Don’t tell the weather gods the date. They don’t care.
Summer officially ended about two weeks ago, but we have been having very warm, humid days recently, and they were deceptively preceded by blasts of cool air. In my habitual pessimistic fashion, I have been bracing for that autumnal chill since August. Luckily I have been disappointed.
I know. The weather is not a very scintillating subject. Unless you are a raspberry picker. Gone are the peaches, before I could make my second batch of jam. So thank you, raspberries, for hanging on until the first frost. You are still there for the picking along with the obvious apples. And we of the slightly more subtle persuasion will have our berries.
Now that I have my bucket o’ berries, here is what I am going to do: Bake something. Because just as sure as I could fill my bucket yesterday, the weather will change tomorrow and I won’t mind turning on the oven. Oh ye fickle winds of New England.
I am not good at change.
Those shifting winds make me nervous, so whatever I bake must be something I can dive into with all my heart and soul, something smooth and rich, something sweet but not too sweet, something that, when you eat it, says,
Don’t worry, everything will be all right.
Once a long time ago, alone in a remote country house in Vermont, I made a pot of rice pudding. I made it for a friend who was coming to visit the next day. It was an old-fashioned recipe, slow-cooked, the kind of pudding you leave in the oven for half a day, stirring every once in a while. Just lots of milk and a little sugar and a little rice. It didn’t look like it would turn into anything.
Indeed, I stirred that pudding as directed and all day it called to me.
Stir me. Stir me.
When it was done, it said,
Cool me. Cool me.
It was thick and creamy and smelled faintly of the fairy dusting of cinnamon I had sprinkled over the top of it during its last spell in the oven. Finally it said,
Eat me. Eat me.
Now I didn’t mention this earlier, but the Time of the Pudding was a very unsettling time. I had gone to the house alone, to think, and I wasn’t coming up with anything. Not anything at all. My life felt like it was falling apart. When the pudding had cooled for a while, just for comfort, I took a teensy taste. And then, like Goldilocks, I ate it all up. Every last, deliriously luscious little bit.
I felt better. I broke some rules. I didn’t wait to share the pudding with my friend. I realized I could start all over again the next day. I could make something wonderful even though, at the beginning it didn’t look like it would turn into anything. Things change, and then they change again. You never know exactly what is around the corner. It’s good to plan and project and dream and stay optimistic, but you don’t always know how it’s going to turn out.
Which is why I love this pudding. I’ve made it often enough to know it will make me happy and I will have to use all my willpower not to eat every little bit of it when nobody is looking. It is all well and good to adjust to the winds of change, but sometimes you need reassurance. Or maybe it is simpler than that. Maybe you just need a really good recipe for bread pudding.
Don’t be intimidated by the water bath method of baking this pudding. The water acts as insulation and allows the custard to cook gently for a dreamy, creamy consistency. Just set the baking dish in a larger pan (like a roasting pan) and bring it close to the oven before you add the water to the larger pan. You can even pull out an oven shelf, set the pans inside and then pour in the water; you don’t need that much. Serve it warm or cold, as you like.
Bread and Butter Pudding with Raspberries (Serves 6)
4 tablespoons soft, unsalted butter
1/2 large baguette, cut in 3/8-inch thick slices
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 to 2 tablespoons Confectioner’s sugar for garnish
1. Generously butter a shallow, 2-quart baking dish. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spread the remaining butter on the bread slices. Arrange them with the buttered side up in overlapping layers in the baking dish. Tuck half of the raspberries in between the slices and scatter the remaining raspberries over the top of the pudding.
3. Whisk the eggs, sugar and lemon zest together in a medium bowl. Stir in the cream, milk and vanilla and pour the mixture evenly over the bread. Press the bread down into the custard with the flat of one hand and set it aside for about 20 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the custard.
4. Before baking, gently press the bread into the custard one more time. Set the pudding dish inside a larger baking pan. Pour about 1 inch of hot (not boiling) water into the larger baking pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until the pudding is lightly browned and almost set. It should be very slightly quivery in the center.
5. Remove the pudding from the oven and remove the baking dish from the water bath. Let it cool for at least 15 minutes to allow the custard to set (it will continue to cook a little). Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm or cold.