christmas baking:traditional bread pudding (or my cheat's christmas pud! )

traditional British bread pudding
(or my cheat's guide to Christmas pud!
A Best of British blog challenge!
These days if you say "bread pudding" most people assume you are talking about "bread and butter pudding" - layers of sliced stale bread, dotted with dried fruits and butter, and soaked in a custard sauce, before baking. While bread pudding is another member of the frugal baking club as it is made with breadcrumbs and dried fruit, it is actually more like a cake than a pudding and is, to my mind, even nicer.

Bread pudding seems to have fallen out of favour, which seems a shame. I remember first seeing it as a teenager when I had a Saturday job working in a quaint bakery-cafe in a small Surrey market town. The baker, a strange, wizened old Irishman, ruled his kitchen with a taciturn and slightly morose rod of iron. (To this day I have met few people so lacking in humour). Although I imagine that the weekly round of giddy Saturday girls flirting with the baker's cute apprentices must have become a bit tired after a while; I know too that if I had to get up for work every day at 3am I'd probably be pretty grumpy.

But to give the old baker his due, while he wasn't a little ray of sunshine, he was a very good baker. One of his staples used up the previous day's unsold bread and cake. We often sold out because his loaves were just so good, so bread pudding appeared intermittently, packed with mixed fruit and fragrant spices, sprinkled with demerara sugar and cut into thick slabs. It was loved by all - old and young. For the old, I suspect bread pudding represented a slice of tradition in a changing world that was becoming full of designer boutiques, wine bars and youthful disrespect. For the kids (particularly when they were on their way home from school), bread pudding was cheap, sweet and very filling.

I had assumed that bread pudding was more of a southern thing - more popular in London and the counties that surround it, such as Surrey. I have met elderly people whose memories of wartime London are peppered with "oh we had it tough in them days but my old gran made the best bread pudding . . . " I once met an old Italian guy who had been a Prisoner of War, somewhere near Woking in Surrey. After VE Day he was sent up to London, when it was discovered that he had been a baker back in Italy. Apparently loads of PoWs were drafted in to help cope with the pressures on food supply in London with the return of evacuees. I asked him what sort of things he baked. He shrugged and told me in his still thickly accented English, "I bake bread and poodin . . ." "Pudding?" I asked. "You mean bread pudding?" "Yes," he grinned. "Poodin." Quite!

But of course, bread pudding must be nationwide, across Britain, as it is a thrifty dish that uses up stale bread. It just isn't the sort of recipe that you would find in old recipe books as it isn't grand and it would be assumed that everyone knew how to make it. In Norfolk, bread pudding is known as Nelson's Slice or Nelson's Cake. The bread and fruit mixture is baked between two layers of pastry. I know that Admiral Horatio Nelson was born in the county, but it is said that old sailors called it "Nelson" because like the wounded admiral, it contains just one of everything. (What wags they were!) This is probably apocryphal but I do hope that it's true. In Lancashire, the bread pudding pie is known as "wet nellie" (is this Nelson again? Could this be because the poor man suffered seasickness?
I suspect the hero of Trafalgar is getting a bit of a raw deal here!) . . . answers as to why would be gratefully received!

While bread pudding can be eaten cold as a rather moist fruit cake, it is absolutely delicious served warm as a pudding with loads of cream or custard. Which got me thinking when I made this a few days ago, (using a home-made loaf that had displeased me in some way but was happily put to good use in bread pudding), that the warmed pudding tasted rather like a traditional Christmas pudding. Even the texture was similar. This isn't so surprising since the ingredients are more or less the same, it is just the application of them that makes it different. If you served it with a brandy cream or butter, I think you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference.

I served mine with some plum ice-cream and a drizzle of plum jam puree, to complement the jam in the pudding. Please take my word for it, it was bloody gorgeous!

So, if you are feeling a bit daunted by the idea of making a Christmas pudding (though you have left it a little late), wrestling with pudding cloths or boiling a pudding for hours and hours; or perhaps you just can't be bothered (it happens!), are exhausted by the prospect of festivities or just want something that can be made quickly and easily (although it does need some time in the oven), then this really is the recipe for you.

And because I think of this as being quintessentially a British recipe, I am entering it into Fiona at London Unattached's Best of British blog challenge, together with A Whole New World, the blog for the New World appliances site. Fingers crossed!

Traditional English Bread Pudding

Adapted from English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury by Mary Norwak

Skill level: Easy

1 x loaf of stale bread
300ml milk
300g dried mixed fruit (I used a mixture of currants, raisins, sour cherries and sultanas)
50g mixed peel
1 x quince or eating apple, grated (include the skin but not the core or pips)
3 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
2 tbsp plum jam
40g self-raising flour
2 x eggs
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
100g butter, melted

demerera sugar, to sprinkle over 
Serve with double cream, ice-cream or custard!


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C / Gas Mark 3.
  2. Grease and line a square cake or roasting (28 x 20 cm) tin.
  3. Firstly, you need to slice up the bread (including the crusts). Break up the bread into small pieces and soak in the milk until softened.
  4. Once the milk has been absorbed (which will take about 10 minutes), then beat well with a fork. The bread and crusts will break down and combine with the milk, forming a creamy mush.
  5. Stir in the grated quince, then the rest of the ingredients and only half of the melted butter. Beat well together until combined.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
  7. Pour the rest of the melted butter evenly over the surface. (Use a pastry brush to ensure that it is all coated.)
  8. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 1¼ to 1½ hours.
  9. When baked, sprinkle over a little demerera sugar and serve warm with double cream or custard.
  10. Alternatively allow to cool, and eat as cake.


  • Mary Norwak's recipe calls for marmalade, but I have used plum jam. I am sure any fruity jam would be equally good.
  • Mary Norwak's recipe also had a cooking time of 1½ hours at 160C / Gas Mark 2, then 30 minutes at 180C / Gas Mark 4.
  • I served mine with home-made plum ice-cream with a little of the plum jam pureed and drizzled over the ice-cream.

proud to be a
Best of British blog challenge entry


fiona maclean said...

sounds lovely! I might try this...sometimes christmas pud is a bit much for me anyway!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

It takes no time at all - you don't even have to sift the flour - just lob it in!

I have to say I'm with you on Christmas pud - sometimes it is just too stodgy and I don't like (I know this is heresy) the taste after it has been set alight!

belleaquablog said...

I am trying to learn about traditional British food and this seems an easy way to start!