After a ridiculously mild autumn, winter seems to have hit with a sudden vengeance and as usual the weather is having a huge affect on what I want to eat. Proper puddings seem to be the order of the day, no longer satisfied with a yogurt or piece of fruit, there seems to be a demand by my body for something richer and more substantial. Today’s bitterly chilly wind and a lingering head cold meant I wanted to go nowhere further than a quick dash to school and back. So pudding had to be constructed from what we already had. For me one of the most pleasurable things about cooking are a peek in the fridge, a rummage through the cupboards followed by a good hard think about the possibilities. Borne, I guess, from sense of frugality and thrift, there is simply nothing nicer than creating something delicious from nothing. No visits to the shop, no hunting for speciality ingredients, but something created from leftovers and bits and bobs. This bread and butter pudding was perhaps one of my best ever ‘bits & bobs’ dishes. I had none of the more usual raisins or currants but I did have some dried dates that were right up against there best before date. I had an orange, half a pot of cream, and of course I had eggs. And a rummage in the booze cupboard yielded a joyful but near empty bottle of Cointreau left over from a cocktail party many moons ago. Only two tablespoons, but enough to lift it from the gorgeous to the completely sublime. Oh yes, I was really very pleased with this…...
100g dried dates, roughly chopped
1 large orange, zest & juice
150ml double cream
2 tbsp orange liqueur, such as Cointreau (optional)
9 slices good quality white bread, crusts trimmed - slightly stale is best (weighing about 250g after crusts removed)
30-40g butter, plus a little extra for greasing the dish
100g shell on pistachios, yielding about 50g nuts, roughly chopped
2-3tbsp demerara sugar
In a small saucepan, simmer the dates in the orange juice for a couple of minutes then turn off and leave to infuse for a few minutes whilst you make the custard.
Mix together the orange zest with the milk, cream, eggs and liqueur if you are using it. Stir through the dates and orange juice.
Generously butter the bread, cut into wedges or triangles depending on the shape of your loaf and arrange half of it in a lightly greased baking dish. I used thin slices from a large flat, round ‘boule’ type bread. It had plenty of lovely air holes which made wonderful pockets for the custard to puddle in. Pour over half the custard, then top with the remaining bread, followed by the rest of the custard. Leave to soak together for around 30 minutes before cooking.
When you are ready to cook it, sprinkle the pistachios and demerara sugar evenly over the surface. Bake for around 30-35 mins until the custard has just set, but still has a slight wobble to it, and the surface is crisp and golden.
Serve warm from the oven. I found it rich enough to eat on its own but you may want to offer a little extra cream alongside.