Monday, October 04, 2010

Late Summer Pudding

summer pudding
You'd never know it by the gray, drizzly weather we had here today, but last weekend was one of our hottest on record. With a big box of black, golden and red raspberries from Pudwill Farms languishing in the fridge, it seemed like the perfect time to try a recipe for one of my favorite berry desserts - a chilled, classic English concoction known as Summer Pudding.

Until last week I'd actually only tasted this once before, but it was during one of the most memorable meals of my life. Between my sophomore and junior year of college, I spent a summer at Pembroke College in Cambridge, England. The food was nothing to write home about in general - but every Wednesday night they served us "formal hall," a sit down multi-course meal in the beautiful formal dining room. (Which at the age of 20 I was too dumb to fully appreciate, but that is what hindsight is for I suppose!) We camped it up - dressing up, throwing cocktail parties in our rooms (and even some professor's offices) before dinner, and drinking ourselves silly in the pub afterwards. I have some fantastic photos from this experience that I really must dig out and scan.

For the last one on Thursday August 16, 1990 - according to the menu I still have - we were served the following:

Plaice Veronique
Filet of Beef Rossini
Cauliflower Mornay
Bretonne Potatoes
Summer Pudding and Cream

Croze Hermitage 1986

I'm not sure if I could trace my "culinary awakening" to that meal, a la Julia Child and her transcendent filet of sole, but it's certainly one that I remember well. Well enough to have saved the menu for 20 years. A while ago, I looked up the recipe and was taken aback by the fact that the berries were cooked - something that didn't register with me when I tasted it. I'm not sure why I found that problematic at the time, but I shelved the recipe and didn't think much about it for a while. I'm also a big fan of fresh fruit tarts, shortcakes and crumbles - so when I had berries on hand they usually went into those dishes, on cereal or just straight down the hatch. I wasn't about to bake anything last weekend though - not even a tart shell, so the summer pudding's time had finally come.

The English call all desserts "puddings" informally - though the name traditionally applies to something boiled in a tin. This is sort of a mock pudding in a way, because it forms a shape once it's weighted and chilled overnight. Yes, it requires a little planning ahead. To make it, you'll need some stale, sturdy white bread, a whole mess of berries, a little sugar, and some liqueur or brandy - preferably cassis. Some cream whipped with creme fraiche goes over the top. The berries are cooked just long enough to release their juices and the bread becomes a kind of sponge cake, soaking it all up. It's a jammy, tart and perfect delight with the rich, tangy cream as a foil. Dare I say it, even better than (and not quite as rich as) our classic Yankee counterpart, Strawberry Shortcake. This may have been the first time I've made it, but it definitely won't be the last.
summer pudding

English Summer Pudding
serves 8

1 loaf of sturdy white bread without additives or preservatives. Preferably day old.
8 cups of assorted berries - I used blueberries, blackberries and three types of raspberries.
1/2 -3/4 cup of sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
2 Tablespoons of Cassis (black currant liqueur) of brandy. If you don't want to use alcohol, you can substitute water or lemon juice.

1 pint of cream
1/2 cup creme fraiche
4 tablespoons powdered sugar

Remove the crusts from the bread and line your mold with plastic wrap. You can use a bowl, a loaf pan or whatever else seems appropriately sized for the amount of berries you have. A charlotte mold or timbale would be the perfect thing if you happen to have one.

Line the mold with the bread slices cutting and fitting them together like a puzzle, reserving enough to also fit over the top of the mold.

In a saucepan, heat the berries with the sugar and two tablespoons of liqueur just until the berries start to break down and release quite a bit of juice.

Spoon the cooked berries and all their juices into the pudding mold lined with bread. Cover with the remaining bread and cover with plastic wrap. Place a plate over the top that fits inside the mold and weight it down with some cans to press down on it.

Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or preferably overnight.

Just before serving, whip the cream with creme fraiche and powdered sugar until soft peaks form. Unmold the pudding if you can, or just scoop the dessert onto plates (as you can see I did!)

Top with whipped cream and serve.


  1. Great post! I love me some summer pudding. I made a savoury tomato one recently. Here is my recipe. I skip the alcohol but I like to add a little lemon zest.

  2. How lovely! My grandma used to make this a lot in the summer, I decided to try it on a whim and found that alice medrich had a recipe in her book. I find it a great looking dessert despite being ridiculously simple to make.

  3. Hi Alice, my name is ML I am from Milan Italy but I also live up in Rancho part of the year, I love love love your blog and I will visit it often, keep us posted for good restaurant discoverys in the San Diego area, I love to cook and more to eat! my blog is Ciao from Milano Italy :))

  4. Hi Alice - I do love summer pud also - first had it when we visited friends in Somerset, England. Our son went to Pembroke for a summer too, in about 1988, I think. He was going to UCI (Irvine, CA). Besides the classes (which he attended and enjoyed) he rowed like crazy and adored Auntie's for scones. When we went to visit there some years later with 2 of our 3 kids) he couldn't WAIT to take us to Auntie's for afternoon tea. He met friends there with whom he's still in touch. Am sure you enjoyed the berries and the pud.