 1853 (Wikipedia)
How European Settlers Survived North American Winters
Speaking of the settlers and the Native Americans, it is worth mentioning that the assistance and wisdom of the First Nations in North America were instrumental in the survival of the early European settlers. Their profound connection to the land, rich cultural heritage, and extensive knowledge of the local environment and resources played a crucial role in the settlers’ establishment in the new world, enabling the colonists to endure the challenging winters.
The settlers in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, faced harsh conditions during the New England winter in 1620. The severe circumstances led to illness and high mortality rates among them, with only a fraction surviving by April 1621. However, with the assistance of Native Americans, such as Squanto, they were able to survive. Squanto and his Wampanoag tribe provided the settlers with food and taught them fishing and hunting techniques, as well as cultivating crops like corn, squash, and beans.
In gratitude for their successful first harvest, William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony, declared three days of thanksgiving in the fall of 1621, marking a significant event that fostered a lasting friendship and trade agreement. It was during this occasion that wild turkeys and pigeons were served, marking the inaugural Thanksgiving celebration on American soil.
Back to the Indian Pudding
As mentioned earlier, wheat flour and white sugar were scarce at the time. The settlers were introduced to corn and cornmeal by the Native Americans (referred to as Indian corn or Indian meal), and the abundance of cornmeal and molasses (used for rum production) led to the development of Hasty Pudding into the Indian Pudding. It was initially a simple cornmeal mush sweetened with molasses but evolved over time with the incorporation of ingredients like sugar, eggs, raisins, and spices.
Indian Pudding recipes started appearing in American cookbooks in 1796. Nowadays, it is commonly enjoyed hot as a bread pudding, often paired with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.