I’ve been craving comfort food lately, what with all the bad news these days, so I delved into Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery (1837) in search of a nice old pudding. As I’ve written before, Eliza Leslie was such an elegant writer, her cookbooks are worth reading for her fine prose as well as her recipes.
I was drawn to “A Bread and Butter Pudding,” a simple dish that calls for layers of buttered slices of bread topped with currants and brown sugar, with an egg and milk sauce poured on top. This pudding is British in origin, with published recipes dating to the early 18th century. It seems most closely related to an older pudding from Devon, England, called “white-pot,” which contained dates as well as raisins.
Here is Eliza Leslie’s recipe:
A BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING.–Cut some slices of bread and butter moderately thick, omitting the crust; stale bread is best. Butter a deep dish, and cover the bottom with slices of the buttered bread. Have ready a pound of currants, picked, washed and dried. Spread one third of them thickly over the bread and butter, and strew on some brown sugar. Then put another layer of bread and butter, and cover it also with currants and sugar. Finish with a third layer of each, and pour over the whole four eggs beaten very light and mixed with a pint of milk, and a wine glass of rose water. Bake the pudding an hour, and grate nutmeg over it when done. Eat it warm, but not hot.
Leslie also wrote that halved raisins, stewed gooseberries, or minced pippin apples could be substituted for the currants. I opted for currants and used slightly stale pullman loaf bread. I decided to leave out the rose water, since I don’t like even small amounts of it. You could probably use white wine instead, but the currants really give the dish plenty of flavor — so much so that my husband thought the pudding had liqueur in it! My family all felt that a pound of currants (about three cups) was too much of a good thing. You could easily cut that amount by a third or more. Leslie must have really loved this raisin or thought her readers did. (An older bread and butter pudding recipe in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747), by contrast, instructed readers to “strew a few currants” over each bread layer.)
The currant issue aside, I loved this dish. It’s soft but with some crunchy texture from the top bread layer, and it has a sweet flavor from the currants that I think is more intense than that of regular raisins. As Leslie writes, eat this pudding warm. My adaptation of the recipe follows.
Eliza Leslie’s Bread and Butter Pudding
Adapted from Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery (1851 edition)
8–9 medium-thick slices white bread
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (divided)
2 cups (10 ounces) dried currants
½ cup light (or dark) brown sugar, lightly packed
3 eggs, room temperature
2 cups whole milk, room temperature
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, or to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter a two-quart deep baking dish with about 1 tablespoon of the butter.
2. Trim the crust off the bread. Spread the remaining butter on the bread slices. Cover the bottom of the prepared dish with a third of the slices, buttered side up, cutting bread to fit as necessary.
3. Sprinkle one third of the currants (about 2/3 cup) on top of the bread, followed by one third of the brown sugar on top of the currants. Repeat with another layer of bread, followed by currants and then brown sugar. Finish with a third layer of bread, topped by currants and brown sugar.
4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until light, then blend in the milk. Pour this mixture evenly over the prepared dish.
5. Bake dish for 60 to 75 minutes, watching to make sure the bread on top doesn’t burn. (You can cover the dish with foil if that starts to happen.) The filling should be slightly soft but not mushy. A shallower dish will take closer to an hour, a deeper dish like the one pictured about 75 minutes. Remove pudding from oven, sprinkle with nutmeg, and serve warm. This pudding can be refrigerated and then reheated, but it’s best fresh from the oven.
For more Eliza Leslie recipes, see my posts on her Indian Pound Cake and Cup Cakes. An interesting white-pot recipe, along with the history of that pudding, can be found at the website Savoring the Past.