A celebration of berries Part I: Summer Berry Pudding
Now that summer's almost here, really nice berries are popping up at the market. Last week, I bought two large boxes of strawberries, and a large box each of blueberries and raspberries. I did a decent job eating them, but they were starting to go overripe, so I decided to make a summer berry pudding. It's one of my favorite easy desserts because there's not much precision required. The recipe is pretty foolproof, and you can substitute any berries you like. The only requirement is that you have some good bread and enough berries to make plenty of sauce. The technique involved is minimal.
To prepare the berries, I sliced the strawberries into 1/4 thick pieces, sliced the raspberries in half, and left the blueberries whole. I sprinkled enough sugar on them to suit my personal sweetness preference, and added a couple tablespoons of raspberry liqueur (optional, but never add too much of it. It overpowers the berries). I allowed the mixture to macerate in the fridge overnight, which should draw out a good amount of liquid. If you like to have some whole berries in the pudding, reserve a generous handful of each of the fruits and store them separately.
The second day, I brought the macerated mixture up to a boil and adjusted the flavor with sugar and some lemon juice. The mixture boiled until the berries softened and fell apart. Toward the end of the cooking time, I added the reserved berries. I cooked them just until they started to soften, and took them off the heat immediately after so that they would stay intact in the final product.
For the bread, I made Peter Reinhart's BBA poor man's brioche. You could use an even richer bread, but I'm not sure the extra fat would make this fruit-based dessert much better.
My 3.5 quart round dutch oven was the closest cross sectional size I could get the small circular mold I used to assemble the pudding. The brioche sprang up nicely.
It came out looking like a giant muffin. I sliced the megamuffin into five round layers and used the bottom of the mold as a guide to trim the rounds to the right size. The trimmings were perfect for a small savory bread pudding.
Then came the fun part: layering. No rocket science here. Just a layer of bread, a generous layer of the berry liquid (at least enough to soak the layer of bread underneath through), followed by bread, and then berries, etc. I suggest erring on the side of generosity. Too moist is better than too dry. The top layer should be the last piece of bread, with just liquid spooned on top. You can have some berries on top if you'd like, but they make the next step more difficult.
After stacking the layers, I covered the top with a layer of cling film. I then filled a small round saucepan with water and placed it on top of the pudding to weigh it down. This compresses the layers and helps the liquid soak through evenly. After being weighed down for a couple of hours, here was the result:
You can see the circular mold I used in the left hand background. This summer berry pudding may not the prettiest or the most refined thing in the world, but it bursts with berry flavor and tastes like summer. All it needs is a dollop of whipped cream (and perhaps a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you're feeling indulgent).